Vocal Exercises for Singers: 7 of the Best Singing Exercises
There are a huge variety of vocal exercises for singers that can help develop & improve your vocal performance. But how do you know where to start and which ones are the best for you?
While it may be fun to launch straight into some songs, vocal exercises for singers are an essential part of improving, developing and protecting your voice. Practising daily vocal exercises should be an important part of every serious singer’s routine.
Although you will achieve the best results by attending voice lessons with a qualified teacher, here are some simple vocal exercises for singers plus some key dos and don’ts. They can be done daily, as part of your vocal workout or just before a performance to warm up. Start these vocal practices now and they could help take your vocal performance to the next level.
Vocal exercises for singers to increase range
Perhaps you’re not convinced of the virtues of vocal exercises for singers. Particularly if you’ve been singing for a long time, without doing any at all. Before we get started with the specifics of which exercises you should be doing, let’s take a look at the top reasons to make these a habit, not just an afterthought.
One of the first reasons a singer will start to work on vocal exercises is to reach notes that have previously been unattainable. Want to sing songs with higher or lower notes than you can manage naturally? Get going with some vocal exercises to see a change.
If you’re young, with a strong, sturdy belt, the thought of vocal damage may be far from your mind. But the more you sing and the more you push your range, the more chance you have of doing some damage. The exercises in this article will prevent this and keep your voice in great shape.
If you want better tone and improved sound, exercises including techniques like breath control will provide you with tools to help you sing better than ever before. The bottom line is if you want to win competitions and achieve success, vocal exercises need to be a part of your routine.
Quick vocal warm-ups
The exercises we’ll tell you about here are simple and can be done quickly, as a warm-up prior to a show or gig. However, we do recommend that you don’t always fall back on just speedy exercises at the last minute. Spend time and put the work in and you’ll notice much greater results than if you don’t.
Now (hopefully) you’re convinced. Let’s begin.
7 Vocal exercises for singers
Warm-up vocal exercises for beginners: Daily vocal exercises
#1 Breath control
One of the most basic and essential voice exercises for singers is breath control. While your breath isn’t heard, it is the bedrock of the sound you make. Breath control is the difference between hitting a high note well or screeching. It’s also what enables you to hold onto a note for a long time.
Make sure your shoulders are not rising when you breathe. If they are this indicates shallow breathing. As a result, you’ll likely get an initial blast of volume followed by very little else as your breath quickly runs out. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Your breathing should start much lower down with your stomach & diaphragm muscles expanding like bellows. If your stomach goes in when you breathe in you’re doing it the wrong way round!
Lie on the floor, relax & breathe normally. You should notice as you breathe in, your stomach & rib cage rise (inflate). Then as you breathe out they become smaller again (deflate). Visualise these areas filling up like a balloon. See how much breath you can squeeze in – it’s more than you might think. Remember to start low, but inflate all the way into your ribs, up to your armpits and down into the very bottom of your belly.
Breathing properly is also excellent for your overall health and wellbeing. And if you’re healthy and well, your voice will be stronger and more resilient too.
￼Practise doing short mini laughs with a breath in between – “Ha”, breath, “Ha”, breath – this makes sure the stomach is going in & on the breath going back out. Also, practice this in slow motion to help develop better control of your breathing. Think of squeezing a tube of toothpaste from the bottom up to keep that steady flow. You can use a count, to keep track of your progress and even out that flow, both in and out.
You should never sing at full volume without fully warming up first. Failing to warm up your voice can result in damage and will only hinder your progress in the long run. So don’t cut corners as it doesn’t pay off.
#2 The lip bubble
Try not to laugh, as you might feel a bit silly doing this, but believe us, it does work and is one of the best singing exercises you can do at home yourself.
This should sound like you’re mimicking the sound of a car engine. Support your face around your jawline with your fingers, squish your lips together into a loose pucker & gently blow a “buh” sound into your lips so they vibrate.
Once you’ve mastered this, use scales, slides up & down as high & low as you can & even use them on the melody of a song you’re learning. You’ll know it’s been working when you feel your lips tingling afterwards.
Make an “mmm” sound in your spoken voice like you’re agreeing with something or have just had something tasty to eat.
You should feel a gentle vibration in your throat & on your lips. Once you’ve mastered it & it feels really comfortable hum through various scales. Do this with broken up notes, 1 per note “mm mm mm” & also in 1 long “mmmmmmm” smoothly across the notes.
Avoid starting on an “H” as this indicates you’re overusing breath & make sure your tongue stays down & doesn’t start pulling to the back of your throat.
This is a handy exercise for when you’re on the go too. Hum when you’re out and about – walking, driving, or even on the bus. Not only will you be warming up your voice, but you’ll also be giving off a very jolly vibe too!
ING is another great sound for working your voice safely. Say “sing” & sustain the ING part of the word. This may feel a little nasal at first but that’s fine. It helps work your voice into your hard palate (the upper part of the inside of the mouth). Slide through scales, from low to high & vice versa & also around the melody of songs you’re working on. As with the humming exercise don’t overuse breath & keep your tongue relaxed & as flat as is comfortable.
This is a great one for the shower, or when getting ready to go out. As with many of these exercises you can incorporate it into your daily routine to save time when you’re too busy for lots of dedicated singing practice.
#5 Perfect your vowels
Vowels have a major impact on anything you sing as they are the sounds that are sustained & showcase the unique tone of your voice. So they need to be controlled effectively to sound great and sing to your full ability.
Many singers find themselves modifying the sound & shape of a vowel dramatically to make it easier to reach certain notes or in some cases to copy the style of another singer. EE is a notoriously difficult one in the higher range, so many singers convert this to more of an AH.
Practice the most common vowels found in the words you sing & work on maintaining a more consistent mouth shape to produce them naturally rather than manipulating your mouth, tongue & jaw to try to create them.
A good starting point is a nice narrow O shape then work individually & in turn across the following:
EE as in See, OO as in Soon, EH as in Stare, Oh as in Snow, I as in Sky & AH as in Star.
Use 1 sustained note & 4 or 5 note scales up & down. Again, careful you don’t add any “Hs” to lever the sound out & keep that tongue and jaw relaxed.
#6 Diction exercises for singers: voice exercises for speaking
It’s vital an audience can understand what you are singing so make sure you don’t get lazy with enunciation. Add consonants as well as vowel exercises to crisp up your diction, they also help with breath control as they will create stops in the air flow at different points within your mouth & throat.
There are many variations to choose from but B, C, D, F, G, M, N are very effective. A simple trick is to do your vowel exercises, but add one of these consonants at the beginning. Work through one at a time, paying special attention to those that you find trickiest. (That’s a great tip in general: if you find something particularly difficult, that’s what you should work on most, rather than shying away from it because it’s tough).
#7 “Speak” Singing
Your voice is at its most relaxed when you’re speaking in your own natural voice so try bringing it together with your singing voice. Work on tricky parts of songs in a shorter more spoken way whilst maintaining the melody.
It will sound & feel rather soulless & formal but gradually you can start sustaining notes & adding more of your own singing style back in. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it feels.
Speak-singing is also a useful technique to incorporate into your performance as an artistic choice. So mastering it is more than just beneficial as a vocal exercise. And if you rap, you’re diction and speech will be a crucial part of your vocal work out.
Some of the best singing exercises
The 7 we listed above are the voice exercises that every singer should practice daily. They are the best ones out there, tried and tested and are known to work. You can mix them up and add in some variations to make them fun and less of a chore. Record yourself doing them, as you’ll often find it easier to self-critique via playback.
Once you’ve mastered those, you could also supplement them with the following:
- Lip buzz – similar to the lip bubble, but this time vibrate your lips together so that they make a buzzing sound. Alternate the pitch for a few seconds each time, going higher and lower.
- Solfege – Remember Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music? With this singing exercise you need to go up and down the scales in the classic Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do fashion (find out more on Wikipedia). You can add a “Do a deer” in too if you fancy.
- The fire engine – again, you might feel a bit silly trying this, but it’s a great voice exercise for singers. You make the sound of a fire engine, beginning with the low notes, going up through the range.
Does singing every day help to improve your voice?
Without a doubt, yes. If you want to get better as a singer, daily voice exercises will improve your performance. Just singing songs alone won’t cut it. With regular daily singing exercises, you can vocalize notes and sounds you might not otherwise get to practice, trying out high and low notes outside of your normal vocal range. It’s the equivalent of vocal gymnastics. However, as with the Olympic gymnasts you see on TV, it doesn’t come without work.
How long should you exercise vocals every day?
If you are a beginner, you should take it slowly. If you suddenly start singing for 3 hours a day, chances are you might even damage your vocal cords. The muscles won’t yet be robust enough to handle that amount of vocal exercise. Keep your practice down to around 20 minutes a day for a few months until you strengthen your voice.
However, for singers who have years of experience, things are very different.
Experienced singers can exercise their vocal talents for half an hour to 40 minutes each day and then move into singing songs from their set-list to see how that practice has impacted the quality of sound.
You should build your voice up over time, starting off with daily exercises in short periods of time until your vocals get stronger.
Downloadable singing exercises
Singing scales is a big part of your ongoing vocal work. If you have a very good ear, you will be able to pitch the notes yourself. Or if you play an instrument – a piano is ideal – you can play the scales for yourself. Obviously, if it’s a wind instrument and requires the engagement of your mouth this won’t work, as you won’t be able to sing and play at the same time.
So if this is you, or you don’t play an instrument at all, or you prefer not to try and concentrate on singing at the same time, you can use downloadable singing exercises instead. These act as an accompaniment for your exercises, much like a vocal coach or singing teacher would in person.
There are plenty of these exercises online. Here are some music files you can download to your phone or tablet to practise alongside.
Vocal exercises PDF
To take your vocal exercises to the next level and keep things interesting, you can access more resources online. If you prefer to have something in front of you to read as a guide, you could print out a handy PDF of singing exercises to follow and work through step by step.
Vocal best practices for singers
Here are some additional pointers to help get the very best out of your voice. Keep these in mind, both when exercising your voice and when using your voice in general life.
- Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water (6 to 8 glasses a day)
- Avoid stress & stay relaxed especially as you’re leading up to a performance
- Eat a well-balanced, nutritious & healthy diet
- Get plenty of sleep (7 to 8 hours a night) & rest
- Train with a qualified teacher as regularly as your budget and schedule allow
- Speak at a natural volume & comfortable pitch
- Seek medical advice if you have prolonged hoarseness
- Gently “walk” through new songs when you are first learning them
- Keep your voice at a comfortable “speech level” at all times when singing
- Warm up properly before trying to sing with a lot of power or volume
- Belt or shout songs or force your voice in any way that causes strain
- Repeat the same mistakes over & over, you’ll only get better at them
- Cough excessively & clear your throat continually – this can become a nervous habit
- Consume dairy products, citrus fruits/juice, fizzy drinks, coffee or alcohol on or before the day of a performance. Ideally, avoid them as much as possible
- Talk a lot on the day of a performance
- Sing with a cold/flu or laryngitis
- Try to sing if it hurts or feels difficult in any way
- Talk or shout over loud noise – watching live gigs can be especially bad for this, so be aware
- Whisper loudly or sing in a “breathy” voice
Whether you’ve only just begun in your journey as a singer, or whether you’re a seasoned artist, this advice will stand you in good stead. Practice these 7 vocal exercises for singers as often as your schedule allows, and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits.
- Does vocal range increase with age?
It’s not uncommon for the lower range to increase with age (or temporarily, when you have a cold). But at the same time, you might lose some of your upper range. If you practise exercises to improve the vocal range on a regular and continual basis, it will inevitably increase as time goes on.
- How can I improve my voice for singing?
Practise. Singing exercises that stretch your vocals, will undoubtedly improve your singing. It’s well worth investing in a vocal coach too. The expertise of a professional is invaluable in taking you to the next level. Learn some mic technique too, for recording and live gigs.
- Is humming a good vocal exercise?
Humming is a fantastic way to warm up your voice. It’s a safe and gentle method that eases your voice into activity, encouraging sound vibration and good breath control. It’s also versatile, meaning you can use a hum for both scales and running through whole numbers.
What are your favourite vocal exercises for singers and how have they helped you? Tell us about them and what your practise involves, in the comments below.