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On-the-Go Vocal Warm-Ups

Caring for the singing voice is especially important during seasonal changes, and when rehearsals and performances stack up, much like a Bach fugue stretto. Some simple warm-ups especially suited for execution in one's vehicle (Ragan and Kapsner-Smith, 2019) progress from facial and articulator stretches, breathing exercises, and semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, to protocols for building resonance. Curating the web, I found these to be a good set of vocal warm-ups while on the go.

The first category of exercises warms up the face and articulators. Beginning with a good facial stretch, scrunch into an "u" vowel and then expand to "a", doing this several times. For relaxing the jaw the "rule of thumb" is to keep a thumb-sized distance between the top and bottom teeth. This essential space is needed for relaxed phonation and accurate articulation. The tongue can be stretched by sticking it out and down as far as it can reach. Anchoring the tip of the tongue to the bottom teeth, push out the middle of the tongue to bulge outwards. Voiced tongue and jaw exercises can be done bulging the tongue this way and enunciating "yah" on a 5 4 3 2 1 or 1 3 5 8 7 5 4 2 1 scale patterns. For even more tongue flexibility, rotate the tongue 360 degrees on the outside of the teeth in both directions ten times.

The second group of exercises focus on the breathing mechanism. Box breathing is a good way to prime the instrument - exhale 4 counts, hold 4 counts, inhale 4 counts, hold 4 counts, and repeat 5-8 times for the best effect. Hiss with "s" or "sh", keeping a constant airflow until the lungs are empty. Then pulse rhythmically in duplets or triplets. Continue this rhythmic exercise with unvoiced and voiced consonant pairs:

  • /sssss/-/zzzzz/-/sssss/-/zzzzz/

  • /fffff/-/vvvvv/-/fffff/-/vvvvv/

  • /θθθθθ/-/ððððð/-/θθθθθ/-/ððððð/

  • /ʃʃʃʃʃ/-/ʒʒʒʒʒʒ/.

The third set of exercises are semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, done by partially obstructing the air coming through the vocal tract, which creates "back pressure" on the vocal folds. This back pressure trains efficient phonation. SOVT exercises with higher pressure involve phonation through narrow straws, phonation through a straw immersed in water, lip and tongue trills, and raspberries. On the other hand, nasal consonants represent SOVT exercises with relatively lower pressure. Voiced fricatives such as "v" occupy a middle ground between the two. For this reason, my favourite SOVT while driving in the car is on "v" with a 5 8 5 3 1 scalar motive. From sirens, slides and rhythmic pulses on your favourite SOVT, you can also intone the melody of a song. As you finish these exercises, pay attention to the sensations in your voice. Are there any signs of tension in your throat or shoulders that require release? Does your voice feel relaxed and effortless?

In the preceding section's SOVT exercises, you likely generated robust resonances between your vocal tract and vocal folds due to the vocal tract resisting changes in airflow. These resonances enable you to generate considerable sound with minimal effort or strain. To find an easy voice with a lot of buzzing say "hmmmmm" on a comfortable pitch. Then try adding different vowels to your hum: /mɑm/ /mim/ /moʊm/ /mum/ / meɪm/ /maɪm/. Continue to speak words and phrases with many nasal sounds such as "symphony of nasal resonance".

Careful preparation of the speaking voice using a systematic set of exercises can effectively prime your instrument for daily spoken and sung usage and potentially mitigate vocal fatigue.


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