Take the instrument out of the box.

Any instrumentalist first has to take his or her instrument out of the box, and in some cases, put it together before tuning and warming up. That process makes a perfect bridge between mundane activity and musical activity, whether it’s practice or performance. It’s a chance to settle the mind and body into the process of playing for the next hour (or three). The process is the same for the mindful pianist who raises the lid just right, or the drummer who taps his kick pedal to feel and hear the reactivity of the bass drum.

Singers would do well to adopt a similar practice with their voices. Most of us don’t think of our singing voices as instruments, and because of this, we tend to skip warm-ups or sing absent-mindedly. Though it’s true that singing can be casual and spontaneous – and should be, really, as that’s part of its magic – those that commit to hours of practice and performance with their voices need to make a gentle but deliberate transition from everyday talking to singing, so that they can respect and protect their instrument and become present to the task at hand.

Begin with stretching, especially in the torso, shoulders, and neck. Massage your jaw and do a couple of big yawns. Check your breath. Is it low, deliberate and free? Start phonating. Test your onset. Is it too glottal, too breathy, or just right? Test your vowel shaping. Do you tense up in the jaw or lips, or is your larynx moving around too much? Test your placement, the resonance of your hum, your connection with the breath, your posture. Are you releasing the sound freely without trying to hold back or push? Test all parts of the mechanism and gently move into more intensive warm-ups.

If for no other purpose, the opening process of singing – a pre-warmup, if you will – should prepare your mind for singing, to bring it to the present task. Singing involves all the same biological processes used in normal speech, with the vital difference that singing is more deliberate with those processes: we hold to this pitch for this long on this vowel shape, etc. It takes full consciousness. The brain then becomes the mouthpiece, the bow, the pick of the vocal instrument. With everything out of the box, and the brain in alignment with the rest of it, you’re ready to go.

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