Let’s take a good look at what every good songwriter needs to think about when they are warming up for their songs, which they are about to record, or perform live. Let’s face it, you’re gonna want your audience to hear, and understand all your lyrics. You’re also probably gonna want them to be “moved” by your performance, thus you will need a warm, but powerful sound.
1. Some songs need to be belted; so you'll need to get lots of air... hence diaphragmatic (proper, deep, relaxed) breathing must figure into warm-ups.
2. You don't want your song to have a "forced, tight feeling". You'll need to loosen up your vocal folds, and relax that jaw and throat.
3. If the highest note in the song is difficult to sing, you'll need to warm up your high end.
4. Some songs sit too low... so you'll need to warm up low end, as well.
5. Consonants are so important, so you will need good control of how to make crisp consonants, using the tip of your tongue against your upper palette on consonants such as: d, k, t, z; and combination consonants such as: st, sl, etc.
6. You'll need to also work on plosives (consonants which have "too much punch" and make big air popping sounds), such as b, f, and p.
Quick Warm Up Exercises
Here are some quick things which you can do in a fifteen or twenty minute span, prior to singing. (You'll need to visit my 5 companion visual/aural exercises for these below.):
1. For diaphragmatic breathing: this needs to happen around the center, core area of your body; not your upper chest or throat. FIrst, imagine a string which starts at the center of your spine, and goes straight up through the center of your head. You must then let your jaw drop down on it's own; not forced, but easy. Collect the air below, as if you were smelling a flower; not through your nose, but through your mouth. Let the air collect below (near your belly button). Never force a true breath. If you hear the air go in, you are trying too hard.
2. To relieve forced, tight throat: Do yoga stretches, Tighten all face muscles; hold for three seconds, then release! (Feels good, right?) Follow that up with sighing exercises. Start by taking your finger, and placing it about five inches above your head. Land down to that place between the eyes. Start your high sigh there. Let your finger fall slowly down, as you sigh and follow the path of your finger. Use LOTS of soft "H" in your sighing.
3. An easy way to warm up the high end is to make a "zzzz" sound between your eyes, while touching the sides of the top of the bridge of your nose. Do you feel the buzz against your finger tips? Now do some humming there for a few minutes. Make extra sure that the humming is coming from the top of the bridge of your nose, and not your throat!!
4. For low end warm ups, prepare your low, low belly-placed, diaphragmatic breath. Now touch your chest cavity. Using that low, low breath, push the air into your chest cavity and make the "mu" sound; imitating a foghorn. Do NOT let the air go up into your throat. Imagine your body is a barrel. Feel your chest cavity with your fingertips. Does the resonation cause a vibration? Do lots of held "mu's" on lowest notes possible, while pushing from the bottom of your belly up into your chest cavity.
5. Consonants must be crisp and quick, They mostly happen with the tip of your tongue. The tongue needs to be loose. Try tongue trills, and lots of 'em. Then practice hard "d's" as in dog. Say "d, d, d, d, dog." Make the tip of your tongue say the d's behind your upper front teeth. Do this with d, t, n, z.
6. Plosives need to be shortened, so there isn't an "explosion of air" on the microphone. Windscreens on the mics certainly help, but there is also a warm-up technique for this. For B's practice saying "baby", while making sure the lips are closed in such a way that it is like you are "holding your tongue" like you want to say something but you're stopping yourself... Now say "Baby", and keep the b's very short. For "p's" try imagining the same thing. For "f's", let the lower lip start under the upper teeth. Now shorten the length of the f.
I hope this helps. These are just a few small tricks to try. Happy singing!
© copyright Cheryl Hodge 2010, used with permission
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About Cheryl Hodge
Cheryl Hodge has been in the music and songwriting business for well over 30 years; recording on several labels; among them Atco Records (Raindogs, 1990), and has released 4 CDs of her own; on her own label: Jazzboulevard.com Records.
She has performed her music for the last 10 years with noted jazz guitarist John Stowell (amongst many others), and they are about to release a CD of co-written originals. She has been private instructor to many; including the gifted Paula Cole. She is also the author of "A Singer's Guide to the Well-Trained and Powerful Voice", and is a published vocal arranger.
Cheryl is currently the head of the vocal dept. at Nelson, BC's: Selkirk College Music Program. There, she teaches Songwriting and Advanced Songwriting, Business of Music, Arranging and Vocals.
She continues to write and produce her original materials, and has just released "Cheryl Hodge: Original Article" - a compilation of her favourites.
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