One of the biggest challenges between a singer and accompanist or for band makers as a whole is communication, the ability to read each other almost instinctually. In order for a band to be effective, they need to be given the freedom to perform to their utmost ability as accomplished artists while also coming together as a cohesive unit.
The best way to get on the same page and stay there is to rehearse. That way, should those pages need to be flipped on the fly, or should someone get lost or miss a beat or a cue, everyone can pull together quickly and even seamlessly with no distracting threads left dangling.
To reach this level of expertise and accomplishment requires wisdom gleaned from time, practice, and experience. But there are some things you can do as a group to encourage and improve communication in a fun way, such as a warm up during rehearsals and before a live gig.
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These are simple exercises that are easy to do and pull people together. Theyâ€™re most often used in live theatre to get the cast warmed up and working as a cohesive unit. Thatâ€™s required because you have a scripted piece with specific cues for actors and technicians so that the show goes on with minimal hitches and glitches.
The same concept applies in the music world, with more emphasis on sound checks and tech rehearsals for lighting and effects. Many times there are stand-inâ€™s for the artists. But in order to become a polished, prepared, dynamic performer, warming up with those that will support your singing will work to your advantage and help you fully support each other.
The following exercises are simply designed to reinforce communication. There may be resistance, but do it anyway. Even if you feel a little foolish at first, youâ€™ll be amazed at the results that can be generated by coming together for a few minutes before rehearsing or performing to simply warm up.
Pass The Yawning Sigh
There is a commonly used warm up exercise that is sometimes called the yawning sigh or sighing yawn. Itâ€™s used by actors, public speakers, and performers to help relax and release tension. This exercise can be engaged in a circle or with each individual in their own spot in a room with their respective instrument at hand.
It begins with stretching the muscles of your mouth and face as you slowly inhale. Then you pause to hold your breath for a brief moment. Then, as you release the yawn, you let the air out slowly as you vocalize a sigh, usually lower pitched. As you slowly exhale, you let go of any tension in your face, shoulders, and arms, and simply go as limp as you wish. You can even drop to the floor if you want. Then, you repeat the whole process up to five times.
The entire group or band can do this simultaneously or one by one as the yawning stretch is passed from one person to another. It can be done with each band member expressing the yawning stretch through their instrument. Musicians can provide accompaniment for the yawning stretches of others in the group.
Itâ€™s up to you to determine how to carry out the exercise and how long the process should last. It works best to have a leader that everyone else will follow. In fact, leadership can be changed in rounds that require everyone to follow another band member. That way, the band figuratively becomes more finely-tuned and in sync as a unit.
Stretch The Yes + No
Another seemingly silly but fun way to relax while getting on the same page is an exercise that works as a variation on a head and neck roll. The head and neck roll is great for warming up and relaxing the neck. You typically start this exercise by sitting up straight and pretending that a string is attached to the top of your head. You then slowly imagine that string being pulled straight up to lift your head away from your shoulders. Once you feel that your head is slightly raised; then slowly tip forward like youâ€™re being pulled and comfortably extended to look down at your feet. Then, you gradually turn your head to the left, as you feel the right side of your neck slowly begin to stretch. Then, you slowly turn your head with a stretch to the back and then slowly turn and stretch to the right.
A simple variation on this that can go quickly is referred to as: yes and no. In this exercise, you move from slowly nodding your head to say â€œyesâ€ to slowing shaking your head to say â€œno.â€ By moving slowly you get a good stretch that helps with relaxation and focus.
Once again, this exercise works best with a leader or a continued exchange of leadership and can be punctuated through the accompaniment of a variety of instruments. For example, your lead guitarist can provide an emphatic yes and no musically. Your drummer can approve or disapprove rhythmically.
Take Your Time
We recommend dedicating extra time at one rehearsal to become familiar with these two simple exercises. Then, they can be quickly accessed before a performance. It will also give you a chance to create variations on these exercises or to develop a unique group warm up that becomes a pre-show ritual.
Devote at least five minutes of every rehearsal, meeting, or pre-performance gathering to some form of group communication, whether itâ€™s simply checking in one-by-one, engaging in a game, or even sharing a prayer.
Also engage in a group social activity outside of rehearsal or gigging, at least once a month. Come together to enjoy each otherâ€™s company and get a better read on whatâ€™s between the lines and communication lapses. You can even try a group activity that changes month by month but is determined by a hobby, passion, or interest of one member of your band or group.
Unbreaking The Circle
There are many variations on a group exercises that are most commonly associated with theatre but are also engaged by choirs and some orchestras. The following approaches might trigger an idea for something to try as a group or with those that most closely accompany you as a singer.
One is referred to as â€œpassing energy,â€ and it typically builds on itself. For example, you might begin with a laugh that continues to grow as it goes full circle, around and around, building until everyone is literally laughing. This relieves nervous energy and brings everybody together briefly.
Riff As Your Gifted
Since each individual supports each other in a performance by doing their thing, itâ€™s more fun to engage a group collectively with each individual playing their respective roll. So, for passing laughter around a circle, a guitarist may finger a laughing riff, passing off to a back up vocalist whose chuckle is passed to a keyboard player, and so on. Or you can even switch parts, imitating each other.
One of the most effective exercises for timing and communication is to have a mystery circle. In this exercise someone begins by humming, playing, or banging out the rhythm of part of a song in your set that the next person has to pick up on. This approach keeps everyone engaged and forces focus and concentration. It will also help to pull the group together more tightly.
Glide With The Vibe
Look for ways to create simple, easy to engage, circle exercises that help the band play and grow together and stay together. If you find resistance, respect the reason for the reluctance to participate, but ask them to come up with an alternative suggestion, even if itâ€™s meditation.
To find vocal warm upâ€™s to share with your group or band, check out The Pro Singerâ€™s Warm Up by James R Wigginton. The vocal exercises will help you and others that lend vocal support relax with a warm-neutral voice. The program is available here at SSTV by clicking on the products tab.
Your goal is to create an effective group warm up that is uniquely yours and always allows room for expansion or fine tuning as you achieve the full measure of your singing success.