Q&A: What is your personal daily routine?
On the one hand, how do you personally warm up your voice, exercise it and warm it down. Especially helpful would be some guidelines on repetition count or time duration per exercise (if general guidelines can be formulated that would be even better), as I’m always unsure how long / how many repetitions all these exercise take to reach optimal effectiveness. Is your practice the same for every day of the week? If not, how do you vary it?
This is actually somewhat difficult to put down. But there are some standard guidelines I can give.
First I would say that consistency is the most important thing. Not necessarily a great many hours, but day to day consistency. Do something every day. Some days will be a full exercise/practice session that can last a total of an hour or more. Other days will consist of not much more than five minutes of simple scales. It all depends on what you have time for and what the needs of the instrument are that day.
A general rule of thumb is to start with two or three short sessions of 10-15 minutes each. As your stamina increases the number of 10-15 minutes sessions can increase. But it is a good idea to take small breaks every 10-15 minutes regardless of how advanced you get. Even a break of a few minutes can make a significant difference in the fatigue of the voice.
Of course when rehearsing for a show there will be times when you sing for longer than that. But generally that should be occasional and not every day.
As for how I warm-up my voice, I keep it pretty simple. I follow the basic process that I teach, which is to start with the fundamentals.
I usually start in the lowest part of the range on three note ascending scales. (1, 2, 3, 2, 1…) This is to get the low register working, which provides the strength and firmness of the vibration.
I usually use the vowel ah, but sometimes I’ll use eh or ee. The objective is to establish the intensity of the vibration. Or in more simple terms the buzz.
I want to take this into the middle range but not too high at this point. How high depends on the natural range of the voice and the level of development. Actually for this exercise it is not necessary to go any higher than A in the middle. I use other exercises later to work higher. This is mainly to set the foundation.
I should say that it is a good idea to spend a couple minutes just getting in tune with the body. Slow breathing and practicing the stimulation of inspiration as a preparation before starting to vocalize is very helpful with the exercises.
Next I like to work from the other end of the range from high to low descending from the little head voice. For this I start as high as is comfortable, but high enough to easily be in what I call “female” voice. (I call it that so it is obvious what I mean. There is a lot of conflicting opinions regarding falsetto, head voice or whatever different people call the high voice that resembles a female voice. So I just call it female voice.)
I use either octave arpeggios (8, 5, 3, 1…) or five note scales (5, 4, 3, 2, 1…) on the oo vowel. The vowel choices are deliberate because I want to use vowels that contribute to the register condition I am working. One clue about how to pronounce the little oo vowel is to actually say a closed oh. Like is found in German and Swedish.
The closed oh helps to get the lips small while at the same time stretching the jaw. The opening of the jaw is important in order to have a generous resonance area. But the lips need to stay small to keep the acoustic quality closed.
This exercise is done at a very quiet dynamic level. The purpose is not to practice singing but to exercise what I call the “essence” of the voice. This essence is the murmur-like vibration at the heart of all healthy vocalization. It may seem like it is the quietest vocalizing you can do. Like you are just singing to yourself.
Even though this is exercising the upper register I want to bring it all the way down through the middle range. This teaches the voice to incorporate the ease and elasticity of this adjustment into the middle voice. Doing this makes the voice much easier to produce.
After this is completed the voice has been exercised through its complete range in a most basic way. Essentially just exercising the pure tuning mechanics of the larynx. We also have exercised the “overlap” of the middle range. This is important for avoiding the trap of pushing the lower voice up to accomplish range.
After laying this functional foundation the next step is to work the range in a more complete and connected manner. I go back to the lower part of the range and do longer patterns that cover a good bit of ground. My favorite that I do most often is an octave and a third arpeggio. (1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 8, 5, 3, 1…)
I use the ah vowel but it is pronounced more like uh, the neutral sound. When done correctly the acoustics fill out the vowel so it sounds like ah. The reason for pronouncing the neutral sound is to de-emphasize the mouth. We don’t really want the mouth to be the resonator. So the neutral form helps with that.
Another way to describe this is the neutral sound releases the proper resonating space, the pharynx, by neutralizing the mouth. If we pronounce a vowel too specifically we risk using the mouth to form the vowel and create a talking vowel rather than an acoustic vowel.
This happens through subtle constrictions in the throat that inhibit the resonance from finding its full potential.
The purpose behind this exercise is to establish the vocalization to be used for performance. Our complete voice. What I often call our final product. The first two exercises are more of “setting-up” exercises. They are not meant to resemble our actual singing. This should, at least to a certain degree, resemble our actual singing. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute.
The reason I like the long pattern is because it allows us to start addressing the upper transition and the high range while still starting relatively low. The benefit in that is by having a lower starting note we avoid the undesirable “lift” that tends to happen with higher starting notes.
Some would describe it as being more relaxed. I would say it allows the larynx to more likely find its proper stability. Which is critical for comfortable connected high notes. When the starting note is higher the larynx is more likely to rise and not have a nice stable “platform” to be played on.
I don’t start from the very bottom of the range. I usually want to start at a pitch where the top note is right around the transition area. For me I start at C major, so the top note is E natural. Lower voices should start a little lower. High voices probably should start about the same.
For females I do start at their lowest pitch because the major transition is the lower one. It is very important for females to learn how to include the lower register in a flexible and healthy way. It might not seem related, but the low register is fundamental to their high notes.
The idea behind this exercise is to work the flexible full voice from the lower to the higher in one repetition. Now, what I meant when I said earlier that this should be performance singing to a certain degree refers to how we approach the higher notes.
I always feel it is a good idea the first time we sing through the high range to do it at a moderate intensity. Similar to a speaking level. The tendency, especially for male singers, is to automatically sing the high voice full tilt like in a performance. The problem with this is we tend to over-produce the voice and lose the balanced vibration.
A way of thinking of this is each part of the voice needs to be warmed up independently. Including the high voice. This is started by the little head voice exercise. But we benefit from having an intermediate step between that and totally full intensity high notes. In fact, in many cases this moderate intensity high range fulfills what is needed.
After this I like to sing a hymn or two to incorporate words and melody in a simple way before practicing more complex music.
Specifics about number of repetitions depends on the individual range. But as I said earlier, the first exercise is only for the lower part of the range. The second exercise should explore as much of the high range as is comfortable and then descend all the way through the middle range. The third exercise is the finisher and should cover most of the range.
I’m afraid this post is too long, but this is what I do. I don’t think people should do exactly what I do, but the basic framework is a good starting point. I do feel we each need to develop our own way of warming up that is based on these basic principles and then personalized to what is needed by the individual voice.