Thoughts From Torb…
Warming up isn’t as critical as people think it is. The most important things you can do for your voice happen well before warming up.
I’ve had people tell me that they warm up for as much as 40 minutes prior to a performance and the average is somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. Not only is this entirely too long, but it can be damaging. One of the main concerns with this much warm up is vocal swelling known as vocal oedema an unnatural fluid retention under the dermal layer of the chord structure. For many performers, this swelling will occur anyway during the performance because of improper technique, so a lengthy warm up just initiates the process earlier thus making it harder to sing during the performance. For an artist that does have decent vocal technique, it’s neurologically fatiguing to sing too long before a performance and the strain can reduce the pliability of the vocal structure. Because the musculature that operates the chord structure is very small and precise, it can fatigue quickly so adding another 20 minutes to the performance makes no sense at all.
A vocal warm should be done at half-volume or less. Volume has nothing to do with warming up the voice, in fact, the louder the volume, the more stress on the chord structure. Some artists incorrectly believe that warming up with greater volume helps them better achieve high notes when in reality they are swelling their chords closer together so higher pitches “appear” to come easier, but at great cost. Over time, this will irreparably damage the vocal structure.
So, what is the ideal warm up? I recommend warming up for no more than two to three minutes before a performance and at half volume. The purpose of a warm up is to flex the vocal chords in a very precise manner to increase pliability. The more pliable the structure, the easier it will be to hit the required notes, particularly high notes. The warm up also instructs and prepares the nervous system for how it should function under performance conditions. I prescribe a series of very precise exercises. Small amounts of stimulus during a warm up will determine how the nervous system will respond during bigger amounts of stimulus during performance conditions.
For many performers, vocal swelling will occur anyway during the performance, because of improper technique, so a lengthy warm up just initiates the process earlier thus making it harder to sing during the performance.
The key to a great performance is correct vocal training and maintaining vocal health over time. So, a warm up is just that—not a performance before the performance, but an easing in and assurance that a performer saves their best for the stage, not the green room.