Happy 2004 everybody!! I'd like to suggest a slogan for this New Year: K.I.S.S. The acronym stands for "Keep It Simple Stupid." It's a great reminder for those of us who love to complicate our lives. It's also a great way to approach the voice. Ironically, most vocal problems are the result of complications brought on by the singer, not the situation. The warm up is a perfect example. Too often, we zip through a cursory little routine and then hit the stage. If you don't stop to consider whether the voice feels ready, you're bound to get some surprises when performing. Not only is it a major distraction to negotiate around an unfamiliar voice, but it's a sure path to problems. A slow and simple warm up is so integral to singing with ease and power that I have created a vocal version of K.I.S.S. as a reminder. Before I reveal what that is, let's explore the important aspects of an effective routine.
The mission of a warm up is to turn you from non-vocal status into a smokin' singing machine. To arrive at maximum potential, you've got to allow enough time to deal with stubborn tensions and coordination issues. A good way to begin warming up is with a hum. Keep your lips together but let your jaw hang down so your teeth are separated. At a very low volume, let your voice find the pitch that requires the least amount of energy to produce. The hum should tickle your lips. Sustain this note for as long as comfortable and repeat with long slow relaxed breaths in between. Test other notes in the neighborhood and see if they can be hummed as easily. Don't test the range just yet; the goal is to make the voice feel good first.
Next, change the single note hum into a three note melody. Start on your original easy pitch and let the voice rise up three notes and then come back down three notes. Use this simple melody to become aware of any behavior issues. Are you humming the high note as easily as the others? The littlest inconsistency is worth correcting; it will only become a bigger problem when singing. Keep repeating the melody until all three notes feel exactly the same. Once this is achieved raise the starting note of the melody and explore your range. Remember: K.I.S.S. Don't complicate the process by doing to do too much too soon. Let the voice come to you.
When humming feels slippery, it's time to move on. With the word "me," sing a five note scale (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1) placing the "M" on steps 1, 3, 5, 3 and 1 (ME-EE-ME-EE-ME-EE-ME-EE-ME). This should sound smooth; not choppy. Singing this way allows the vocal folds to assume a little more load while still retaining the advantages of a hum. Watch that your air does not dump out while making the EE. Always let the voice crack and blank out on high notes rather then push them. Let the registers change reflexively, never adjust your face or increase the volume to avoid head voice or falsetto. Give things time to coordinate. Hang around awkward areas with a focus on keeping your behavior simple. Switching the EE vowel to an AH (MA-AH-MA-AH-MA-AH-MA-AH-MA) will increase the work load at the folds even more, but wait until the EE is responding well before doing this.
A good indicator that you are warmed up is an independent tongue and jaw. To encourage this, let your jaw hang open and place your index finger on your chin. Using the same five note scale above, alternate between AH and EE vowels without moving the chin (AH-EE-AH-EE-AH-EE-AH-EE-AH). Your finger is there to remind you to let the tongue do the moving - not the jaw. Just the rear portion of the tongue needs to rise to pronounce an EE; you don't need to spread your mouth or smile. When this action becomes easy you should increase the speed. Make sure you don't drive harder - singing fast does not require fast air. Only after you are able to access your entire range without pushing should you explore singing louder. Gradually increase the volume of these scales until you reach what you'll need on stage. Watch for volume-based tensions creeping in. Slowly roll your shoulders and move your head around while vocalizing to make sure you don't get locked up.
If you would like to hear what these exercises sound like, there is a download available of this routine at . The advantage of warming up with this audio guide is not to imitate me but to help stay focused on the simple goals. There is only one question to answer when warming up. Is the sound you're making easy to produce? That's it. If the answer is yes you get to move on. Try something a little more challenging. If the answer is no you should address whatever is making things difficult. It's important to begin this process around mid-day; even if you're at work. You can't spend an hour or two on your voice if you're due on stage in ten minutes. There's no need to worry about over-warming if you stay focused on flexibility. So, if you're into making resolutions make this the year you adopt a new approach to singing. The more time you spend gently preparing the longer you'll be able to sing afterwards. You'll never burn out if you remember my little twist on K.I.S.S: When warming up the voice, "Keep It Slow & Simple".
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