This warm-up exercise is a tool to guide a group of people through vocalising for the first time together.
This is a gentle way in to singing and is really helpful if you are working with a new group or have people who don’t know each other well. It works well with both young people and adults and is accessible and inclusive.
I have used this vocal warm-up in schools and with the Drake Music team on our Away Days.
As well as being great for both large and small groups, steps 1 – 3 can also be applied to 1:1 vocal sessions, making this a really useful exercise.
Please note: this was written for in-person sessions, but many of the techniques can be adapted for use over Zoom or Google Hangouts, just be mindful of the sound settings to ensure best results.
Where to begin?
It is important to make groups and individuals feel comfortable when leading a group in singing. I suggest doing this exercise before initiating group singing. Especially if you are working with a group who are new to one another or new to you.
Together the group will move through breathing, opening their mouths, making vowel sounds, laughing to release tension and learning each other’s names.
As a tutor you will also have the opportunity assess where everyone is as group and as individuals both musically and vocally.
To sing is to be vulnerable and can be a scary experience.
Most people will have associated memories, emotions and feelings around singing and will have an opinion as to whether it is an activity they can comfortably engage with. Therefore, as a practitioner you must make people feel comfortable and absorb/ counteract any nervous energy with your own calm, welcoming and confident demeanour.
Step 1: Setting Up the Exercise
Ask participants to form a circle
Tutor Notes/ Tips/ suggestions :
- Position yourself with someone who you know will eagerly join in the exercise to your left
- Ensure that you are speaking clearly, calmly and confidently. Do not rush your words, hold yourself with good posture and share eye contact equally around the room.
- Participants needs to trust and believe that you are in control and that they are safe with you and will follow your own demeanour
If you want, at this point you can suggest for participants to close their eyes. This will enhance focus and listening.
You can tell particpants;
“Everyone close their eyes, we are closing our eyes as we are going to really attempt to listen to one another”
Closing eyes can work well with adult groups, however be mindful about doing so with children and young people. I have found that this can make people feel vulnerable and has the opposite effect of focus and listening.
Step 2: Breathing
“Lets start off with some deep breaths”
“Everyone breathe in”
Tutor Breathe in through nose, participants copy and breathe in through nose
Tutor Breathe out through mouth, participants copy and breathe out through mouth
“And Again, Deep Breaths together”
– “Breath In”
– “And Out”
Tutor and participants breathe in through nose and out through mouth together
“Now lets breathe in for 2 beats and out for 2”
Tutor and participants breathe in and out for two beats together
“Now lets breathe in for 4, hold for 2 and out for four”
Tutor and participants breathe in for four beats, hold for 2 beats and out for four beats together
Step 3: Vocalising
“Now everyone is going to join in with the Sound I am making”
“Do not worry about being in tune, this is about copying the sound”
“In fact, if you can, try to sing a different note to the note I am singing”
Tutor Notes/ Tips/ suggestions for sounds:
- LAH LAH LAH LAH LAH LAH LAH
- HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA
- Random Laughing (attempt to make the group laugh through making silly laughing sounds)
- BAH (Attempt to make everyone stop together using a short, sharp, plosive sound of your choice)
The aim of this exercise is to move through a closed mouth to an open mouth and to release tension through laughing.
Make a silly laughing sound and you will find that the group may start laughing for real. Now that the group has worked through their nerves around vocalising together, you can move on to singing
Step 4: Beginning to Sing
Tutor starts clicking, setting the pace you would like the exercise to be.
Tutor Says (in time with the beat):
“Now we are going to go round the circle and each person is going to sing/ say their name at some point within these 8 beats “
“Listen to what 8 beats sounds like, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8”
“You are going to wait for the person on your RIGHT to say their name twice before you begin your turn”
“I shall start and we will go round to the left”
- You can also suggest that participants sing/say their name to represent how they are feeling today
- You can demonstrate by singing your own name in a happy/ sad/ tired way
- Tutor will always SING their name (instead of saying their name) to encourage singing.
- Sing confidently and loudly/ in a humorous way to make participants feel relaxed
- Go around the circle and let the vocal landscape build
- If you have a large group then you can have two people start at the same time, I would suggest one on your right and one on your left
- You can stop the exercise after everyone has joined in with the music making, or move on.
Step 5a: Building the Exercise – Option 1 (Just with voices)
Ask participants to choose one of the sounds from the beginning of the exercise in place of their name
“That sounded great everyone, now I would like you to choose one of the sounds we made earlier to replace your name.
“Those sounds were mmmm, oooooh, eeeeeeh, ahh and laaaaa”
“You are going to sing the same exact same phrase and in the exact same place, but replace your name with either mmm, oooh, eeeh, aaah and laaa”
“Now after 4 beats we are all going to come in. But remember to fit your sound into the same space that your name occupied within the 8 beats of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8”
Tutor brings all participants in by counting 1,2,3,4 : 1 -2-3-4-5-6-7-8
Once participants are in flow, Tutor then conducts the group to stop (without using words).
Tutor plays with bringing participants in and out through conducting. You can also experiment with having members of the group conduct, this is a great way to build confidence for young people.
Step 5b: Building the Exercise – Option 2 (With Instruments)
Tutor will ask participants to now play their name on a drum/ instrument of choice
“That sounded great everyone, now I would like you to use your instruments and play your name on your instruments”
“You are going to play your name in the same space within these 8 beats”
“Try to express how you are feeling through your instrument”
- Ensure all participants are aware of the key you are playing in
- If working with iPads/ digital instruments, ensure they are all tuned to the same key before hand
- Experiment with conducting sections in and out, soloing and building a musical landscape
- Offer the opportunity to conduct to members of the group