When your choir doesn’t ‘get’ warm-ups

In your work as a choir leader, you may have come across singers who just don’t ‘get’ the point of warm-ups. You’ll see them skulking at the back of the choir, mumbling their way through the exercises you’ve carefully chosen for a rehearsal. If you get the chance to chat to these people, they’ll say things like ‘isn’t singing itself enough of a warm-up?’, or ‘I don’t warm up before I speak, why should I warm up before I sing?’.

So to help you to be primed and ready with excellent responses to such questions, here are three jolly good reasons that all singers, whatever their ability or style, should warm up before they sing.

We all need to chill out

When we arrive at rehearsal, we’re not usually ready to sing. Most adult choirs rehearse in the evening, so people will arrive after a hard day, perhaps having rushed around to get ready. Warm-ups that relax us, like gentle stretching and deep breathing, are great for helping us to put the hassles of the day to one side and bring our focus into the rehearsal room.

Tension is the enemy of good singing

Most of us in the western world are too sedentary these days. Many of us work at desks all day, then come home and watch hours of TV. While you’d think that would make us all super-relaxed, the opposite is often true. Our backs and shoulders end up rounded and hunched; our core muscles lose condition. The upshot is that we carry a huge amount of tension in our necks and shoulders just keeping our heads upright.

We may not be in a position to correct all this in our choir rehearsals, but we can encourage our singers to adopt good posture, which will help to release some of that neck and shoulder tension. This isn’t just for the sake of comfort – tension in the throat area has a direct effect on the quality and timbre of the voice. Sing a note while you shrug your shoulders slowly up and down and you’ll hear for yourself.

Cold muscles aren’t as stretchy as warm ones

The human singing voice is essentially a muscular system. Gentle vocalising warm-ups increase the blood flow to the muscles and raise their temperature, making them more stretchy and flexible and less prone to damage when used strenuously. Not only will your singers sound better, they’ll reduce the risk of hurting themselves.

So next time you encounter any reluctance about warm-ups, remind your choir that they are athletes, and they’re going for a gentle jog before they start sprinting!

Comments on When your choir doesn’t ‘get’ warm-ups

  1. Avatar Kamali says:

    Greatly noted for our choir.

  2. Avatar Devon Bennett says:

    Excellent article and comments. I have a question: Ideally, how much time should I devote to warmup in a 2-hour choir rehearsal?

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Devon. I can only tell you what I do, which is about 15 mins. I might curtail that to 10 if we’re really up against it and have a lot to get through in the rehearsal, but it’s usually about 15.

  3. Avatar Harrie says:

    This is exactly what matters. When the rehearsal starts we are not ready to sing. There is often too easily thought about with all the consequences. This article should read every choirmaster and choir singer. Everyone will be able to recognize themselves in this. Thank you very much and please…go on with this great job.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Thanks for that great comment Harrie.

  4. Avatar Marie Therese Vassallo says:

    Hi. Thanks for your hints, which are always useful. I direct a choir of men and women who are almost all over 60 years of age. I have a problem with my Soprano section. Lately the singers seem to be losing their pitch (going down) and I do not know what to do. Any suggestions? Thanks again. Marie Therese

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      My tip would be to focus on the things that are in your singers’ control – posture, breathing, facial expression.

  5. Avatar Lesley says:

    I’m always on the lookout for fun interactive warm ups. Do please share the baby shark Shirley, intrigued!

  6. Avatar Shirley says:

    I love the warm-up (and cool-down) sessions – it’s become a thing of legend! I make it quite clear that we are no different to athletes and need to stretch out the whole body then we pull stupid faces – it may help the shy to turn their backs on you. Last week we did The Breakfast Song. I repeated this as the cool down but stuck a few variations into it which made them fall about laughing, so was a very positive way to end the session.
    Really recommend Baby Shark too – this is hysterical! I’ve learned that adult singers just love the stuff you’d give kids to do. Someone recently said that my warm-ups were good because I explained WHY we did them and which part of the body it was relaxing, eg the tongue or lips.
    On the negative side, I did have one singer who said to a latecomer ‘oh hello, you’ve just missed all the stupid exercises’ which aside from being rude, may also have explained why she complained of vocal strain afterwards!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Shirley. Thanks for that fantastic comment. Do you have any links to point us to The Breakfast Song and Baby Shark? They sound intriguing!

  7. Avatar Paul says:

    I have singers who don’t mind the relaxing, stretching and gentle singing exercises but object to the tongue-twisters and exercises they say sound silly like sirens, repeating sounds, etc. Any tips?

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      I tell my choir it’s character-building!

      Seriously, I’d probably mention what particular exercises are good for, so with sirens, I might tell them that it’s good to warm up the full range without any harsh onset, and with tongue twisters, we’re engaging all the muscles we need to articulate the text of whatever we’re going to sing. And if that doesn’t work, you could always resort to ‘because I said so’!

  8. Avatar Linda Hardwick says:

    I totally agree with all this, Victoria. We don’t sing as part of our daily lives, but rather during a particular ‘slot’ in the week. In the same way, you wouldn’t ask an athlete to take part in an event without warming up first!!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Thanks Linda. You’re so right that most of us don’t sing every day. The world would probably be a much nicer place if we did. I’m a bit of an unconscious singer and I do get some funny looks when I find myself singing in shops or on the train!

  9. I sometimes let my choir try to sing a song that their familiar with in a “cold start”, so they hear and feel that this doesn’t work as well. Today, the warm-up phase is a good start for all of them.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Matthias. That’s a good idea – I hadn’t thought of that one.

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