I was talking with a client this week about how we get our voices going each day, and I thought it might be worth sharing my morning routine for getting my voice warm. If you struggle to get your voice going in the morning, then this is for you.
Maybe you’re not singing everyday, but you find that most mornings you’d like to be able to speak on the phone without constant throat clearing, or avoid feeling like you’ve been a chainsmoker for the whole night, or maybe you just regularly feel a bit heavy in the throat, cultivating this kind of routine for yourself can be a lifesaver.
If you want to read about the exercises I typically use, I’ve written about that previously here. This article is about the overall routine I have each morning to get my voice going, from waking up, to the first client of the day.
The demands on my voice
I need my voice to be pretty close to peak functional state by 10am. Given how difficult most people find their voice in the morning, I’ve had to develop a fairly comprehensive routine to get my voice to that state quickly, but without hammering a voice that’s just woken up.
Let’s go through a quick overview of the normal schedule.
NOTE: I’ve included the seemingly irrelevant bits (e.g. school run), because no matter who you are, you’ll have some obligations that impinge on your free time to just get your voice going. Also some of you may think certain steps are not necessary, excessive, or even an indulgence you can’t afford time-wise, but I’ll explain how this routine has evolved over time in the latter part of the article.
7.00am – Wake-up, and sit with a hot drink for around 30 minutes.
7.30am – Hot shower with some vocal exercises.
7.45am – Get dressed, giving a short break before main vocal warmup
8.00am – Main vocal warmup and co-ordination exercises, typically around 15 minutes
8.15am – Application to songs (typically 2-3 songs)
8.30am – Take my daughter to school
9.00am – Back from school run, hot drink.
9.15am – Double check voice, more exercise and song work for 15-30 minutes (in chunks)
10.00am – First client of the day arrives.
Each step has a purpose, so let’s talk through the more general lessons you can draw from this.
Step 1 – Warmup (Passive):
When you wake-up, there’s a phenomena called sleep inertia. We’ve all felt this phenomena, when your mind and body take a period of time to emerge from the effects of sleep. That’s why you feel groggy when you wake-up, and less sharp. Blood flow is also reduced, and you’ve been horizontal the whole night.
I have found that having a hot drink (typically coffee but I’ll also do certain teas, or just hot water with a splash of cold) in a insulated cup for 30 minutes helps not only wake my brain up, but warm my throat up. I also have my breakfast at this stage.
I’ve noticed over time that when I have to speak in this first 30 minutes or the day, or have to raise my voice (e.g. to tell off my young daughter), not only is my voice not ready for it, but it can can have a not-insignificant negative impact on my voice for the rest of the day.
From a vocal perspective, taking the time to wake up properly, warm yourself and get the blood flowing to your throat makes a big difference before doing any exercises.
When doing this I am not just lounging under the duvet whilst telling my wife “this is work, darling“. I’m typically in my studio, reading a non-fiction book or watching a seminar. That way I’m also waking up my brain, (NOTE: NOT going back to sleep), and also learning something in the process.
Step 2 – Warmup and co-ordination exercises (Low intensity):
People often find they wake up with a lot of mucus/gunk built up in the throat or nose overnight. I find that exercises can help move this around, but if it’s particularly thick or stubborn, steam is essential. Similarly, just steaming over a bowl doesn’t cause the mucus to move, but exercises do.
Hence, I combine them by doing helpful vocal exercises in the shower. This also helps further stimulate blood flow, both through heat and movement.
The steam hydrates any mucus, and makes it easier to shift through exercises, e.g. blow your nose, light throat-clearing, etc. I have a specific regimen of vocal exercises I use, and they typically last 5-10 minutes. They are not extreme, but also help me to check how my voice is on that particular day.
Getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc, also gives a short break before I do my main set of exercises.
As an anecdotal aside, I use Listerine for dental hygiene, and I personally find this does help clear any lingering gunk at the back of my throat, moreso than just plain water. I’m not a doctor in this regard, but I find it helps, so I thought it worth mentioning.
Step 3 – Co-ordination vocal exercises (Medium/high intensity):
My main vocal warmups/co-ordination exercises are the main routine from which the shower exercises are derived, but could also be considered like a part 2 to what exercises I did in the shower. These are more demanding and really put my voice through it’s paces.
However I am nowhere near as aggressive as I might be in the afternoon, because I’ve still only been up for an hour. No-one’s body is ready for full-on intensity that soon after waking up as it would be later in the day.
I typically have another hot drink on the go around now, though recently I’ve been having just hot water. This is because I sometimes find coffee can stimulate mucus production, or at least can give the feeling of gunk in the back of your throat. Again, this is anecdotal, but I do find this helps me personally.
Step 4 – Application to Song (Medium/Medium-High Intensity):
This is the next logical progression from gentle warmups, to more active warming up and co-ordination exercises. We co-ordinate the voice to sing songs well, so we need to test this.
I have set songs I do every day, as over time I then get a sense for exactly how each song should feel in my voice.
That means that if it feels even slightly different one day to the next, despite the same routine, I know my voice must be a little out.
This may be due to not sleeping well, perhaps it’s indicating I’m about to be unwell, or that I over-used my voice the day before, etc.
The songs both further co-ordinate my voice, AND help me check where it’s at each day.
This is where I take my daughter to school, or maybe where you’d be commuting to work, or your first meeting of the day. Breaks are good!
Step 5 – More song work (High intensity)
At this point we’ve been awake for at least 2 hours or so, the voice is warm, co-ordinated, and has been operating for at least some time at a medium-high intensity. I will often dive into specific vocal exercises to further co-ordinate my voice where I may have felt it lacking at any stage.
This period is a prime opportunity to get deeper into your voice and capitalise on all the work you’ve put in to get it warm. If you don’t get to do any singing til after work, you may need to start again at step 4.
This is a similar arc to how we warm up and co-ordinate a voice in a normal lesson. We’ll progress from light warm-ups, to more intense warm-ups and co-ordination exercises, to even more complex material, then apply this to song.
In this case, the process is stretched over the course of a morning and is a bit more involved, mainly due to the effects of waking up from sleep making things a bit harder to get going.
Whatever your morning schedule or the demands on your time, learning how your voice responds to mornings and crafting a routine (however simple) that works for you can be enormously helpful for getting your voice into better shape than no routine at all.
Learn More: Related Articles
If you’d like to learn more about what good vocal function involves, check out these related articles:
Pursue vocal function BEFORE sound, every time
What makes a song “feel” high?
Tongue Tension: How to spot it and fix it
5 Reasons Sleep Helps Boost Your Singing
A Key to Great Singing: Hyper-function vs Relaxation