Sunday, September 09, 2007

Preparing to sing

As a Natural Voice practitioner each workshop or choir session that I run begins with a physical and vocal warm up. I slowly prepare people’s voices for singing as well as making a strong connection between their voice and their body. This is something I do regularly so it has become second nature.

However, many people who have not worked with me before often comment on the warm ups: “That was fun and different!”, “I’m not used to doing a warm up like that”, and even “Why do you bother to do a warm up? We never do in my choir”. This has often set me to thinking about what kinds of warm ups other choirs do (I can’t imagine! Just scales perhaps?), but also why do I bother to do warm ups at all?

In my regular weekly sessions with choirs the warm up is also a vocal training session. Over the weeks I can help people improve their breathing for singing, help them to connect with their body, increase their vocal range, improve the richness of their voice, etc. But for one-off sessions it is simply a warm up. My angle is that most people don’t sing regularly and also lead fairly stressful, unnatural and sedentary daily working lives. They need to be eased into singing so they don’t hurt their throat, they need to relax from the muscle tensions and stresses of the day, they need to re-connect to their bodies, they need to become aware again of their physical presence. The warm up acts as a transition from daily life to that attentive, relaxed, listening state we need to be in when we sing with others.

To demonstrate this quite clearly, I sometimes skip the warm up entirely and launch straight into a song. Then afterwards I do our usual warm up and then sing the same song again, asking if people notice any difference. Usually everyone notices something significant and enthusiastically join in with the warm up for the next few weeks!

In the late 1980s two Georgian ethnomusicologists (Edisher Garakanidze and Josef Jordania) came over to work with a group of singers in Cardiff for a week. After a couple of days of singing together, somebody asked if we could perhaps do a warm up before we launched into the songs each day. Both Georgians were rather confused, didn’t know what a warm up was, but said it was fine to go ahead. They watched in some amusement as we went through our paces! Which leads me to the following heresy: I don’t think you need to warm up every time you sing. If you sing regularly, every day perhaps, as people do in many cultures, then there is probably no need unless you want to access the limits of your vocal range.

Of course, the easiest way to find out whether you need a warm up or not is just to try without one next time and see what difference it makes. Me, I enjoy them!

Next week I’ll be writing in more detail about the Natural Voice approach to singing (The Natural Voice approach).

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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