This week we’ll be thinking about getting the most out of your vocal warm-ups, including how to stay motivated and driven, while ensuring you feel a real sense of progress by achieving regular goals.
"If you practise in an intelligent way, you can put yourself in the desirable position of knowing you’re always going to be slightly better than you were the day before."
Why Do We Practise?
The final performance or concert is always the glamorous end product that a musician presents before an audience, but this only happens after hours of diligent preparation. No matter how polished and effortless professional musicians make their performances look, there’s no getting away from the fact that there aren’t any shortcuts to mastering an instrument, and doing so requires plenty of patience and unavoidable hard work. However, it is possible to practise efficiently so that you can maximise the amount of genuine progress you make in one session. If you practise in an intelligent way, you put yourself in the desirable position of knowing you’re always going to be slightly better than you were the day before.
Much like you would before any physical activity, having a thorough warm-up routine is crucial to any successful practice session. It can be very tempting to jump straight into your performance pieces and start playing or singing the passages you know you can perform well straight away; but you will always get more out of a session when your body and mind are active and engaged with the task at hand, rather than passively treading over previously covered ground. Take the time to: find an appropriate space that is free from distractions; get comfortable; then start your session by going over the basics first.
Practising scales can become boring very quickly. If you think of them strictly as an exercise for an exam, you’re never going to get what you should out of mastering these important, fundamental techniques. So, it is important to consider what will make them more interesting: variety. Once you have the basics down, try singing your scales with different rhythms or extending the scale so that it covers the full range of your voice. Simply starting on a different degree of the scale keeps things fresh. Variety is the spice of life after all!
QUICK TIP: Use a metronome to help you keep a solid pulse during these sessions! All Rockschool exams require candidates to play to a backing track, so the sooner you get used to playing to a click, the more at ease you will be in the potentially nerve-wracking experience of an exam.
We spoke to Sam Smith’s keyboard player, Reuben James, back in June 2019, who really stressed the importance of practising the basics creatively by coming up with inventive ways to keep your scales and other fundamental skills interesting. Singers, you can apply these tips too! You can check out the video here:
Band-member for Sam Smith, Reuben James, takes you through his own warm-up techniques
Another really useful way to focus your energies is to set achievable goals that will give you a tangible sense of progress. The end goal for most of us is to play music as well as we possibly can, but this potentially daunting goal can be broken down into lots of smaller goals that suddenly make progress a lot easier and clearer. Rhythmic accuracy, technical fluency, and artistic interpretation are all individual components of a memorable performance; treat these aspects as building blocks that you can put under your practice microscope individually before combining them. If you only focus on one of these aspects in a practice session but manage to cover it thoroughly, then you’re still practising well! Remember: quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to mastering your vocals.
Warming up is even more important when it concerns vocalists. Your voice is your instrument, so treat it with as much care as you would an expensive guitar or keyboard! Lack of preparation can seriously harm your vocal cords, whereas a thorough warm up can give you an extra lift in expanding your range, improving your tone, and preventing damage. Yawning and sighing, loosening the jaw, and lip buzzing are all warm ups you can do before singing a single note to perform at your best.
Of course, warm-ups will vary from person to person, and it's important to do what works for you, but these general principles underpin each discipline and will help you to maximise your productivity and continually improve at a steady rate!
If you'd like some more tips on how to take care of your voice every day, then this blog is a must read: Top Tips for Maintaining Your Vocal Health.