Any singer or vocal performer will swear by their daily routine of vocal warm-ups; from their lip trills to their breathing – the adage that practice makes perfect, indeed, comes into play when talking about your singing voice.
Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching your legs, you shouldn’t hit the stage or the studio without a vocal warm-up.
There are a million reasons to practice vocal warm-ups, but the main one is that good vocal health means that you are actively protecting one of your most valuable assets – your singing voice.
Your vocal cords are delicate, and you need to treat them with care. By stretching and helping these muscles to relax, you reduce the risk of tension, damage and voice loss.
Vocal warm-ups also work wonders for singers looking to smooth out their vocal break, practice breathing exercises, and improve their range.
Whether you are learning to sing or whether you are at the height of your career, vocal warm-ups should be a standard part of your vocal training plan.
So here’s an introduction to vocal warmups for you! If you want to keep your voice in tip-top shape, we have ten of the best vocal warm-ups to change the way you sing. You can also learn a lot about appropriate exercises by taking our course How The Voice Works. It comes with a customizable mobile app to deliver all the exercises used in the course so you can practice well for your voice type and for your goals.
You may wonder how blowing air through your lips like a horse will help your voice. Lips trills are an excellent exercise for waking up the breath and for practicing exhaling endurance – and we all know that better breathing leads to better singing.
Slacken your lips and blow air between them, be sure to keep your lips loose. If you need to, place a finger at the corners of your mouth and push upwards towards the nose. When you have that down, add in a vocal tone so you are lip trilling AND singing at the same time.
Once you feel comfortable in the lip trill, you can start counting beats in your head. The aim is to maintain the trill for four counts without collapsing your chest posture, and to add more time when you get better. This vocal exercise will also help with breath control as you will need to take a big deep breath before starting your trill.
As your endurance improves and your chest stays firm, you can start to lip trill for more extended periods of time. You can even lip trill songs that you know.
Tongue trills are similar to lip trills except here you will be using air to vibrate your tongue instead of your lips. Place your tongue directly behind your upper teeth. Take a deep breath and then exhale while causing your tongue to trill or vibrate with an “r” sound. Try to hold your sound steady with your breath connected.
Again, as your endurance improves, you can practice your tongue trills for more extended periods of time. You can also vary your pitch, moving up and down the scale while trilling.
Care should be taken not to push beyond what is comfortable at the top and bottom of your range.
Learning solfege is an excellent vocal warm-up exercise to stop you slipping out of tune when singing. Not only will this neat little activity keep your sound strong, but it will also work on your range and help you to recognize the right pitch by ear.
Those who are familiar with The Sound of Music will already know Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do. In the world of singers and vocal training, this style of singing is called solfege.
You can practice singing solfege acapella or with a piano. It will help you to hit your pitches perfectly. As you progress with practicing your solfege, you can start at a higher pitch each time to see how much higher you can go.
Check out this video for practicing your Solfege.
The best thing about the humming exercise is that you already know how to do it! Even before you started singing, you were probably humming.
Humming is a gentle way of working your vocal cords without overexerting. Keep your lips loosely closed and hum along to a five-step scale or solfege. See the previous exercise for more information on the solfege and scales. You can use solfege syllables to sing the exercises in our How The Voice Works app.
Repeat this vocal exercise 3-5 times. Work towards the lower end of your singing range by moving your starting note a step down each time. Then, work at the top end of your voice by taking it a step higher in the next round.
Practicing your “nays” and “gees” are two different vocal warm-ups that sit in the same camp. First, saying “nay” helps for vocal cord closure in your head voice.
Imagine your “nay” voice as a very annoying child. It needs to be nasally and whiny to be useful as this is what causes your larynx to go up.
Alternatively, after a few rounds of “nay”, you can follow with your “gee”. Your “gee” will cause your larynx to drop. The “hooty gee” is a great exercise for those who are experiencing tension when singing.
However, the “gee” should be treated with a pinch of caution. If you notice your vocal cords tighten more when you say “gee”, you may need to consult a vocal coach for assistance to ensure you do not injure your vocal cords.
The siren is a great, low-impact voice exercise that will not overstretch your muscles when singing, will help you warm up your range, and will encourage sonic vibrations to travel through the body.
Think of the noise a fire engine makes when attending an emergency, and simply imitate it. Start at the low part of your vocal range and take it to the high range – start easy and gentle and then you can stretch further. Doing the siren as part of your warm-up singing routine is a terrific addition to your vocal training plan.
Tone and elocution are two essential ingredients for those who want to sing well. Projecting with a crisp and clear voice isn’t something that should just be reserved for an actor’s voice. It also helps singers propel their voice and have a powerful vocal delivery.
Articulation is done by your teeth, tongue, lips, and jaw. Tongue twisters will help you to stretch out these muscles, reduce muscle tension, and notice where your sound comes from.
Here are some favorite tongue twisters to try as part of your voice training:
She sells seashells on the seashore.
A synonym for cinnamon is a cinnamon synonym.
A proper cup of coffee from a proper copper coffee pot.
Four furious friends fought for the phone.
Shaping your mouth when singing is another exercise that will lead to a better vocal technique. Start with singing “oo” (as in food) in a five-tone scale. Begin at the upper middle of your range and work down in half-steps.
Repeat this exercise with all the vowels, paying close attention to the shape your mouth is making and how each vowel opens or closes the throat muscles.
Afterward, you can practice the same technique adding a consonant and maintaining the vowel sound and space. When you close your consonants too much, the song you are singing will sound and feel inappropriate because it physically pulls on the muscles in your larynx and changes the position of your vocal folds.
Once you have mastered how you pronounce your vowels and consonants, you will be able to change tones without losing control.
Tension can collect in the throat, whether you have been pushing too hard, suffering from a voice disorder like vocal cord paralysis or reflux laryngitis, or even experiencing a dehydrated singing voice.
The aim of this exercise is to shake out the tension in the vocal cords that are within the Adam’s Apple area of your throat.
Place your fingers across your Adam’s Apple and swallow, noticing how your Adam’s Apple moves up. Keep your fingers there and practice a yawn, also noting the same movement. The downward motion is releasing the tension from your throat.
If you can, take the time to yawn a few times and exhale at the end with a soft sigh like an “ah” (at a comfortable pitch). Yawning will also relax your soft palate and give you better sound and breath support.
This exercise doesn’t stretch your vocal muscles, but it does help to release tension and improve your breath which in turn improves your singing voice. The jaw creates the oral framework from which you can begin to sing; therefore, your jaw, larynx, tongue, and lips need to be relaxed so that you have more control over them.
Use your fingers to massage the muscles around your jaw and mouth in a circular motion to stimulate blood flow.
You should even massage the inside of your mouth before opening and closing your mouth several times. Practice your scales while making a chewing motion with your jaw. These things will help to stretch out those muscles and release tension making your singing voice safer and stronger.
Any good vocal coach or voice teacher will tell you that singing exercises can work wonders for the way you sing. Not only will you be practicing techniques to improve your singing voice, but you are also ensuring that you don’t cause any damage. Interested in learning more details about the voice? Check out How The Voice Works course and app.