How to Warm Up Your Voice | Vocal Exercises to Sing Your Best
Have you ever found that your voice doesn’t sound so great until a couple of songs in? To sing at your best, you need to warm up your voice first, using a tried and tested vocal warm-up.
How to warm up your vocals. Learning how to warm up your voice using vocal warm-up exercises is important. It protects your vocals and prepares your voice for an audition or show. Warm vocals stand out in comparison to a voice that’s cold or over–rehearsed.
Whether you need some quick vocal warm-ups, warm-up vocal exercises for beginners or tips on how to warm down your voice, we’ve compiled exercises to show you how to warm up your voice and sing at your best.
How to warm up your voice before singing
Why do you warm up your voice before singing? It’s really important to warm up your vocals before you get stuck into a song. And it’s not just because you’ll sound better (although that’s a huge benefit and incentive too). If you want to have longevity as a singer, it’s crucial to look after the parts of your body that make singing possible.
It’s much like an athlete – you wouldn’t start to run or play a match without stretching and limbering up the muscles needed to perform at peak fitness. Neglecting warm-ups and training could well result in an injury. Protect your voice and it’ll serve you far better.
Your vocal cords are powerful. But if misused or forced, can be damaged, resulting in problems like voice strain, laryngitis and even vocal nodules – a problem that has recently affected Adele. Get into a good practice knowing how to warm up your vocals as well as how to warm down your voice and you’ll avoid injury, strengthen it a great deal, and sound amazing. So let’s take a look at how we go about preparing to begin.
#1 Vocal warm-up scales
Do scales. They might seem a bit boring and less fun than getting straight into a song, but like learning an instrument they form the foundations for more advanced work. However, unlike learning an instrument, scales will continue to be a part of your daily practice for your entire life as a singer. Rather than just being a learning tool, they are a route to improvement and vocal security.
Start with a traditional major scale. Work up the way and then back down with:
Do – Re – Mi – Fa – So – La – Ti – Do
Sing the notes: C4 – D4 – E4 – F4 – G4 – A4 – B4 – C5
Then you can move to minor scales: C4 – D4 – E♭4 – F4 – G4 – A♭4 – B♭4 – C5 (natural minor scale), C4 – D4 – E♭4 – F4 – G4 – A♭4 – B4 – C5 (harmonic minor scale) and C4 – D4 – E♭4 – F4 – G4 – A4 – B4 – C5 – B♭4 – A♭4 – G4 – F4 – E♭4 – D4 – C4 (melodic minor scale).
Move to whole-tone scales: C4 – D4 – E4 – F#4 – G#4 – A#4 – C5 and chromatic longer scales: C4 – C#4 – D4 – D#4 – E4 – F4 – F#4 – G4 – G#4 – A4 – A#4 – B4 – C5.
Practising the scales is something that will help you to see what you’re comfortable with and what may be a struggle. It also prepares your voice for every note you’re likely to hit during your audition or show. Gradually build your scales as starting too high or too low will damage your vocals.
#2 Take deep breaths
Most people have a poor habit of using only the top of their lungs. Avoid this. If you feel tense at all whilst breathing or find you run out of breath quickly and that your voice isn’t supported (particularly on higher notes), work on breath control exercises. A lack of breath control or breathing from the wrong places it will show through your voice.
Keep your shoulders low and your chest relaxed – it shouldn’t lift and lower as you breathe. Instead, you should feel your lungs expand and the top of your stomach between and below your ribs, move in and out. Sing with one hand on your diaphragm to check you’re maintaining a correct breathing practice.
#3 Ease all tension and relax your body
This will ease your mind and steady your voice. Try having a small snack to settle your stomach, but not so you feel full. A salad or some fruit are good examples of easily digestible light bites to give you some energy without weighing you down. Chewing gum can help relieve tension in your jaw, but if you haven’t eaten, don’t chew for too long, as it can cause digestion issues. Instead, pretend to chew a massive gobstopper, engaging all part of the mouth to give it a good workout.
Release the jaw: Relaxing your jaw allows for the best movement when singing, it’s best to massage your cheeks with the heel of each hand.
#4 Have a good posture
Good posture is a requirement for effective vocals, as it helps with the airflow through your body. The best way to stand is with your legs hip-width apart and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Imagine the top of your head is held by a string up to the sky, with a long neck, proud chest and humble chin. You should feel tall and grounded, with a straight spine. If you choose to sit rather than stand, sit on the edge of the chair, back straight and don’t lean on the chair.
Posture is a key part of vocal warm-ups for actors too. Alexander Technique is often used to improve posture for voice. So if this is an area in which you know you need a lot of improvement, it’s worth following some of the principles and exercises.
#5 Try tongue twisters
Vocal warm-up exercises for speaking are just as helpful for singers, as they are for actors and public speakers. They are a gentle way to get the vocal cords moving along with the teeth, the tongue and the lips. When doing vocal warm-ups, tongue twisters are a fun method to limber up the mouth. The list of tongue twisters you can use is endless, and you can make up your own too. Here are some tried and tested favourites to incorporate into your routine…
Betty bought a bit of butter.
But the butter Betty bought was bitter.
So Betty bought a better butter, and it was better than the butter Betty bought before.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers?
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
If a dog chews shoes, whose shoes does he choose?
Round the rough and rugged rock, the ragged rascal rudely ran.
All I want is a proper cup of coffee,
Made in a proper copper coffee pot
If you need to speak in a professional capacity, such as appearing on a podcast, doing a radio interview, or plugging your work at an event, make sure to get your mouth limbered up. If you’re not going to be singing there’s no need for scales, but clear speech that’s easy to understand will have you sounding far more professional and polished.
Vocal warm-up for beginners
We’ve talked about the vocal cords, but basic exercises begin before you even produce a note. Beginners may be unaware of how important the rest of the body is, in supporting the sound. Start with your physicality when practising vocal exercises.
You can try the Jacobs Vocal Academy 5 minute vocal warm-up, for super-quick solution pre-gig, audition or show. Using YouTube tutorials is ideal if you do better watching and learning with guidance, rather than under your own steam.
Quick vocal warm-ups
While in general, it’s well worth devoting a good deal of time to your scales, it’s useful to have some quick vocal warm-ups up your sleeve too. You’ll get away with a brief vocal workout if you’ve done the groundwork ahead of time and you can shortcut your way to a great sound.
If you’re short on time, here are some brief and simple techniques you can use, to fast track your way to a warm voice.
When you hum, it helps to cool down your voice but also helps to warm it up without the straining of singing. It’s a safe way to produce sound without hurting your voice. Humming through the scales is an effective technique. It also ensures your voice is warmed up before an audition to protect your vocals and also to help build your vocal confidence.
To siren, slide your way up and down the scale to produce a sound much like a fire engine or police car siren – just slower. You can use different letters or words to do this. First, try it with your tongue behind your top teeth, to create an ‘n’. This, much like humming is a gentle way to ease your voice into movement. Then move to ‘z’ to increase the vibration, followed by a trill of the lips (think of a horse blowing out air, or a motorboat engine).
Get the diaphragm engaged quickly, by placing one hand on it and singing through your song (you could use Happy Birthday if you prefer), but using ‘ha’ in place of each lyric. Really hit the ‘h’ and make sure you feel the movement in your hand as you stimulate those muscles. Once you’re ready to sing for real, you’ll find your diaphragm engages more, providing the bedrock for your breath, tone, power and sound.
Continue these for as long as you have time – which could be anything from a couple of minutes for the whole vocal warm-up to 5 minutes. These will get your vocal cords and diaphragm a little warmer, but not your diction. So if you have time, incorporate a few simple diction exercises too.
Open up your voice to sing: wake up your singing voice
If you’ve heard people talking about ‘opening’ or ‘waking up’ the singing voice, you may well be wondering what they’re talking about.
Opening up your voice refers to the opening of the airways and jaw. This allows air to the vocal cords, and an open relaxed mouth and jaw allow sound to come out. We often tense and don’t release the jaw enough – in singing it needs to be more exaggerated than when talking. It prevents a nasal sound. To open up the voice, try these exercises:
- Yawn. This is a natural action but does wonders to release the muscles in your mouth and throat.
- Practice scales and songs with only the vowel sound ‘aaah’. Focus on dropping your jaw vertically and opening up your throat. This can be repeated with other vowel sounds, but the same focus.
Waking up the voice, usually just refers to the warm-up process, but early in the day. Singing is always harder in the morning when the vocal cords are groggy (much like the rest of the body). So if you have an audition slot early on in the day, spend a bit more time on warm-up exercises than you would in the evening, but keeping it gentler to start with too. And no screaming and shouting the night before!
Preparing and warming up your voice for an audition
This is when you really want to sound your best, so make the prep work count. Quick warm-ups are ideal before auditions. Often you’ve had to travel a distance and even if you’d already done some exercises before leaving home, you may find your voice has cooled down again. A brief warm-up in the green room or waiting area will get you back on track and ready to rock that stage.
Vocal warm-up exercises for choirs
Choral warm-ups are slightly different, in that they can’t be tailored to the individual. If you lead a choir or singing group, you’ll need generic exercises to work with all vocal ranges and possible, levels of ability.
The basic vocal warm-up principles and exercises covered here will work, especially scales such as a classic arpeggio. But scales will need to be led with the choir leader setting and keeping the tempo – if everyone goes at their own pace chaos will soon ensue! Having an accompanist makes this much easier, as the group will automatically follow the piano. Tongue twisters don’t work so well in unison, but canon singing does. And group singing in unison sounds really impressive.
How to warm down your voice
Thinking once again about an athlete: teams and players will always stretch to warm down after a game or event, as well as warming up. As a singer, it’ll help keep your voice in good health, if you gently warm it down too. This is especially the case if you’ve been working to the edge of your range and belting it out.
Warm down exercises should be easy and restorative.
- Release any tension using gentle head rolls.
- Work through some soft sirens using an ‘n’ sound and not taking it to the very edges of your range.
- Cooldown your pitch raising muscles with a vocal creak.
- Rest your voice after a strenuous set – that includes talking and shouting.
- Take lots of warm – or room temperature – water. Make this a general practice, not just after singing. Hydrating your body has many benefits.
Without a vocal warm-up, you risk damaging your voice during the performance and affecting your audience’s perception of your talent. But remember no matter what happens, just enjoy it, you’ve been given the opportunity to sing for someone, embrace it!. And now you know how to warm up your voice properly – whether you have little or lots of time – you can let it shine.
- What can I drink to warm up my voice?
When deciding what to drink to warm up your voice, room temperature water is the best option. Avoid dairy drinks completely as they coat your voice and don’t let all the voice through. Hot and cold drinks have negative effects on your vocals before an audition or show.
- How can I improve my singing voice at home?
Follow the exercises we’ve discussed here on a regular basis. Record yourself singing and watch yourself back to identify areas for improvement. Online tutorials are also very beneficial. Although it’s even better to get a vocal coach to work with you – many will hold sessions in your home.
- How long should you do vocal warm-ups?
This depends on how much time you have spare, how much experience you have and how good you want to be! Spend a minimum of 5 minutes on your warm-up, going up to 20-30 minutes. Build up the time gradually if you’re new to singing, to avoid vocal fatigue and begin gently.
How do you warm up your vocals? Do you have any favourite exercises that enable you to sing at your best? Let us know in the comments.