The 7 Best Vocal Warm-Ups for Singers
Singing doesn’t just happen; it takes practice and development. That’s why singing, like any endurance or energetic activity, should always involve a generous vocal warm-up. Whether you are just doing your daily hour of practice or singing at the Royal Opera House, a focused 10-20 minutes of warm-ups will prepare the voice to sound its best and preserve it for decades to come.
What are Vocal Warm-ups?
Vocal warm-ups prepare a performer’s voice for singing or acting. Vocal warm-ups are necessary to not only prepare the voice to sing but to care for and preserve the voice for the future. Vocal warm-ups should exercise multiple facets of vocal technique like breath control and articulation. Ideally, you should spend 10 to 20 minutes warming up your voice before singing.
Why Do I Need to Warm-up My Voice?
Warm-ups are essential to keeping your voice healthy, sounding its best, and preventing damage.
They also help you develop your skills and extend your range gently. In short, warm-ups relax your singing muscles similar to the way a runner stretches their legs before running.
There are many benefits to doing warm-ups. When done properly, they can:
- Improve vocal quality
- Improve singing duration
- Improve breath control
- Improve articulation
- Expand vocal range in a safe, gradual manner
- Reduce the risk of voice loss or injury
- Reduce vocal and muscle tension
- Reduce vocal cracking or breaking
Ultimately, when you consistently do warm-up exercises, you will strengthen your voice and improve your vocal technique over time.
Perfect Your Posture
Your body is your instrument, so the way you hold it will greatly affect your sound. There are two things to keep in mind when getting into your singing posture: it must be flexible enough to allow for expansion and it has to be efficient so you don’t strain your voice.
Ideally, you’ll be standing up when you sing. Singing happens in the entire body, so we’ll start from the bottom and work our way up:
- Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and directly under your hips. This gives you a balanced foundation for singing – giving you stability while not creating any tension in the body.
- Keep your knees soft, opting for a loose position. If you feel your knees locking or straining, loosen up. It’s also for your safety – sometimes locking the knees can cause a singer to faint. Keep those knees soft!
- Your hips should be directly over the knees in a slightly tucked position. Untucked, they can create tension in the lower back. Too tucked and you can collapse your diaphragm and chest, constricting your breath.
- Your chest should be open, shoulders rolled back. When the shoulders are rolled back into their proper place, the chest automatically rises and opens up, allowing for lung expansion. The shoulder should be low and back. If you feel them sneaking back up toward your ears, just take a breath in, and then on the exhale, roll your shoulders back to reopen the chest.
- Finally, the head. Imagine there is a string running from the top of your head down to your feet. When you lightly pull the string up, your chin raises, extending the neck and putting the jaw and throat in a neutral position. Ears over the shoulders.
When you put all the elements together, you put your body into alignment. This allows for maximum flexibility and efficiency.
Start your warm-ups with breathing exercises. These exercises will bring oxygenated air into your body, rejuvenating it, preparing it for doing more complex vocal exercises, and help you practice breath control. Here are two exercises to begin with to warm up your diaphragm (not from the chest!) for singing and helping you work on breath control.
- Diaphragm Breathing: Get in your proper posture making sure your chest and shoulders are relaxed. Breathe in through your mouth for five seconds, pushing the air deep into your diaphragm, feeling your belly fill and expand. Slowly exhale for five seconds. Continue breathing like this for one or two minutes.
- The Hisssssss: Staying in your same posture, inhale through the nose for five seconds. When you exhale, exhale through the mouth making a hissing “sss” sound.
Gradually work towards longer inhales and exhales as you build greater lung capacity and breathe control.
The 7 Best Vocal Warm-Ups for Singers
There are countless vocal exercises you can do to prepare for singing and improve your vocal technique. We’ve chosen seven of our favorites that exercise the voice in different ways, many of them used by our Yousicplay instructors like Chrisette Michele and Myron Butler.
1. Jaw Looseners
How it helps vocal technique: Releases facial tension
In the modern world, there’s a lot of jaw clenching. In this exercise, we’ll work on releasing the jaw (not jutting out the chin) and dropping it low.
Start by pretending to yawn with your mouth closed (Beware: pretending will likely lead to an actual yawn). Feel where your jaw drops. Repeat ten or more times to build muscle memory. We have to train the jaw to fall lower for singing than we would when we are talking.
Next, we are going to massage the jaw to remove tension. Using your fingers, massage the area below the cheekbone where it meets the jawbone. Massage the area in small circles to stimulate blood flow and loosen tension in the jaw and face.
2. The Yawn-Sigh Technique
How it helps vocal technique: Relieves tension and improves breath control
What’s more relaxing than a nice, deep yawn? Yawning relaxes your jaw, throat, tongue, and facial muscles. This exercise is pretty easy.
Drop your jaw wide and inhale slowly as if you were yawning. Resist the urge to tense up, instead keeping the jaw and tongue completely relaxed. Exhale slowly as you close your mouth emitting a sigh or audible breath. Try to keep the teeth apart while you bring the lips together. Relax into the exhale. Repeat as often as needed. You can also play with pitch and duration once you master the basics of the exercise.
How it helps vocal technique: Stretches the vocal cords, improves breathing, and relaxes facial muscles.
Humming is one of the most satisfying types of vocal warm-ups and it’s also easy to do. Start by relaxing your face and body. Place the tip of your tongue behind your bottom front teeth. Inhale through the nose and on the exhale, make a “hmmm” sound with your jaw open and lips closed. Hum notes, sliding up and down your vocal range. Now on the next exhale, increase the humming vibration to further relax the face. Continue to increase the vibration to your comfort level.
Once you’ve mastered this warm-up, move into an accelerated version by opening your mouth and making an “ahhh” sound while still humming notes. Challenge yourself with longer durations as you or your teacher deems appropriate.
4. The Lip Buzz
How it helps vocal technique: Loosens the lips.
For this warm-up, you simply try to make a motorboat sound on the exhale by making your lips vibrate as you blow air through both the mouth and nose at the same time. Intermediate-level singers can also include pitch slides on the exhale for an extra challenge.
5. The Two-octave Pitch Glide
How it helps vocal technique: Transitions your chest voice into your head voice.
Inhale and on the exhale make an “eeeee” or “ohhhhh” sound, gliding up and down through all 12 of the chromatic pitches of a two-octave range.
6. The Siren
How it helps vocal technique: Expands vocal range and stretches vocal cords.
Embrace your inner six-year-old and wail like an ambulance! Similar to warm-up #5, exhale into an “oooo” sound and go from the lowest note in your range up to the highest and back down again. Keep the sound continuous and flowing until you get back to the lowest note in your range. It should sound like a fire truck or other emergency vehicle’s siren. Repeat multiple times. Only expand your range when you can comfortably do so – don’t force it! It’s more important to go through the different vocal registers without cracking than to try to hit high C.
7. Tongue Twisters
How it helps vocal technique: Improves vocal articulation and pronunciation, as well as warms up and loosens the tongue, mouth, and lips.
When you sing, your audience needs to be able to understand the words. Tongue twisters train the brain and mouth to transition effortlessly between challenging syllables. Start slow with short phrases that are difficult to say fast. Once you master the speed and articulation, try repeating them in different pitches.
Here are a few of the most common tongue-twisters:
- Stupid superstition!
- Sally sells seashells by the seashore.
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
- Sounds abound when the mouth is round
- A synonym for cinnamon is a cinnamon synonym
- How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood
Vocal warm-ups should always be an essential part of a singer’s practice. When practiced consistently, you’ll notice a positive change in your vocal technique, as well as keep your instrument well-tuned and well cared for. As with any new practice, start slowly and build as time goes on.
If you need more instruction, consider taking a class with Yousicplay’s professional vocal instructors like Chrisette Michele, who can teach you to sing with soul. If you are looking to focus on vocal technique specifically, check out Noel Schajris’s class. No matter which instructor you choose, they’ll teach you all aspects of singing to help develop your voice safely and at your pace. Join thousands of other students who are literally singing their praises!
Written by Tom Martin
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