Quick vocal warm ups you can do in your car

We’ve all been there. The phone rings and wakes us up out of a deep slumber. We answer it, say “hello”, and the person on the other side has no idea if it’s you, because your voice sounds like a combination of a dying frog and nails on a chalkboard. And if your job requires you to speak to people, or large groups of people, you need a voice that will work with you – not against you. If you’re teaching, speaking, acting (especially acting), or directing, a good vocal warm up is an absolute necessity. Think of vocal warm ups and exercises as going to the gym for your voice. Or sharpening the knife that is your voice. Or any other bad analogy.

There are literally hundreds of different warm ups, and a full warm up takes longer than the 10 minutes you will spend on the following. You should always aim for proper pronunciation, proper enunciation, and total clarity without straining or making it sound unnatural. Your voice is your tool – it should sound great without revealing your technique. A musician wouldn’t go on stage, play an awesome solo, and shout out what key it’s in or what scale he’s using or which exercises he uses to warm up. The audience shouldn’t watch your performance and  say “wow, what great technique” instead of “what an emotional performance”. But your technique will help get you to your emotional performance. If you’re pressed for time, this will work. And yes, these are great to do in your car, as long as you’re careful and don’t let it distract you from driving.

Just follow the order, do each one fully, and your voice should be in better shape than before you started.

  • Open your mouth wide open and stretch your mouth and face. Keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
  • Smile and open your mouth wide. This fully opens your throat. Start breathing normally, feeling the air go all the way down into your lungs. Be careful not to over exert. Your breathing should be natural. 
  • With an open throat start saying “ah”. Gently and softly at first, then a little louder and with more air. get louder in intervals. Pick out cars up ahead – first, one car ahead, then 2, then 3, and so on, and imagine your voice arcing to that car. As you progress, your voice should start to feel warmer, looser, and more flexible. Keep your eyes on the road.
  • Hum. With mouth closed, hum. you can start on one note, but then Explore your range – try different notes and patterns. Continue until the sound and the air is coming through without any sputters. The motor should be running smoothly. Try humming along to a familiar song on the radio. Even if you don’t have the greatest singing voice, or are slightly tone deaf, it will force you to move your voice around. 
  • Tongue Twisters. Pick a few different ones with different letters and sounds. Start slowly, enunciating each letter and sound, and work your way to a quicker speed. Eventually you’ll be saying them with no problem, have vocal clarity, and enunciate each sound without trying too hard.
    • Two excellent twisters are “red blood, blue blood” and “red leather, yellow leather”. Don’t cheat
    • Finally, one that will challenge you on two fronts: “don’t you, can’t you, want you, won’t you”. This will work your tongue and it will probably drive you nuts. The real challenge here is to try and not say “chew” between the first and second words (“don’t you”, not “dontchew”). It’s tricky, but worth the time to master.

Everything has to start somewhere – carry a notebook

I always carry around small 3″x5″ notebooks to record the thoughts that pop into my head. I started doing this a few years ago, and I’ve filled more than I can count. They contain full essays, lists, sketches, and snippets of ideas – some grew into something, others are still waiting to do so.

About 3 years ago, probably around June of 2010, I was sitting in my office at the school where I worked. Sitting with me was one of my top students – a talented kid named Mike, who I always saw as the same kind of creative individual as myself, and who I gave all the parts that I would give to myself (check out an interview with him here). Little did I know that for a few years he had been working on his own material – just basic comedy skits and some current events stuff – and had been collaborating with a friend of his. He had a name for it – “Paradoja” – which means paradox. I wrote that name down in my small notebook, the image of which appears above. He wanted to turn his work into his own original show, but didn’t know how. He asked if I could help. I said sure.

And the rest, they say, is history – paradojastudios.com.

The takeaway:

Carry notebooks everywhere. If you are any kind of creative person – doesn’t matter what medium – you need notebooks. Not only do they help you organize your notes, your thoughts, and your spur-of-the-moment brilliant ideas, but they help create a history for you. A portable archive that lives in the moment with you, but constantly reminds you of from where you came.

And in those times of creative drought, looking back at your past ideas can help to spark new ones.