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Warmups

January 28, 2011

In professional theatre, it’s the actor’s job to warm themselves up. If it’s kids, university theatre or even community theatre, a group warmup is probably a good idea. Besides the obvious vocal benefits, a warmup can provide focus and clarity for a scattered group. Some directors I work with have specific focus warm-ups that are wonderful! The following is a diction warmup from my dear friend and colleague Matt Decker: (the initial line for each consonant is just rhythmic speaking of the consonant in a neutral voice)

T’s

t-tuh-tuh-t-tuh-tuh-t-t-t-t-t-t.

Wait

Right

Tip it upright

Tom took a bite

It takes time to untangle twenty two tutus

D’s

Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-daah-daah.
Indeed I did.

Do do do what you’ve done done done before David

Ed, anybody dead in the den?

L’s

Luh-luh-luh-luh-luh-luh.  Luh-luh-luh-luh-luh-luh. Luh-luh-luh-luh-luh-luh-laa-laa

Philological ability

Eleven benevolent elephants

Evelyn’s eleven benevolent elephants

S’s

peace

pace

Will and Grace

He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts

S’s/Z’s

The kittens left their mittens in Sweden, not Manhattan

Lady Teazle teases and tantalizes Sir Peter by saying, “Put it on the cutting table, Peter”.

Matt Decker usually follows that with a focus game or two involving the cast in a circle with call and responses. There are many more tongue twister exercises, of course, for the enterprising director.

Vocally, I generally warm my group up to at least a major second above the highest note the sopranos need to sing, with the instruction that the basses and altos can drop out when they get too high. If the show is really belty I do some bright warm-ups, if it’s more legit (legit in this case means that it requires a vocal technique closer to classical), I’ll do a warmup with some darker choral tone in it.

My warm-ups generally include some of the following, culled from a bunch of different sources:

1) Long, open, tall Ah vowel double whole notes.

2) Zoo Zee exercise. This one has been going around for a long time; I got it from Edward Sayegh, a wonderful teacher now based in Los Angeles with many famous students in both the classical and Broadway realms. I start this lower; around A flat, then move up by half steps through D Major or so.

3) This is also from my years with Eddie. It’s a hard G, not a soft one, which keeps the back of the tongue from stiffening up and loosens up the inside of the mouth. It also gives the voice flexibility. Start down here and move up by half steps.

4) A final one from Eddie, I believe this is his originally. There is a head motion I won’t give you, you’ll have to get it from me and/or Eddie himself. (can’t give away everything!) The Goh vowel is very tall, (the ah is like in father) the Ay vowel is also tall, the jaw stays open, doesn’t flap around, the hard G again keeps the tongue from getting hard as a rock back there, and the flexibility needed to do the three turns at the top keeps you from shouting the high notes.

5) This one is a Seth Riggs/Roger Love warmup. The vowel changes to nay, the consonant also changes. The idea is not to yell the top note, to maintain a mix or middle voice thoughout. Don’t go too high with this, it misses the point. If you want to look into this stuff, both Riggs and Roger Love have books out explaining their rationale. (kinda)

6) From the other end of the spectrum, here’s a warm-up from James Jordan’s fantastic book Evoking Choral Sound. The book has these fantastic accompaniments to the warmups that are out of this world.

7) Here’s a fun one. I made up the accompaniment for Lori Maratek’s Jr. High Chorus class.

8 ) This exercise is usually the last one I do. Everyone uses this, and to the so-so pianist, it’s really daunting, but if you set your hands to cover 2 octaves, a hand on each chord, a tiny shift in hand position places the dominant chord right under your fingers and it’s not that hard. I usually start on the low G, then move up until my top note is a high c for the sopranos and tenors. I like it because it’s far too fast to shout the high notes.

Later in the process, I always end the warmup with a brief 32 bars or so from a big choral number, usually the one in which a persistent problem has presented itself. I’ll remind everyone of the spot one last time, and we sing it to close our warm-up time. If you pick the right number, it can get everyone excited and ready to go.

A good warmup is one where the group is paying attention to what they’re doing and what it feels and sounds like. And the director should also be listening to the group, not just going through the motions. It doesn’t have to be long, it does have to focus and build good habits for the subsequent rehearsal or performance.

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