One of the very first things I remind singers when they begin to study with me is that their whole body is their instrument, not just their voice. The way a singer uses and treats their entire body has a great effect on the sound that comes out when they sing. To that end, I often recommend that singers do a few simple body warm up exercises before they start doing their vocal warm up exercises. These simple movements aim to unblock tension and move energy through the body so that their “instrument” is more open and receptive to the free movement of sound and vibration during singing.
Here are 4 exercises I find helpful prior to vocal warm up:
1) Reach Then Hang
– Breathe in and circle your arms up to the sky, looking up and reaching up through your ribs, up through your armpits, up through the tips of your fingers. Really reach and stretch up.
– Then fall forward bending at the waist letting your head and arms dangle heavily towards the ground. Let the weight of your head pull out your neck, let the weight of your arms pull out your shoulders and just dangle there, folded over.
– While folded forward, breath into your back. Feel your back expand as you send the air on the inhale and feel it release on the exhale. Do three breaths like this, conscious of expanding the breath into your back while folded forward. On the last breath, siren down on your exhale with an “Ah” from the top of your range to the bottom. Allow another breath to come into your back and siren out the exhale one more time. Be sure your head and arms are still heavy and dangling while you are sirening.
– Then roll up, stacking your vertebrae one at a time until the last thing to come up is your head.
– Feel your shoulder blades sliding down your back and your head floating on top of your spine as you find an open, neutral stance.
2) Neck Release
– Tilt your head as though you were trying to touch your ear to your shoulder (just tilting the head, being careful not to draw your shoulder up). Then tilt to the other side. Tilt to the back then to the front.
– Make small circles with your head softening the neck and base of the skull, being gentle as you go around. Then circle in the other direction.
3) Shoulder Release
– Inhale and squeeze your shoulders up towards your ears, really tensing and squeezing as you hold, then release your shoulders and your breath at the same time. Squeeze and release three times.
4) Psoas Stretch
– Also known as a “runner’s lunge”. From a standing position, step your right foot back several feet behind you, lower the right knee to the floor and un-tuck the back foot. The further apart your legs are, the deeper this stretch will be. Your left knee should be directly over your left ankle at a 90 degree angle (if you can not do this, shorten the distance between your left knee and right foot). Rest your arms on your front thigh while your torso lengthens upwards then allow your hips to relax and release towards the floor. Breathe into the stretch and on every exhale release the front of the hips (where your Psoas connects) a little more each time. Then switch sides to do the other leg.
These four exercises address the main areas where carrying tensions can negatively effect breath and vibration for singing: Neck, Shoulders and Hips (Psoas). You may be surprise that tension in the Psoas can effect singing. Your Psoas starts up in your lower back and runs through the hips to connect down close to your groin area in front. When it is tense (and hence, shortened) it creates a constriction in the lower back that when released, allows for a much more free and voluminous breath.
Try this short series of movements the next time before warming up to sing and notice how much more readily your body responds when singing.