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The ‘Why’ of Warming Up and Vocal Care

What is the importance of warming up and vocal care?  Why do we stretch before exercising? Why do we let our cars warm up in the winter before driving them? Because working cold – demanding optimum function without priming the system – is a recipe for strained muscles and broken fan belts.

The voice is no different – it’s a set of muscles and tendons that’s just as prone to fatigue, injury and misuse as our arms and ankles. And in voice over, we use our voices for a longer period of time in a greater variety of ways than the average voice user, some of which can be demanding! Jumping into the booth cold for an hours-long recording session is akin to running a marathon…without training for it….in Antarctica. For a professional voice user, this can mean something as minor as a sore throat, but over time this can lead to vocal fatigue, strain and even worse, physical changes to the vocal folds that could be career limitations…or even career enders.  Warming up and training right is essential for avoiding injury, so in this article I hope to provide you with some of the basics of the ‘why’ of warming up and vocal care.

Outside of warm ups, which we do right before using the voice to get it ready for work, good vocal health is rounded out by daily practice and good vocal hygiene. Daily practice is a time for building the voice, similar to training runs for the marathon. Good vocal hygiene is like trading in your flip flops for proper running shoes. Things like proper hydration, efficient voice use and avoiding problem foods can be the difference between medal-ing and getting side-lined in the med tent. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on the first of the trio – warm ups.

So what makes for a good warm up? First of all, it needs to be short. You shouldn’t need to warm up for a half hour to be in good shape for recording. 5-10 minutes of targeted exercises is plenty, and ideally, you’d get it down to the length of the elevator ride up to the recording studio where your demo record or audition is. Yes, they can be that short.

Second of all, they need to connect the body to the voice. Speech and voice production is a whole-body sport, supported by multiple systems of the body. Stretching out the back, shoulders and face, focusing on alignment and posture, and basic breath work are all great ways to ground the voice.

Lastly, good warm ups need to prime the voice mechanism. Like a systems check before take-off, we want the breath (the ‘power’), the voice (the ‘source’), the resonators (the ‘amplification’) and the articulators (the ‘filters’) to be all-systems go.

A quick set that fits these criteria might look something like this:

  1. Shake out the shoulders, gently stretch neck, face, jaw.
  2. Basic breath work – slow, controlled inhale/exhale cycles, repeated five times
  3. Gentle pitch glides on a hum, then on a lip/tongue trill, then on vowels
  4. Your favorite tongue twister (ex ‘the tip of the tongue, the teeth the lips’)

When we take the time to warm up, we are not just getting our muscles ready to work, we’re getting our brains ready too. Warming up connects us to our technique and training, and reminds us of how we want our voice to work. This is especially important when we may be under stress, such as in an audition situation or the first time you record a demo. Warm ups steady us. They bring us into a frame of mind, which can be a very powerful thing.

Now, just like you have a different set of exercises for your arms and legs, or if you’re working out to bulk up or slim down, there are different warm ups and exercises to support different kinds of voice work. We can work on building stamina for audiobooks, recovery exercises for the harsh voice techniques in video games, improving your pitch range for the high energy demands in promo work, or learning to use vocal fry safely for commercial work.

All of these styles have specific demands on the voice, and if we aren’t using good technique and building up to these periods of high intensity voice use, we are at risk for hurting our instrument. General warm ups will go a long way in preventing injury, and as you find your voice over niche, more targeted warm ups and exercises will help you to further fine-tune your instrument.

Did you know that Edge Studio is one of the only studios that has trained & certified Speech Language Pathologists on our coaching roster? We know you’re making a serious investment in your career, and we want it to be a long and healthy one! If you’d like to learn more about warming up and vocal care, my Vocal Health class is a great starting point. In it, I review the basics of how the voice works and review essential techniques, warm ups and exercises that will help prepare your voice for the demands of the voice over industry. The Vocal Health class happens every month at least once a month, so keep an eye on the Class Schedule for the next available date!

I also offer one hour private consultations for working voice over professionals and for any student who is encountering vocal difficulties (fatigue, mouth noises, breathing issues, pitch breaks) or wishes to expand their voice use in some capacity (stamina, range, quality, etc). These in-depth sessions help me to identify potential sources of difficulties and guide you to the appropriate exercises, habits and resources to address them.