The Importance of a Vocal Warm Up
Tuning up your voice before performing is an important step to maintaining your instrument. I am not musically inclined. I have never studied music or been able to pay an instrument, but I do know that before performing, it is vital that musical instruments be tuned up. Listen to the symphony as the violinist plucks the strings and adjusts the tightness of each string so that it will deliver the right note when played. Trumpets, guitars, and pianos all require tuning before an artist plays a bar of music. You would not want a performer to hit a wrong note or have the embarrassment of playing an instrument that was not ready to be played. The same is true for each and every voice over talent who is about to step up to the microphone. As a professional voiceover artist, it is your job to be prepared for each and every performance. Even when you are auditioning you want your work to be the best it can be. Think of your instrument as your voice. You voice requires the same attention to warming up before reading a script as a concert pianist requires themselves to tune up before playing a symphony.
A vocal warm up should be a daily practice for the professional voice over artist. It is not just something you do before stepping into the studio to record a new demo, it is something that should be practiced each and every day before auditioning. There are a number of different exercises you can do to warm up your voice and I am going to share a few of those with you. First of all set aside time to go through your vocal exercise routine. How long you warm up is
Today I was driving back from an appointment and decided that the 20 minutes or so I had before reaching home would be best used warming up my voice. So while I was safely obscured in my car I belted out some vocal warm up exercises. I started with stretching my mouth as I pronounced each vowel sound. A tip I learned from 30 year voiceover veteran Steve Bloom, is to place each letter of the alphabet in front of the vowel and then go through the five vowels and repeat the process until you have said the whole alphabet. So instead of saying A, E, I, O, U you would you say aA, aE, aI, aO, aU. Then on to B, C, D, etcetera until you reach the letter Z. Steve teaches his students to do this in the mirror and make exaggerated faces to stretch out the muscles in your mouth while also giving your vocal cords a workout. It is a great exercise and you can have fun making faces as you exaggerate each vowel sound aloud. I highly recommend doing this exercise in the car and seeing the reactions of other drivers who are stopped next you at a red light.
The next exercise I do to warm up my voice comes from the training I received from Such-A-Voice coach Brian Thon. Brian instructs students to repeat a simple phrase in their normal speaking voice and then gradually increase the volume of their voice with each repetition. Once you are shouting at the top of your lungs you have completed the first phase of the vocal warm up. Step two begins the same way by speaking the phase in a normal speaking voice and then gradually lowering the volume to a whisper that is barely audible. Step three begins again at the same level of volume as a natural speaking voice, but instead of raising the volume you raise the pitch of your voice so that it becomes high and squeaky. The higher your voice goes the more your vocal cords are exercising. Step four is to start again with a normal speaking voice and volume, only this time make you voice go deeper with every repetition of the phase. This exercise is a good practice for both men and women as it allows you to stretch you vocal cords and prepare you for the various emotions that you might have to voice in a script. When you are comfortable moving from high to low and soft to loud voices you can mix up your voice warm up by being loud and high pitched then being soft spoken and deep and move through each area of the warm up really give your voice a workout. I almost forgot to add tell you… the phase that is easy to use and remember is, “There’s good news!” You can use other short phrases that roll off the tongue or try this one.
Okay, take a deep breath and purse your lips, because the next exercise is a trill. If you are a singer you might already know that trills loosen up your lips making it easier to form notes when singing. For a voice over artist, trills do the same job of preparing your lips for a slew of words to come flowing over your tongue and out of your mouth smoothly. Well smoothly is the goal anyway, we all get tongue tied now and then, and this is where trills help to keep you sharp and poised. Basically a trill is what happens when you blow air out of your mouth while you lips are closed. The vibration of the lips loosens up the small muscles around your mouth so you can annunciate properly. Blowing raspberries with your tongue is another type of trill that loosens up your tongue. The longer you can perform a trill with a single breath the better, so practice vibrating your lips while blowing out for as long as you can. Samuel L. Jackson demonstrates trills very well in the opening scene of the 2014 reimagining of the movie Robocop (starring Joel Kinnaman, rated PG-13).
The vocal warm up is an essential part of the daily routine for the professional voiceover artist. Whether starting out with a makeshift booth in a closet or performing inside a recording in studio, the best voice over talent understands the importance of tuning up their voice before they pick up a script. In the same way that an orchestra tunes up each individual instrument before a playing the first note of a symphony, voiceover artists should be exercising and warming before stepping up to the microphone.
You can perform a vocal warm up in as little as six to eight minutes, but the more time you allow yourself to exercise your vocal cords, lips, and tongue before performing the better you will be once you start to read a script. Today my drive was about twenty minutes and used the entire time to make sure that once I was in the studio I was ready to deliver.
Special Thanks to the VO professionals and coaches who continue to contribute to my vocal training:
Steve Blum, Blumvox Studios, blumvoxstudios.com
Brian Thon, Such-A-Voice, suchavoice.com