I was inspired to write this blog post by Nikki Loney, a Canadian vocal music educator whose popular The Full Voice podcast is one I just listened to for the first time. She has a three-part series called “Warm Ups from Around the World,” so I tuned in while working off cream puffs on the treadmill.
(But first, silly me–and this is how my brain works—
When I read the podcast title I thought, “Oooo! scales and vocal patterns from India and the Sufi tradition! Chanted and sung styles from the Maori in New Zealand! Vocal Exercises from Bejing Opera!) 🙂
No, Nikki’s warm ups are much more practical and suitable for many ages and stages of singers. Part of her mission is to help singers and teachers understand the purposes behind the vocal exercises they use, and sing them in a spirit of fun and exploration. While the exercises may be familiar to more experienced teachers, I was thrilled to hear the guest artist/teachers’ explanations for WHY you are using them and HOW to do them. This matters much more than the actual exercises themselves. So consider heading over to her series and take a listen.
I AM INSPIRED TO SHARE…
…three vocal warm ups, and their underlying reasons, that I’ve learned or developed over the years. Attribution goes to my father, the late Robert W. Frazier, the late Randolph Mauldin of Washington Opera, and my Creative Muse.
I. Pick short musical phrases from the music that your group or student is singing. Choose patterns that can be moved up and down the chromatic scale, or can easily jump around once a key is established. Keep them one or two measures at the most.
Here’s an example for developing voices of any age or stage: a passage from the end of Linda Ronstadt’s recording of Ray Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” She ends the song with these intervals of the major Root Chord (the key the song is in.)
This helps coordinate chest mix to head registration smoothly in all styles of music. It easily incorporates with most functional vocal pedagogy models out there that use other names for those registrations/qualities.
Or, if a mix hasn’t developed yet, it helps with teaching relationships between intervals. It also helps with sustained singing, breath management. As a teacher, use it as a deliberate application of the “Mezzo di Voce” exercise.
Plus you get to introduce people to Ronstadt and Orbison if they look at you with a blank stare….
For choristers, any pattern that has slow, sustained passages has the benefit of the kind of choral tuning that Choral Conductor Robert Shaw used. Church choir directors can’t usually take the kind of time needed for this way of working, but it can be done in 2 minutes with one short passage as part of your choir’s warm-up. Over time this will bear also bear fruit for stamina, mental focus, and group bonding.
II. For vocal flexibility and ear training for world music, Indie artists or jazz singers–have them warm up on arpeggiated patterns that are not the traditional 1-3-5-8-5-3-1 major scale pattern. (perhaps start with a minor arpeggio.)
Eventually move to other arpeggiated blues or harmonic patterns using syllables they choose. Try to guide them to “ahs and ays” on the lower notes and “ees, oos or ohs” on the higher pitches. Scat singers will use their patterns or you can suggest something like “doo-bway-doo,” etc.
PS. I sometimes make classical singers do this, too, to wake up their ears.
I recognize that not all singers and teachers can play this warm up in different keys on a keyboard. You can adapt this idea for you and your students in any way that serves them.
III. This general idea is for singers who know their music well and are far enough along that it makes sense to them:
I coached privately many thousands of years ago with the late Randolph Maulden, of The Washington Opera. Obviously I warmed up before coaching with him, but then he often had me further warm up by singing phrases from whatever I was working on, starting 4 half steps down from its key, and going up two half steps beyond the highest note and back down. I experienced this as a real work out. This gave me a chance to move through all the registration minutia, and solidified where high notes in the right key actually existed in my throat, body and pysche. (as a whole singer.) This idea also can be adapted, so open to your creativity!
Once you know the HOW and the WHY for a warm-up or exercise, you can always adapt it to be the most useful!
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