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How to do a Vocal Warm up?

Updated: Jun 9

Most singers know they should do some sort of vocal warm up. Right! The "My mother makes me mash my mini M&M's on a Monday morning, Oo Ah" vocal exercise, is a fun and efficient way to warm up the voice.


This blog explains how to approach this exercise and the common pitfalls to avoid. It provides a practical example of the awareness and analytical skills required to do vocal exercises effectively.


A lady shrugging her shoulder


You might be wondering who cares! WHY BOTHER?

Because, practised skills transfer to performance. In other words the way you practice is usually a reflection of your performance. Practising with awareness, thought and intention contributes to the development of a long-lasting and healthy vocal technique and habits.


Get it right, don't rush!


This exercise involves singing a single note that ascends by a semitone on the vowels "Oo Ah." It's an excellent warm-up for the articulators, vocal folds, and resonators, making it an ideal starting exercise.


Watch and sing with the video to get the most out of the blog. (Male Version)

Popular among singers, singing teachers, and choir directors, there are several versions on YouTube, but I believe this is the most effective and is my favourite.




COMMON MISTAKES

  • Rolling the lips inward on the M

  • Mumble through the exercise without much thought

  • Singing through a clenched jaw and nasality

  • Noisy and inappropriate breaths

  • Rushing to get through the exercise in one breath

  • Changing pitch in anticipation of a melody

  • Singing with incorrect rhythms, especially on "M&M's"

Did you or your students do any of these?


SOLUTIONS & TIPS


1. Rolling the lips inward

This is an easy fix. Most students correct this instantly, simply by looking in the mirror.

  • Look in the mirror to increase your awareness.

  • Make sure your lips are touching gently and not rolling inwards.

  • Rolling inwards makes it take longer to get to the vowel.

  • Move from M to the vowel as quickly as possible.


2. The mumbler, clenched jaw & nasality

  • Slow down the exercise if necessary.

  • Have space between the molars.

  • Articulate the words clearly and slowly.

  • Say the words with an energetic and exaggerated British accent.

  • Then sing the words with the same energy and accent.

(FYI: Google the Queen's English or Received English.)


Why does the exaggerated British accent? (for most people)

  • Exaggeration opens the mouth creating space and reducing nasality.

  • Exaggeration warms up the facial muscles.

  • The accent reduces diphthongs i.e. the 2nd vowel sound.

  • It produces pure clear vowels therefore, increased resonance.

  • The tip of the tongue is forward producing clear consonants.

  • Clear consonants improve overall quality and clarity.

  • Clear consonants ensure intelligibility and meaning.


3. Breathing

As per the instructions in the YouTube video sing at a medium volume. Inhale silently with feet hip-width apart, keeping your shoulders down and your sternum slightly elevated at all times.


This exercise involves singing a sustained note using a single breath, it:

  • requires focus on maintaining a steady flow of air.

  • encourages deep breathing.

  • can be challenging depending on tempo.

  • can strengthen the voice by holding and maintaining a single note.


Don't rush or speed up to get through the exercise on one breath, this sacrifices the benefits. Instead, pause after "Oo Ah", keep the mouth open, and re-breathe through the mouth in the same space of the Ah vowel.

In other words don't close your mouth after you sing "Oo Ah", you only have to open it again to take a breath. (Practice without the video or a piano)


Many of my students try to sneak in a snatch breath before the "Oo Ah". Don't do this, instead, shorten the exercise to "My mother makes me mash my mini m&m's, Oo Ah", until you have the breath control skills to do the full version.


4. Pitch

Singing on one note can be surprisingly difficult. The natural tendency is to move off the note in anticipation of the next note in a melody. Additionally, each vowel has its own perceived pitch, adding to the confusion. Therefore, I've added a repeated beat of the note in thise updated version.


The Semitone Interval - Oo Ah:

The semitone (or half-step or minor 2nd) interval is the trickiest to sing.

It is the distance in pitch between a note and its nearest neighbour on a piano keyboard.

A semitone or half-step interval on piano and music notation
Semitone interval on piano and music notation

You would think larger intervals are harder to sing accurately, e.g. say from a perfect 4th to an octave. But, the minor 2nd to major 3rd intervals are often the least practised and the most out of tune. Yet, most melody lines use a series of small intervals.


With repetition you'll be able to sing the minor 2nd interval more accurately, without the use of a keyboard or the video.


Solfege syllables - do re mi fa so la ti do

If you're familiar with solfege the below is another strategy:

  • Think mi fa or ti do while singing "Oo Ah" ascending

  • Think do ti or fa mi while singing "Oo Ah" descending


4. Rhythm

As you can seen in the image below, this exercise has a variety of rhythms.

A number of singers may struggle with the timing.

This usually happens while trying to articulate "M and M's".

This is unrealistic, instead sing "MNM's" (ehmenems).

My mother makes me mash my mini m&m's
Music notation for My mother makes me mash...

As you say (not sing) the words you'll notice they rhythms follow the speech pattern and each syllable represents a note.

  • Tap out the rhythm without the words.

  • Tap out the rhythm as you say the words.

  • Tap the beat as you say the words.


If you're familiar with rhythm syllables, say the syllables. e.g.: Ti, ti-ka, ti-ti etc.

sheet music with rhythmic syllables My mother makes me mash
Sheet music with rhythmic syllables for My mother makes me mash

To get to that stage beginners need to focus on one aspect at a time, before adding too much complexity. This takes time and patience.


RESONANCE & THE M SOUND


In simple words resonance amplifies sound. Resonance in singing is when the sound produced by a person's voice is amplified and made to sound better by the shape and size of the vocal tract. It's like a singer's own personal sound enhancement.


As you do the exercise:

  • notice how the "M" sound in the words sounds & feels like humming?

  • Watch and try this video on humming if your not sure: Humming.

  • The "M" makes it easier for you to hear yourself (internal resonance).

  • Pitch accuracy is improved by internal resonance.

  • "M" also places the sound forward in the mask or face area.


HOW I USE THIS EXERCISE


I use this exercise within a comfortable conversational range with students. For females and children, I usually start at middle C and only go up a fifth, stopping at G4. As for males, starting at C3 or D3 is within a comfortable range for most men.


Initially, I'll spend some time making sure they're applying the techniques mentioned above. After that it's simply a quick and efficient way to warm up the voice.


SUMMARY


To get the most benefits, do vocal exercises with focus and intention. A vocal exercise becomes a warm-up when done correctly. Beginners should focus on one thing at a time and be patient, as it might take a while to get it right. When performed correctly, this vocal exercise serves as an effective warm-up.


I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below with your thoughts!


 








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