The Best Vocal Warm-up
Post by: Abigail Heimann
The most effective way to completely ready yourself for singing, whether in voice lessons or for a performance, is to follow the FERRET process.
- Focus your thoughts
- Enhance your stance
- Regulate your breath
- Ready your vocal folds
- Ease your transitions
- Tap into musicality
I will break down each of these steps, explain the goal of each, and offer tips for each part of the FERRET sequence.
Focus your thoughts
Before we can be able to sing in a successful and musical way, we need to declutter our minds and focus our attention to our music. Rather than a vocal exercise, this is more of a mental warm-up. This is a great thing to do on the way to your voice lessons.
- Take one minute to meditate and relax your mind, putting the distractions of the day to the back of your mind. Focus on deep breathing and check in with yourself; how do you feel?
- Think about the music you are working on. List your musical goals for your practice today.
- To really wake your brain up, try doing some sight singing. You can find sight singing examples online, on an app, or in a sight singing book.
Enhance your stance
Singing is a physical activity and requires more work from the body than just the “voice.” Sometimes, our biggest problems with our singing could be fixed just by checking in with our posture.
- Do a few easystretches for the neck, shoulders, and torso. Be sure not to overexert – we’re not doing a triathlon, just waking the body and making sure we are free of tension!
- Pull the shoulders down and back just enough so that you aren’t pushing your chest forward and focus on not hunching.
- Align your neck with your spine so you create a nice straight line for your vocal mechanism to work its best. Pretend you are a puppet and have a string tied to the top of your head: pull that string up and feel the lift in your stance.
Regulate your breath
Adjusting our breathing for singingcan make a significant difference between sounding good and sounding bad. You want to be sure you are breathing deeply, supporting your breath while singing, and managing your breath.
- When you breathe for singing, you should feel and see your ribs (front AND back) and abdomen expanding out. While breathing, put your hands on your stomach and back and feel the movement there rather than up on your chest, where shallow, weak breathing occurs.
- Practice your breath management by breathing in for 2 counts and then out for 8 counts on “shh” or “sss.” Again, in for 2, and then out for 12, 16, 20, and so on. The goal is to have a steady stream of air throughout, causing you to think about how you are managing your air.
Ready your vocal folds
The vocal folds, or vocal cords, are what causes our voices to have pitch. Like any other muscle, the vocal folds have muscle memory, and we can develop bad vocal habits or even damage our voice if we are not careful. One of the most common bad habits we develop with our vocal folds is too much tension. You can help to relax and free your vocal folds with these tips:
- Place your hand gently on your Adam’s apple (this is where your larynx and vocal folds are!). Keep it in a relaxed position while singing, not pushed up or down.
- If you are feeling tension in your throat, try fake yawning. Make it dramatic, opening up your mouth and sighing. This helps to reset the larynx.
- The best initial warm-ups for the vocal folds are lip bubbles (like a motorboat) or humming.These exercises warm up your voice without overusing. Try using the pattern below: do this pattern on a lip bubble or hum, then move up a half step and repeat.
Ease your transitions
Once you have readied your vocal folds, you need to warm up to the extent of your range and connect all the registers in between. The goal in this step is to smooth out all the transitions in your voice.
- Work from the middle of your high range down. It is easier for most voices to transition from head voice down when warming up rather than chest voice up, which could cause strain and tension.
- When working on your higher range, think down instead of up. Even though the notes are going up, you want to think down and stay grounded, focusing on low, supported breath. I like to do a slight squat, bend in the knees, or plié when warming up the high register to help my focus stay low.
- High notes tend to cause tension in our voices. Don’t be afraid to use body movement while warming up your voice to keep your body and voice tension-free. Any good voice teacher will not think you are a weirdo for dancing around during your voice lesson!
Tap into musicality
What makes music so enjoyable, for the singer and for the listener, is the expressiveness. This last step in this warmup process can be focused on most during the actual practice of your songs, but it is great to start thinking about it even in your warmups!
- Dynamics, the changes in volume in your song, can easily be practiced during your warmups.Start the phrase piano, or soft, and then grow louder to forte, loud. Then switch them and sing from forte to piano,or even pianissimo! Keep changing it up and make it purposeful.
- Articulation completely changes how certain words are interpreted. Adding legato, staccato, or marcato to your singing helps better tell the story of your song. Use the warmup below to practice articulation in your singing.
So in your next voice lesson or performance, be sure that you and your voice teacher are focused on properly warming up your voice. When in doubt, FERRET is the best warm-up to set you up for a successful performance!