Waking the Body Up


Isn’t it strange how on certain days your voice works and on others it doesn’t? On the latter days it usually leads singers to warm up for hours on end and provided that hasn’t worked a singer may convince themselves that its because they are getting sick that their voice is just ‘not happening.’ Usually this theory is accompanied by a ‘hot and toasty’ feeling in the throat and in part is due to the length of the warm up. What a singer has actually done is that they’ve warmed their voice up to wear it out AND they haven’t even began their performance yet. I always feel that in this situation the end scenario is going to be a disheartening one for the singer as they get on stage feeling anxious about their voice.

Overall, I feel this issue of the voice working well on some days and not on others has tended to make singers feel insecure about the reliability of their voice and incredibly frustrated. So… I want to scratch the surface of this issue and address whats really going on and dispell a few myths about the warm up and give some effective solutions!

Let’s ascertain one thing; the body is the singers instrument AND singing is muscular. Usually what goes hand in hand with those days that a singers voice is “not happening” is that they are tired, run down and possibly it may even be that “time of the month” (if they are a female). In a nutshell; the body is lethargic and if this is the case, the muscles will be slow to respond hence the voice will have difficulty ‘waking up.’ On the flipside, have you ever noticed how it is so much easier to sing when you are feeling happy, enthusiastic or physically energised?  Or perhaps you have noticed that your voice sounds better later on in the day/evening- say compared to first thing in the morning? Many students complain to me that they can’t sing in the morning. Well I’d like to say that it needn’t be that way- that we can get our voices in the same mint condition they are in at night, as in the morning- or at ANY time (provided we’re in good vocal health). All we need to do is get the body feeling awake and invigorated and this is something we especially need to give ALOT MORE attention to when we’re NOT feeling energised.

As singing is muscular, then in conjunction with specific vocal exercises (that should not be overdone- remember the ole ; ‘warming -the -voice- up -to -wear -it -out’ scenario) our warm up must include something that warms the body up, or more specifically: WAKES the body up.

Some very effective body exercises, (which will wake the body up quickly) are listed below;

  • Jump up and down on the spot for 2 minutes.
  • Go for a 5 minute run.
  • Do some silent shouting (keeping the vocal folds open so as to prevent constriction). Make sure to get your whole body in on the act, (so best to stand) -just as you do when you are shouting. Wave your hands in the air and think of winning the lotto and shouting out “YAY!!!” or alternatively pretend you are calling out to a loved one who is across the street who you haven’t seen in a long time.
  • Another great body warm up I learnt (which is very effective to do with a whole band to get everyone psyched up before a show) is to vigorously shake the right arm for a count of 8 (count out aloud), then the left arm, then the right leg, then the left leg. Do this again but half this number to 4- starting with the right arm again and following the same sequence as before. The next time through halve the number to 2 and do as before and then halve the number again (1). Once you’ve finished this then jump up and shout “Yeah!!”.

Some of these suggestions may sound strange but it will make a big difference to the length of time it takes to warm your voice up.  I would encourage you to try incorporating into your daily vocal warm up routine something that will also wake the body up and notice how much less time it takes to get the voice working.

Water Anyone????

In my previous post I mentioned the importance of cooling down the voice to ensure good vocal health but I also wanted to add some other suggestions as to “DO’s and DONT’S that will greatly improve your vocal longevity. A huge part of maintaining good vocal health is to retain lubrication of the vocal folds and anything that compromises this should be avoided when you are needing to sing. So what are some of the things you should and shouldn’t do?

1. One of the most obvious ways is to drink plenty of water!  However, if you’ve already reached the point at which you’re noticeably dehydrated it is worth noting that it takes at least a couple of hours for the water to be absorbed by your cells at the level of the vocal folds and for them to return to normal hydration. Make sure you don’t get to the point where you’re noticeably parched by bringing a bottle of water around with you as you go about your daily activities.

2. Steam! Steam! Steam! Steam!  (This is one of the best!) You can purchase a steam inhaler from most chemists. Add boiling hot water to the steamer and inhale. Alternatively if you can’t get a steam inhaler get a big pot of water (DON’T add eucalyptus, tea tree or olbas oil as these tend to be quite drying) put a towel over you head and inhale. Steaming is also one of the best things to do when you have a cold and you still have to use your voice.

3. Avoid consuming anything particularly drying or irritating to the voice directly before singing such as antihistamines, cold and flu tablets and excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol.

4. Too much abdominal pumping (excessive breath pressure) causes tightening within the throat (scratching) and dries out the vocal folds. Avoid this at all costs. Many singers find this hard to let go of as they find a quick and instant connection between pumping/pushing from their stomachs and volume. Needless to say it is not a safe loud. Pushing is a surefire way to lead to vocal trauma and yet in some singing studios some teachers are still teaching this method???!!!!

6. Avoid excessive breathy singing by singing with clear, clean tone.

7. Avoid smoking. Your vocal folds are like the guardians of the airway- anything that reaches your lungs has to pass by the vocal folds first. We all know what smoking does to your lungs- its effects on the voice are equally as bad with one of the most noticeable aspects being a diminished ability to hit high notes, sing cleanly (without breathiness) and to sustain long phrases and notes. The same is even more so true of wacky tabaccy (marijuana).  Whatever your crutch or addiction I am not advocating going cold turkey but if the desire is there to kick the habit find professional help to do so!

8. Stand and sing with good posture.

9. Develop your technique by getting singing lessons AND practice.

10. Warm the voice up with soft vocal slides- avoid singing a song to warm the voice up.

11. Avoid excessive throat clearing.

Your body is your instrument and singing is muscular. This connection between the body and the voice is never more highlighted than when one is sick and does not have the physical energy or stamina to sing. Needless to say it is important that you look after your physical health by getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising (I know- its common sense stuff but I am never ceased to be surprised by how many singers forget about the “voice-body connection” on occasion and this is usually the time that coincides with their own vocal problems).

There has also been a significant degree of research into the link between one’s mental state and ones physical health. Thus maintaining a positive attitude and frame of mind is also hugely important- especially as it is during times of increased emotional stress is when vocal difficulties surface. Activities such as meditation, yoga and tai chi are great to regain the balance!