Whenever a student contacts me about a “problem spot” in a song she’s preparing, I remind her: “It’s not the actual note, line, or phrase that’s tripping you up; it’s the moment directly before it.”
In other words, it’s how you approach the three notes leading up to the high A (or whatever) that makes the high A possible.
I call this the “runway” effect. The simple principle that any “money moment” takes anticipation and planning — clear preparation — before you bust it out.
The moment before is key not just on a micro-level (in the case of individual notes and lines) but also on a grander scale, day to day, audition to audition.
I’m talking about vocal warm ups and mental prep, my friends!
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” -Robert H. Schuller
After you have chosen your audition song, warming up effectively before singing will give your voice an unshakeable foundation, and your performance wings. The weeks, days, and moments before a singing audition are just as important as the audition!
The problem is, few singers have a clear idea of what to do when they warm up (and I don’t blame you; it’s freaking confusing). So I’m here to offer four tips on how to develop a Singer Ritual* that works for you, not just for daily practice, but for audition days, as well.
(*I call warming up a “Ritual,” and encourage you to do so, too. It adds a sanctity and weight that makes it difficult to ignore.)
TIP #1: It’s better to have frequent, bite-sized practice sessions (i.e. 5 to 15 minutes every day) than one marathon session, once per week.
“Five minutes per day? You’re crazy!” is a common reaction to this statement. But this principle has been tested and proven time and again with my students.
Daily reinforcement, no matter how brief, is better than taking long breaks from singing. Many days off in a row compromises muscle memory and can often undo or reverse any progress you’ve made with your technique.
So if you don’t have the time to practice for a half hour to an hour, so what! Get cracking for five minutes, and you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.
TIP #2: Every warm up session has a beginning, middle, and (optional) ending.
I encourage my students to think of their Singer Ritual as having 3 parts. The first part is mandatory, the second builds on the first, and the third is a nice bonus if you have the time.
Part One: Always start with Breath Activation.
All warm up sessions should begin with breath-specific warm ups.
I’m a nut when it comes to reinforcing breathing, because it is the foundation of singing and relaxation, two essential ingredients to a good performance.
Good examples might be: steady hissing for 30-45 seconds; simple Lip Trills, yogic “Breath of Fire” for 60 seconds.
Always, always, always start with breath!
Part Two: Next, it’s time to “Open Up Shop.”
Opening Up Shop basically means: dusting off the cobwebs, and greasing up the gears. In this category reside your favorite go-to warmups that aren’t challenging or demanding. They’re just fun, soothing, and allow you to take a relaxing tour of your range.
Good examples of these are: AH exercises, on a 1-2-3-2-1 pattern, up and down your comfortable range; singing on an NG (as in, the closed part of “HUNG”) while performing a vocal siren.
Part Three: If you have time and are feeling good, move onto Skills Growth.
Skills Growth basically means: touch on sensations or techniques that you’re not 100% comfortable with.
Some examples might be: experimenting with supported belting, focusing head voice so it’s more “pingy,” or developing a chest voice that resonates more in the mouth.
Think of this as the capstone of your warmup session. If you don’t have time for it, skip it.
But if you do, it’s time to get experimental!
Part Three is where you can work on Song Preparation. In the days before an audition, Skills Growth is your time to deconstruct a song, mark any tricky spots, and strategize about how those tricky spots can be approached, vocally.
Then, on the day of the audition, follow the exact same process: Breath Activation, Open Up Shop, and, during Skills Growth, rehearse your song full-out.
TIP #3: Direct Your Thoughts to Memorize Physical Sensations
I’m a nut about breathing, but I’m an even bigger nut about something I call “mental eyesight”—which means: practicing while being engaged mentally, versus singing on autopilot just to pass the time.
Why? Because the way we learn a new sensation or habit is to observe and internalize the sensation consciously (via mental eyesight), which links your mind to your body.
Then eventually the sensation becomes second-nature, or subconscious. Which leads to awesome singing.
I’m obsessed with offering Visualizations and Cues that give your brain words, phrases, and images to latch on to. These are designed to (1) literally get your body to do certain things (if you tell your body to do something, it will listen), and (2) get you to relax and stop tensing.
The cool part? The Visualizations start to work like magic. The even cooler part: if Visualizations work well while you’re warming up, they’ll work equally well during an audition or performance.
My favorite personal example is a Visualization I used when I stood by for Elphaba in Wicked; I always thought “BUTT CLENCH!” when it was time to sing the high parts of “Defying Gravity.” This got my butt to clench, me to relax, my larynx to neutralize, and gave me awesome breath support.
For you, it might be something like: “Breath DOWN,” or, “Smile with your eyes,” or any other triggers that you and your vocal coach or voice teacher come up with.
Bottom line: use your Singer Ritual as an opportunity to get to know your favorite Visualizations and Cues; they’ll be your best friends at your audition, especially during stressful or challenging moments.
Tip #4: Rehearse with (Then Recall) a Positive Frame of Mind
A crucial thing to remember during your Singer Ritual is that you’re not just rehearsing physical sensations, you’re rehearsing a frame of mind and outlook.
Many of my students are astounded by how an optimistic mood makes their singing feel way more effortless and free. So, in response, I ask them to isolate the empowering thoughts, phrases, or images that help them get to that mental groove of positivity.
The more you reinforce this mental groove, the easier it will be to recall that thought and associated feeling before an audition.
Ask yourself: what gets you psyched? What positive image or phrase makes you feel real joy when it’s time to sing?
Focus on the positive, cut out the negative self-talk, and revisit these positive mental triggers in the waiting room before an audition. You’ll be armed with happiness, and your singing will flow much more freely.
If you do, the audition panel won’t just want to cast you, they’ll want to know what it is you’re smoking.
“I’m high on singing, baby.” —Felicia Ricci
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