Advice from a classical singer: My vocal warmup

[crossposted from this thread on the FAWM Forum – I just wanted to conserve my looong posts. I also changed the order a bit and changed some words.]
I’m a classical singer, and as such, I’m quite strict about vocal warm up.

I (tend to) do a full-blown warm up of at least 10 min. whenever I sing something that feels more challenging than the easiest children’s song I can imagine. I feel like I sing with better pitch, a more beautiful and more smooth and even timbre… and I don’t hurt my voice if I do something in my upper range.

Warming up, for me, is a time of checking in with my voice and my body, see where I’m at today and get a feel for how I best handle my voice today. Some minor problems (e.g. when my voice feels a little “stiff”, crampy, sluggish or inert, or the high notes don’t feel that easy) go away with a careful warm-up, for others I find a way to work around, or I just acknowledge where my limits are today. Warming up is also a good time to remember healthy singing habits and to get into a good muscle tonus.

So what do I do for warming up?

First, I stand before a mirror and make some grimaces, roll my tongue, drop my jaw and close my mouth again to loosen up those jaw muscles, maybe even massage them, I roll my tongue… all kinds of silly stuff to wake up the facial muscles. Then some breathing exercises: Take a big breath – as big as possible, but without audible gasping. The throat should feel as relaxed and open as you can. Then I let this breath out very slowly on a hissing “ssss” sound, trying to hold it as long as I can. Repeat about 5 times (some days, I do more, some days, just one or two, but I imagine 5 is a good orientation).
And then I start with long, single notes in my most comfortable middle range. For most people, that would be about your speaking pitch. I focus on letting them come just as they want, even if they sound dumb or ugly. I start each note a half-tone up from the previous tone, and I still stay within a very comfortable range.

As soon as anything starts feeling strenous, I go down again. Then I do some glissandos from my middle range downward. I usually do octaves, but if your range is not that huge, fifths could be the better choice. Here’s where I start going beyond my comfort zone carefully; in my experience, low notes (sung mezzoforte when possible) help me to warm up effectively and give my voice a good foundation.
Only then I switch to scale fragments, first up to a third, then to a fifth, again half-note wise up from my comfortable middle range, and in the end, I sing some big arpeggios (spanning an octave or more).

I take care to do the same thing (scales, arpeggios, …) on different vowels or vowel combinations. And I make it a point to go slightly beyond my comfort zone, but never push anything to the point of cramping or even pain.

And another piece of advice: Generally, it’s a good idea to do any singing practice standing up so you can use all of your breathing capacity, and to move around a bit – e.g. swing one leg back and forth, or raise your arms while you’re breathing in – just to make it easier for your body not to cramp and yet be awake.

Last not least, my rule Nr. 1 for singing: Breathe. Use that belly breath and the chest too, and use more breath than you think you need.

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