Tag Archives: drills

Vocal Warm-Ups You Can Do In The Car

If you’re a singer on your way to a voice lesson, rehearsal, or audition, it’s always good to do a bit of warming up in the car, because there are few things more annoying to music directors than singers wasting time complaining that they’re not warmed up yet when there’s real work to be done, such as theater scenes, big solos and such. It’s especially important to arrive warmed up if you have a voice lesson that’s less than an hour long, because one can easily spend 15 minutes just doing voice exercises, leaving little time to rehearse music.

But the thing about warming up in the car is that there’s always the risk of driving distracted, especially if you have your car stereo or iPod playing. So what kinds of things can you do?

First of all, turn off the music so that your mind can be focused. If you can sing warm-ups to an accompaniment track in the car without getting distracted, God Bless You, but your risk of distraction goes up tremendously. Besides, quickie warm-ups are more about how the voice feels than how it sounds. Sometimes you can start singing full-bore in the car to your favorite song and end up over-working your voice because your attention was divided–it’s easier to ignore your voice if more than 60% of your attention is on the road and you let a recording string your voice along. Then when you get to the studio or rehearsal hall, you’re already half-exhausted.

So there needs to be a balance. The focus should be on feeling loose, free, open, and ready to go when the downbeat comes, and here are some easy exercises to get there:

  1. Shoulder shrugs and circles. Start loosening and relaxing the shoulders and upper torso. A lot of us drive scrunched up over our steering wheels, which isn’t good. You want your torso to feel like it’s in singing mode–open, comfortably high, and relaxed.
  2. Lip trills. Make a motorboat sound with your lips, with and without phonating. Glide the pitch up and down.
  3. Big facial expressions. Do an exaggerated yawn, smile, or other expression to loosen up facial muscles.
  4. Hum and chew. Do these simultaneously. It helps to loosen up the jaw and get you relaxed while phonating.
  5. Breathing. Start to feel the breath low. Obviously, sitting in a car is not conducive to good breathing for singing, but if you’ve spent a little time loosening up, take a moment to just feel where the breath is. Take a few conscious breaths with focus on your abdomen.
  6. Sirens and sighs. Gentle glides on “oo” or your vowel of choice, starting in the head voice and gently sliding down to the lower range, will help to wake up the larynx and get it ready for singing. Do some descending glides first, then follow with some sirens–starting low and gliding up and over the top before coming down again. Feel the resonance in the “mask” or the third-eye area, and get present to it as you sing. Keep the facial muscles and jaw relaxed. It doesn’t need to be crazy-loud, just smooth and easy.

If you have a good chance to do some singing singing at this point, feel free to do so, but within your observable constraints. By the time you get to your destination, you should feel opened up and ready to sing for real and make your music director very pleased with you.

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The word of the day is: Conditioning!

A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful massage session thanks to AJ at Celestial Touch Wellness Studio. After suffering for months with on-and-off tendonitis in my forearms from wrestling with a mic stand and overplaying the keyboard, she gave me a myofascial release, which is the equivalent of driving a steamroller over my arms.

I was tender for a day or so afterward, but then…no pain.

Miracle.

She advised that I come back periodically to get treated some more, because breaking up and re-assembling muscle tissue is never a one-and-done affair, as any athlete will tell you. And in the meantime, I have to start developing an exercise regimen for my fingers and arms so that they can handle the level of keyboard playing I’m committed to without injury.

That means I get to dust off my Hanon book.

A lot of musicians come to her with performance-related tension and injury which could have been mitigated or avoided with conditioning – those boring, mechanical warm-up drills that no student musician has the patience for anymore, like scales, chord progressions, and anything else that sounds like an army of marching ants. For singers, that means sirens, sighs, hums, lip trills, and any other crazy noises that make instrumentalists and others look at you funny, even though they know exactly what you’re doing.

Well, now the music teachers have lost all patience for drills because that’s one of the reasons why they lose students – they’re bored and they don’t see the point of doing them. Because of this, there’s an invasion of shiny, sparkly programs developed by savvy music educators to take the daily conditioning drills OUT of music practice so that a teacher can keep their students engaged. The programs involve (among other things) not practicing every day, or only doing “real” music to get students into performance mode as quickly as possible.

For a while, I was in support of this, because you DO want to have students engaged and wanting to learn all the time. You want to do whatever is possible to keep their love affair with music going strong. But there’s a risk that comes with throwing out conditioning – you will put your students at risk for injury.

Not that AJ minds having extra clients, but she will be the first to tell you that musicians (especially pros) don’t do nearly enough conditioning to keep their performance healthy. Of course, you don’t want to over-condition, but if you’ve ever had to jump up and sing or play something when your bodily mechanism is completely cold, it’s no good at all – at best, you sound and feel creaky, and at worst, you hurt yourself.

Professional athletes condition every day – they’re constantly at the gym, the weight room, or the running track. And they have massage therapists and nutritionists on hand 24-7, for obvious reasons. I watch hockey, and HERE’S a game where no one can afford to miss a morning skate or gym time if there’s a career at stake. I have a poignant memory of the oft-beaten-in-front-of-the-goalie-net Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings saying that on the first day of his retirement at age 40, he could finally get up in the morning without feeling pain. I’d say if it weren’t for conditioning, he’d have hung up his skates much sooner.

Granted, not every musician aspires to be a pro with that level of rigor to their game. But you don’t want to have performance-related injury be the reason for not pursuing that goal, or for breaking off one’s love affair with music forever.

So for cripe’s sake, do your scales. Do them with good technique and steady regularity. If you’re a singer, do your sirens and sighs and hums and whatever else you can do to get the voice in shape, even if you don’t do actual music for the day. Do them just enough to get you ready for the task at hand, and you can take off anywhere from there. If you do nothing else musically today, at least do your conditioning!

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Vocal Warm-Ups You Can Do In The Car

If you’re a singer on your way to a voice lesson, rehearsal, or audition, it’s always good to do a bit of warming up in the car, because there are few things more annoying to music directors than singers wasting time complaining that they’re not warmed up yet when there’s real work to be done, such as theater scenes, big solos and such. It’s especially important to arrive warmed up if you have a voice lesson that’s less than an hour long, because one can easily spend 15 minutes just doing voice exercises, leaving little time to rehearse music.

But the thing about warming up in the car is that there’s always the risk of driving distracted, especially if you have your car stereo or iPod playing. So what kinds of things can you do?

First of all, turn off the music so that your mind can be focused. If you can sing warm-ups to an accompaniment track in the car without getting distracted, God Bless You, but your risk of distraction goes up tremendously. Besides, quickie warm-ups are more about how the voice feels than how it sounds. Sometimes you can start singing full-bore in the car to your favorite song and end up over-working your voice because your attention was divided–it’s easier to ignore your voice if more than 60% of your attention is on the road and you let a recording string your voice along. Then when you get to the studio or rehearsal hall, you’re already half-exhausted.

So there needs to be a balance. The focus should be on feeling loose, free, open, and ready to go when the downbeat comes, and here are some easy exercises to get there:

  1. Shoulder shrugs and circles. Start loosening and relaxing the shoulders and upper torso. A lot of us drive scrunched up over our steering wheels, which isn’t good. You want your torso to feel like it’s in singing mode–open, comfortably high, and relaxed.
  2. Lip trills. Make a motorboat sound with your lips, with and without phonating. Glide the pitch up and down.
  3. Big facial expressions. Do an exaggerated yawn, smile, or other expression to loosen up facial muscles.
  4. Hum and chew. Do these simultaneously. It helps to loosen up the jaw and get you relaxed while phonating.
  5. Breathing. Start to feel the breath low. Obviously, sitting in a car is not conducive to good breathing for singing, but if you’ve spent a little time loosening up, take a moment to just feel where the breath is. Take a few conscious breaths with focus on your abdomen.
  6. Sirens and sighs. Gentle glides on “oo” or your vowel of choice, starting in the head voice and gently sliding down to the lower range, will help to wake up the larynx and get it ready for singing. Do some descending glides first, then follow with some sirens–starting low and gliding up and over the top before coming down again. Feel the resonance in the “mask” or the third-eye area, and get present to it as you sing. Keep the facial muscles and jaw relaxed. It doesn’t need to be crazy-loud, just smooth and easy.

If you have a good chance to do some singing singing at this point, feel free to do so, but within your observable constraints. By the time you get to your destination, you should feel opened up and ready to sing for real and make your music director very pleased with you.

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Practice as “Me Time”: Redefining Practicing, Part 3

The time you spend with your music is time you don’t have to spend anywhere else, on any other thing.  It’s “Me Time.”

Choosing that time in your day is the first thing. Just make sure that it’s YOU choosing it, and not your other responsibilities choosing it for you. Otherwise, those other responsibilities will hijack that time in your mind every chance they get.

If you’re getting that “ugh” feeling before practice, take a moment, sit down with a piece of paper, and just express all of your honest feelings about practicing, everything you hate and loathe about it, and let loose with all the self-doubt and distractions, without censorship, without thinking–let it all out, and just let the paper absorb them. Burn the paper for extra effect.

Alternately, use motion: wiggle and dance that “ugh” feeling out of your body until your body is nice and loose. Do some yoga stretches and breathing to relax. Let yourself empty the feeling completely, until there is nothing. (Sometimes I notice that the practice music itself will clear me, if I just begin and let everything else fall away.)

Only then, in that space of nothing, begin the music. This time exists for you and no one else–not your teacher, parents or peers. Just you. Nothing else has to happen at this time; turn the phone and computer off.  Your object is to enrich yourself. This is your time to make music. Have your practice be a meditation, a prayer or healing session. Have it be a chance to discover yourself.

Out and about somewhere? Study your score silently outside of your normal practice time.  You can do it anywhere–in a coffee shop, library or waiting room. Read the piece like a novel or poem. Tap the rhythm with just a soft fingertip. Feel yourself breathing through it without making a sound. Unhook your mind from the mere mechanics of it and you will get a totally different experience.

Of course, we can’t get away from drills and scales, so let’s put them in a new context: Practicing a scalar pattern actually has you participate in the Music of the Spheres and attune your own body and soul to all similar cycles that define our Universe. Steady the breath and work within your natural motion and way of being. Use it as a meditation or mantra. Embody it, let your body ring with the sound. Let the exercise work on you, rather than you work on it. And as your grow in your mastery of it, have its execution be a single, fluid motion, rather than separate beads on a strand. Delight in the whole as much as the parts.

Complete your practice session with reflection. A journal is good for this. What value did you get out of it? What progress did you make? What will you need to work on for the future? What questions can you bring to your teacher? How can you make your experience better?

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