Too often I’ve been caught off-guard making sure my hair, makeup and outfit is ready for a performance, only to realize that I haven’t warmed up my voice. After many last-minute warm-ups sessions in the car, I was left wondering whether you can sing without a warm-up.
You are able to sing without warming up your voice, but not as easily as if you had and this is not recommended. Without a warm-up you will need to actively avoid straining your voice by maintain a relaxed and correct posture, controlling your breathing and staying hydrated.
So it is possible, but singing without warming up does have an impact on your voice. This is something else I have looked into.
Singing Without a Warm-up
Singing without a vocal warm-up makes singing more difficult. Warm-ups are designed to build muscle memory, which means the muscles used to sing act the way they are supposed to without you thinking about it because you have practiced these motions beforehand. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sing without warm-ups.
If you are able to consciously think about what you need to do to take the effort out of singing, then you can still sing without straining your voice. Here’s some key things you will need to consider:
- Relax your muscles
- Correct your posture
- Control your breathing
- Drink water to stay hydrated
- Use a humidifier or steamer
Relax Your Muscles
Relaxing your muscles, mostly around your throat (shoulders and neck), opens up your airways. This means minimal effort is required to get the air out of your lungs to produce a sound. This can be achieved by breathing in and letting out all the air just before you begin your performance.
Correct Your Posture
Correcting your posture has a similar purpose. If you imagine your body and head is being held up by a piece of string, you should find yourself standing up straighter. You can find an illistration of this here. You can also tighten your gluteal muscles (squeeze your buttocks together) to correct the center of gravity in your pelvis. If it helps, you can pretend to hold a coin between your buttocks.
Control Your Breathing
Breath control involves being able to take in an adequate amount of air into your lungs, but not letting it out too quickly. This is achieved by loosening your abdominal muscles so that your stomach expands when you breath in. Remember that ‘it’s okay to look fat‘.
To keep the air from escaping too quickly, you can add some twang to your voice (make your voice sound nasally). This makes it harder to produce a ‘breathy’ sound. For more information on controlling your breathing, check out my article on controlling your voice.
Staying hydrated is something that you can’t correct last-minute while on stage, but something you can keep in the back of your mind if you think you won’t have time for warm-ups before a performance.
You should also be considering which foods to eat before singing. This simply provides the body with enough moisture to prevent your vocal cords drying out. It usually takes around 3 hours for the water you drink to reach the vocal cords. If you haven't prepared by drinking water, my next point may be your answer.
Use a Humidifier or Steamer
If you are to keep a humidifier in the house, 30% humidity is recommended. A steamer is designed so that you can breath in steam to create that warmth and humidity in your throat, an ideal environment for muscles to relax and hydrate.
Pick you Time of Day (If Your Can)
The time of day also makes a difference for your voice. If you are singing later in the day, your voice will already be warmed up from talking, to an extent. This is limited to the range you use when talking. Generally people will sing with a wider range than their talking voice, meaning they use higher and lower notes than they would when they talk. However, if you are singing in the morning, your vocal cords will be cold and require more effort to sing.
If you are able to think of all of these things and still concentrate on your performance, then you can reduce the impact that singing without warm-ups can have on your voice and performance. But it certainly makes things a lot harder, which is why most vocal teachers will include warm-ups in their lessons and in their pre-performance regime.
This leads me to the impact that avoiding warm-ups can have on your voice and performance.
Impact on the Health of Your Voice
If you happen to strain your voice during a performance, or even in your day-to-day singing, you may cause damage to your vocal cords and other muscles in your throat. This damage can be either temporary (short-term) or more permanent (long-term).
If the damage is only occasional, you may only experience short-term damage to your voice, such as a sore throat, cracking in the voice or feeling the strain in your voice when you talk. Laryngitis is also common among singers, where the vocal cords become inflamed and irritated. These issues will generally resolve themselves with a short period of vocal rest (days).
If you regularly don’t employ correct practice when singing and don’t warm up your voice, you may cause long-term damage to the vocal cords. This can include nodules, fibrosis, polyps, cysts or even rupture of the vocal cords. All of these things will change the strength, sound and agility of your voice. These issues are sometimes permanent, but more often will require a long period of vocal rest (months) before resolving.
Impact on the Quality of Your Voice
Below are some of the common symptoms of a voice that has not been warmed up:
- Can't sing as high
- Voice is not as steady
- Voice cracking
- Struggle to pitch notes
- Voice is less controllable and less predictable
- You may need to cough due to throat irritation
Warm-ups can serve to stretch the muscles used in singing before a performance, so that they are able to stretch further and move smoothly. Without them, your vocal muscles will be tight and jerky.
Imagine a dancer. They perform all sorts of stretches on a regular basis, as well as immediately prior to a performance. This allows them to jump higher, do the splits, stand on their toes, etc. Without the stretches they could still dance, but would not be able to extend their legs quite so far or curl their body as tightly.
Imagine a dancer. Stretching improves the quality of the dance.
The same goes for your vocal muscles. Stretch them regularly and prior to each performance, and you will find you are able to sing higher or lower than before, and will be able to sing with less effort.
Without warm-ups, you will also struggle to transition between notes. The muscles will not be accustomed to the stretch, so their movements will be jerky. This jerky movement is what causes your voice to crack or cut in and out.
One more thing to consider is your own individual weaknesses. Everybody has them; some for their entire singing career. If you can identify where your voice could improve, you can produce a higher quality sound. If you don’t practice improving your voice, you muscles will not automatically remember what to do in a performance. They will not have the muscle memory to sing how you want them to.
To give you an example, I struggle with strength in some of the higher notes of my vocal range. Without a warm-up, my voice will naturally revert to softer breathy sounds (head voice) when I try to hit these notes. If I do a warm-up, I am able to practice mixing my chest voice (my talking voice) with my head voice to make these notes stronger.
Impact on Your Performance
The quality of your voice and your performance go hand-in-hand. A higher quality sound will make your performance more spectacular for your audience. Without warm-ups, your performance may not be as good as it could be.
Your voice will become tired more quickly. This can be likened to a marathon runner who trains their muscles to last the length of a marathon. Without the training and warm-up beforehand, the muscles are not as efficient and the runner will burn out quicker.
Your confidence may also be impacted. If you haven’t hit the higher or lower notes regularly (ie during a warm-up), you might lack the confidence to go for them during the performance. Shying away from a note means you will sing it softer and weaker and may sound out of tune.
If you suffer with lowered confidence on stage, you can find a number of tips to improve your confidence here.
You might also find that you become more focused on your nerves, which can make your voice dry and shaky. Warm-ups can help distract you from your nerves and have a calming affect on your voice.
So it’s really up to you whether or not you warm up your voice before a performance, and whether you include them in your regular practice. Although it is possible to sing without warming up your voice, it is a lot more effort and poses more risk to the health of your voice.
The best way to find exericeses for your voice is to find a singing teacher. Here is a great article on how you can find one today.