Thursday, August 29, 2013

What is warm-up time really about?

In classical music choirs, warm-ups are seen as an essential activity before a rehearsal or performance.  Some gospel choirs do warm-ups also, but others don't.  What is the purpose of warming up?  Why does it matter?

  • The phrase “warming up” really means getting the vocal cords ready to be used.
    • The tissues that make up the vocal folds should get a good circulation of blood flowing through them before you start singing in full voice.  One choir director said, “It takes 7 minutes of singing for the vocal folds to fill with blood and literally be 'warmed up' enough for safe singing . . .  Like with any other muscle we intend to use, we must first warm it up and bring blood to the muscle or risk significant injury to the muscle.” (Source:
    • Singing loudly and singing high notes puts more demand on the vocal cords, so that's why warm-ups should start out with singing in an easy, comfortable range and moderate volume.  Gradually work your way up to the more challenging singing.
    • The 7-minute guideline is how long it takes for your vocal cords to warm up if they're completely cold.  They will not be that cold if you have been using your voice (talking, etc.) for most of the day.  So warming up before you sing is only partially about physically preparing the vocal cords.  Usually when you warm up you have other goals as well.
  • One of the things you want to get out of warming up is preparing the rest of your body to sing by reminding yourself of the postures and vocal techniques that you have learned for getting the most out of your voice.
    • Talking will bring circulation to the vocal cords, but when you're talking you don't use the same kind of breathing and projection that you do when you sing.  During warm-up you want to take the time to remember how you want to hold your body, control your air flow, and relax your mouth, face, and throat in order to get the best sound without straining.  Do your choir members ever show up at rehearsal feeling tense and tight after a long working day?  Warm-up is the time to shake that off and get loose.
    • Warming up also helps to prepare the mind for singing.  As the choir begins to sing together during warm-up, they want to focus their minds and their ears on listening to one another and working on blending their voices.
  • How do you know when you are really warmed up?
    • Your goal in warm-up is to be prepared for the singing you have to do.  One voice teacher said, “When you can hit all the notes in your range with no discomfort and your passagio area is smoothed out, you are warmed up and can confidently apply full voice.” (Source: Judy Rodman) .  The passagio is the part of your range where you have to shift from your chest-voice (lower-note) singing to your head-voice (higher-note) singing.
  • How do you warm up a whole group? If the goal of warming up is to get everything running smoothly in the body and the voice, won't it take longer for some people to reach that goal than for others?  How can a director know when every person is ready?
    • The director can listen to the choir as a whole and decide when they're starting to sound the way they ought to sound.  But there could be particular singers who still need more singing time before they're ready to challenge their voices.  Encourage each person to pay attention to how they are sounding and feeling and continue checking their technique.
    • As the director, you may want to plan your rehearsal time so that the order of the songs allows people more “warm-up” time if they need it.  You can start off rehearsing the songs that are in a medium range and at moderate volumes and wait until later in the rehearsal to do the songs where the singers need to “belt it out” or sing a lot of high notes.


  1. Good post!
    I find that many times choir members (and directors, musicians) need a spiritual warmup as well, to get our minds focused on God...