Singing Games for Musical Improv - Warm ups
Why warm up?
Warm ups are a crucial part of any performance. They help prepare the right muscles for action and prepare the brain for activity. Without a good warm up your performance can suffer, or worse, you risk injury. When giving any vocal performance it is very important to make sure the voice is well prepared, and in any improv performance it is equally important to make sure the brain is well prepared. These singing games will help you boost your performance and help look after your voice.
Using your voice when it is not in good health is likely to lead to more damage. Musical Improv can demand a wide range of vocal styles, pitch, dynamics and timbre so the voice needs to be in good condition. Hydration, diet, physical and emotional health will all help to support a healthy voice.
Being in a good mental state, both in yourself and with your team is also fundamental to giving a good performance, whether it is just in rehearsal or on the stage. Musical Improv will put you and your characters in a huge range of situations and you need to have high levels of trust in your group and ideally be in a good mental state yourself. Clearly this is not always achievable and so warm ups can really help us to 'get in the room' both emotionally and physically.
Singing Games for Vocal Health
There are a few singing games and singing exercises that are generally agreed to help keep a healthy voice. Here are the ones we use most often in our Musical Improv Classes
Five note ascending and descending scales are a great singing exercise to check in with your voice and to really listen to your sound. Each time you complete a scale, move up to the next note (whatever that means to you) and then you can gently explore your pitch range bit high and low. We use different repeated words for each scale to give the mouth and brain a gentle warm up too. For more details see our musical improv games - scales page. For more detail on warming up the voice here is a great article on vocal exercises for singers
Similar to scales, sirening really helps you listen and tune in to your range. Start low and with your mouth closed. Gently raise your pitch until comfortable near the top of your range and then go down again. As you warm up you can open your mouth and start to gently explore the top and bottom of your vocal range a little more.
Time to get your best horse impressions going. Vibrate the lips together and explore your range in a similar way to sirening. Great for warming up the lips, mouth and vocal chords.
Musical Improv Singing Games for warming up
Now the voice is warm we can really start to get connected to our own state and tune in to the people we will be improvising with. Improv warm ups serve the purpose of getting everyone on the same page, giving and accepting suggestions, taking the spotlight and limbering up the brain.
Just a wonderful way to connect to those around you. You can close your eyes and breathe together as a group. When you are ready you can start to hum or sing together. The focus is really on listening to the sounds you are making as a group. For a more detailed description, see our Musical Improv Games - Acapella Harmonies page
Sing Your Name
Really useful as an introductory Singing Game for a new group or the first Musical Improv Class. Each person says their own name however they would like it to be said and then the group scans that name to a scale. you can have just first names or go for the whole thing. Lovely way just to get people to say hi and introduce themselves before a warm name bath. For a more detailed description, see our Musical Improv Games - Sing Your Name page
Have to include this as one of my favourite singing games. Each pair in a group will sing a duet with each other. No real words allowed which gives room for loads of expressive singing, character and story. For a more detailed description, see our Musical Improv Games - Gibberish Duets page
Warm up your way
Every group, class and troupe are different and many long-standing groups will develop their own practise for warming up. In The Maydays we like to do counting 1-20, a mind-meld and a Musical 8 things. This starts to serve an important role as a ritual, to help us get connected and to transition to performance mode. In a class, warm ups serve as a way to transition from the outside world to a class. Singing Games provide the perfect way to relax, listen and warm up, not only for a Musical Improv Class, but for any group activity.
Tell us your favourite warm ups
You can see our ever-growing list of Singing Games on our Musical Improv Games page. We would love to hear your favourite Singing Games for warming up, whether it is for Musical Improv or anything else so please do comment or get in touch to let us know what you are doing to prepare for your big or small musical improv performances.
Ending a song well in musical improv can make or break it. You can create an astounding melody, heartbreaking lyrics and beautiful choreography but if it fizzles out that’s often all the audience will remember. On the flipside, if you feel your song hasn’t gone that well, you can give it the old razzle dazzle showbiz ending and people will be on their feet.
There are tons of ways to end songs, for inspiration you can even turn to songwriting books and blogs but as improviser I am often asked how exactly do I initiate one of these endings? In this blog, Joe and I will break down some tools to create great song endings from both the singer and musical director’s point of view.
Heather says: Probably the most common and easy way to end a song is to change the speed. Slowing down is really recognisable and clear for the musician and rest of the cast to join and also gives an opportunity for that long held diva final note. For a high energy ambitious ending you could try speeding up too.
Joe says: Yes a slow down will be the thing I am listening for most of all. I can initiate a slow down from the piano and it is hard not to follow that so it is my default option if nothing else is being signalled
Heather says: Remember the 1980s when all songs ended with a fadeout? Why not do the same for your improvised song, fade to a whisperer with movement or an exit to match. Again, bringing the volume up higher for a big finish is a great indicator that the song is building to its final crescendo.
Joe says: So rarely used in improv but a delightful and often funny way to end a song. Can be hard to initiate, but using body language to get physically smaller can certainly help.
Heather says: Body language is your best friend when it comes to ending songs. In a way, maybe not a separate category as it is needed for all these song endings to an extent. However clear movement can allow you to achieve an ambitious ending like a sudden stop if you’re sending clear signals. No need to look at your MD as they will have a close eye on you but experiment with ways of conducting or creating choreography that is comfortable for you and clear for the rest of the team.
Joe says: I will be watching the chorus leader or the person singing near the end of a song like a hawk for any signs of conducting the end. This is really instinctive and you do not have to actually do predetermined signals or gestures, just be in your body and have an intention and that will show in how you are moving and what you are doing with your arms.
Heather says: Related to your body language, more specifically, can you initiate a stage picture that is a clear song ending? Some examples might be striding down the front of the stage, walking upstage and turning away, taking a knee or striking a pose. Ending with the stage picture you began with can also be a clear indicator or a neat trick in something like a dream sequence song.
Joe says: Really nice to do this. It may still require a slow down or conducted ending but certainly a good way to show that the song is about to finish.
Heather says: Ending in the way you started can be really fun if that section hasn’t appeared elsewhere in the song. Using the stage picture as mentioned above but also using the lyrics, melody, attitude or spoken dialogue can all work too.
Joe says: Likewise this is a good way to signal that the end of the song is approaching and often that is all that is required.
Heather says: Extremely common and really effective in both written and improvised songs is a repeat at the end. For songs with a chorus you can do as many repetitions as feels right, perhaps with other members of the cast joining, counterpoint melodies, maybe even a key change. Without a chorus, there is still the opportunity to repeat the main hook in the song or even the last line, second half or your line or a single word.
Joe says: This is something that takes courage and boldness to pull off, especially if everyone is singing the chorus already but good eye contact and signalling your intent that something different is about to happen will mean that your team goes along with you
Heather says: If you’re reading this, chances are you are a musical improviser and the good news is you’re not still mid song so you did manage to end a song successfully, even if you don’t know how you did it! Listening, observing and being present with everyone onstage and your musician or band offstage is always number one. If you do this, you will find an ending together even if you’re not actively choosing to the end the song in any of the ways above (or the countless others not mentioned here)
Joe says: Nothing wrong with doing nothing, but bear in mind that you are then handing responsibility for ending the song to your MD, which is fine, but don’t do it all the time!
So, there you have it. A few ideas for ways to end songs and how to do it. Many of them shade into each other but pick what feels fun, experiment with what feels new and stay committed til that final note!
Heather and Joe are available for online, remote and in person coaching, plus shows with The Maydays, Blues Hammer and the Concept. Get in touch to find out more and to tell us about more weird and wonderful ways you have ended your numbers.
Heather Urquhart and Joe Samuel have over 15 years experience performing, teaching and writing about Musical Improv. Based in the UK they have facilitated workshops and graced stages around the world.