Vocal warm-ups. We know we should do them. We know there are mistakes we need to avoid.

We also know it is important to help our clients warm-up their voices. But, how? As this topic wasn’t covered when I went through college, I decided to see what Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC had to say.

Sharon is Associate Professor of Music Therapy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Coordinator of the Undergraduate Music Therapy Program. She has over 20 years of experience working in long-term care, particularly with individuals dealing with memory care issues. She utilizes vocal improvisation and singing-based experiences throughout her clinical work and in her teaching. In addition, she has extensively researched and written about the use of voice in clinical music therapy, along with vocal health in music therapy.

Insights on vocal warm-ups from Sharon Boyle, MM, MT-BC

Take the time to watch this video. Use the highlights that follow to help you remember so of the hot tips Sharon serves-up.


Highlights on Vocal Needs of Older Adults

  • Menopause creates a range of changes in aging women….there is calcification of the vocal mechanism  – drying, more rigidity, etc.
    • One way to help offset this and to maintain vocal ability (this includes speech) is to USE the voice.
    • Sing daily – several times a day, with intention
  • As we age, our vocal range tends to shrink
    • Be aware of vocal range – older adults can work to expand their range a bit, but can do this through daily singing and vocalizing
    • Keys that are chosen make a big difference in older adults’ ability to engage vocally
  • Our physical bodies correlate with our voice
    • Our posture makes a difference, so working with posture is important
    • Issues such as osteoporosis can cause physical changes (hunching of shoulders, back, etc.)
  • Breath
    • Underlying issue across all voice work
    • Integrate exercises with posture and breath
    • Encourage sitting with an expansive, but relaxed posture
      • In short durations of time initially because muscles that are underused can tense up, spasm, etc.

Interview with Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC Some key ways to warm up with a group

Start with loosening up the body
  • Stretching arms up and out as you breathe in deeply – can move into a yawn sound as you exhale and the arms come down
    1. As arms come down allow your torso to feel suspended and expansive
    2. Repeat a few times
  • Allow your right arm to hang down to its side and then allow the left arm to come up and over head, but twist out, allowing your chest to open and hold as you breathe normally, allowing your right arm to extend further down as it relaxes in the shoulder
    1. Breathe in fully and exhale as you bring down left arm and then move to the other side.
    2. Repeat a few times
  • Bend forward, with legs should width apart à relaxing upper body
    1. Allow arms to hang freely
    2. Engage back by breathing in deeply
    3. Exhale on an audible sigh
    4. Repeat a few times
    5. Can scrunch up facial muscles as you do this and make little humming sounds
Posture and Breath – from Michael Boswell, Associate Professor of Voice at SMWC:
  1. Imagine your body is like a canister that does not deflate, you fill it with water and the canister holds its shape no matter how much water goes in or out of it – Hold your body in a relaxed and suspended way (the canister) and breathe normally, noting how the space created in your body can sustain. If it doesn’t, or if it deflates, this is due to habit or muscular weakness. Work with this several times a day.
  2. The sensation is that of one who is surprised or excited about something, taking in breath in a type of “Oh!” feeling, note how the body feels in this expanded and suspended space
  3. Now add in some nice hums, on an ascending scale.  Are you able to suspend the space?
  • Vocal Play and Singing
    1. “If you can vocalize it in vocal play, you can sing it.” (also courtesy of Michael Boswell) This is true in vocal improvisation skill building!
    2. Some vocal play ideas: (A sense of humor and a sense of play is key here)
      1. Ghost sounds. I have used an echo mic, real microphone, or even a tube with an enclosed end that creates an acoustic. (The tube in the video is a Zube Tube.)
      2. Nature sound replication à imitate bird sounds, wind sounds, thunder/rain, etc.
    3. Other environmental sound replication  – sirens, alarms, phone ringing, etc.
  • Straight up vocalizing
    1. Start in mid-range and try singing “ee” (scale degrees of 1-2-3-2-1) using quarter notes, moving up a ½ step for a few exercises, then come back down
    2. Try five tone vocalize singing “oo” (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1) on eighth notes…try this in middle to mid-high range and then move down into lower range; can add a “m” or “n” at the start (“noo” or “moo”) for softer onset
    3. Open to an “Nah” sound and try sirens  – start low and glide to a higher note and back down, moving the higher pitches a little higher each time and sustain the descending line down a little longer each time
  • Humming and Singing
    1. Use a very familiar song with a melody that does not jump around a lot
    2. Place tongue behind top teeth, close mouth, and hum the entire melody of the song
    3. Then sing “oo” of melody
    4. Then sing the words/sing the vocal line
    5. Use another familiar song, but now with a melody that has more leaps or range required
    6. Follow the same process and try to maintain the posture and provide the same breath when singing the lyrics with the melody
    7. Be aware of the breaths taken between phrases. Is there gasping? Are shoulders raising up? Are you out of breath? If so, go back and work with the breath and posture, and with humming, then return to singing phrases.

How are you warming-up yourself and your clients?

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