A shoutout to vocal warmups

If you like to sing, even if only in the shower, let me encourage you to check out some of these online.

One of my biggest surprises after getting involved in serious chorus participation after I retired from the newsroom was the importance of the warmups at our rehearsals. I had come to four-part, a cappella singing through Mennonites in my mid-30s, and I had never cottoned up to practicing scales and similar exercises back when I was learning violin as a preteen.

What George Emlen and then Megan Henderson presented in our first 15 minutes or so of rehearsal each week with Boston Revels totally changed my attitude. A good warmup not only added a few notes to my range but also tuned to the entire ensemble into a more, pardon the pun, finely tuned and more responsive instrument. Some of the exercises were definitely fun, laughter filled, as well as challenging. Try singing “Many mumbling mice singing by the moonlight my how nice” repeatedly as the pitch rises and the tempo speeds up, for instance, and soon the sopranos sound like they’re the Chipmunks on laughing gas. Or any of the numbers games.

And then, when Covid interrupted in-person interaction, some online offerings stepped into the void. I’m still finding them very helpful during the week between the rehearsal warmups with my new group, Quoddy Voices, and conductor John Newell.

Here’s a sampling:

  1. Cheryl Porter Vocal Coach. One of my favorites. With her big boxing gloves (seriously) and irresistible if corny enthusiasm, she could as easily be leading a housewives’ weight-control calisthenics round. But her exercises are heavy-hitting, well-grounded, and even dance inducing. Suitable for group singers and those looking to solo alike. Diss her at your own risk.
  2. Nathan Dame. Great perspectives from an outstanding Wylie East (Texas) public high school music educator. This is an example of why music can be a crucial part of a well-rounded curriculum. Dame pours so much energy into his adolescent choruses, I’m left wondering how he recovers at the end of the day. The kids clearly rise to his challenges and respect them. Many of his insightful techniques, meanwhile, seem to arise somewhere within him rather than from a textbook or standing tradition. And you can practice alongside them.
  3. Roger Hale. Solid college-level sessions for both actors and singers, grounded in classical perspectives with his Dixie State University students.
  4. Madeleine Harvey. Her video series relies on the fundamentals of traditional vocal training, things like breathing, breath control, tone, range top and bottom, pitch, agility, and avoiding strain. These are the kind of sessions a singer encounters with a personal professional vocal coach.
  5. Eric Arceneaux, Professional Vocal Warmup. His technical understanding of the voice extends to many popular music styles. Makes snobby me appreciate the abilities of some top-selling singers, too.
  6. Matthew Gawronski Just follow the notes on the screen. Some versions include a full choir to sing along with.
  7. Church Music Dublin with Mark Duley. Practical, everyday stuff. He’s one leader who finds physical movement with the hands and arms or more can improve the sound. I was skeptical at first. Not so now.
  8. Tony Leach with the Collaborative Music Education series from Pennsylvania State University. Professor Leach adds rote training in the African and African-American traditions to his excellent classical discipline. You’ll definitely get a sense of what makes Gospel such a focused genre to perform. I just wish the videos included his student choruses so that you’d get a feel of singing with others.
  9. Paul McKay One Voice. Not all of the warmups are for folks who read musical scores. McKay’s especially fine for explaining the inner working of things like riffs and runs and other techniques that greatly extend today’s vocal expression.
  10. Cincinnati Youth Choir. Don’t scoff at some of the children’s choirs. Their energy, clarity, and precision can be contagious. Just listen to the CYC’s video of “One voice” for proof. Besides, they can humble some of the rest of us.

Of course, if you start with these, you’ll quickly discover a host of great concerts and conductors as well. Beware.


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