10 Warm-Up Techniques for Vocalists

Aug 28, 2019

Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring fun ways to warm up your body before playing music. We started with piano warm-ups, and last week we covered the guitar and bass. This week we’ll be taking a slightly different approach – the last two weeks have been preparing your body to play your instrument, but this week we’re going to explore vocal warm-ups, where your body is your instrument.

That means, just like how an athlete needs to be sure to take the time to prepare before a big game, vocalists need to know how to properly warm-up their voice to perform best behind the microphone.

Vocal warm-ups have all sorts of benefits, as they can help to loosen up your vocal cords and help prepare you to nail your next audition or performance (or practice session for that matter).

Why Vocal Warm-Ups Are Important

As you work to tone your vocal cords you will slowly become a more skilled and versatile musician, while reducing your chances of injury at the same time. In a nutshell, if you get behind the microphone feeling nervous or stresses, you’re going to sound nervous and stresses. However, if you get behind the microphone feeling relaxed, well-stretched, and physically ready to tackle the task at hand, your vocal performance will reflect that state of being too.

Vocal Warm-Up 1: Stretch Your Body

According to voice actor and coach Heather Costa, “Side stretches are great for expanding your rib cage and making your lungs feel like they are full of air[.] Simply take a deep breath and raise your arms up to the sky. Exhale and slightly lean to the left, lengthening in your side body. Hold it there for just a couple of seconds before you inhale to center, and then exhale over to the right.”

“Next, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale your arms up to the sky, then slowly bend at your waist on the exhale and take your hands toward the ground. It doesn’t matter how far you can go, the action of bending over is enough to give you a nice, warm stretch! Stay there for a couple of breaths, and then on an inhale slowly come back up to a standing position.”

Vocal Warm-Up 2: Yawning & Sighing

This is a quick and easy warm-up technique. All you need to do is simply yawn (to take in air) with your mouth closed. Then, exhale through your nose like you’re sighing. This helps to relax your voice and improve your vocal range.

Vocal Warm-Up 3: Humming

Humming can be one of the best vocal warm-up techniques simply because it doesn’t put a lot of strain on the vocal cords. Put the tip of your tongue behind your bottom front teeth and hum up and down the major scale – all while keeping your jaw closed. Each note should sound like “hmmm” – make sure you include the “h” sound – it makes it less taxing on your voice.

Vocal Warm-Up 4: Vocal Straw Exercise

To properly perform the “vocal straw exercise” (also called straw phonation), all you need to do is take a straw and hum through it. Begin at the bottom of your range and slowly and evenly slide up to the top. Then try humming your favourite song through your straw. You can also try placing the straw in a glass of water and blow controlled bubbles.

Vocal Warm-Up 5: Lip Buzz

When it comes to vocal warm-ups, the lip buzz (or lip “trill”) is extremely simple. The goal is to just make a motorboat sound by blowing air through your mouth and nose to vibrate your lips. Try incorporating pitch slides to this warm-up technique.

Vocal Warm-Up 6: Tongue Trill

This one can be a little difficult for some singers – that’s because it involves curling your tongue and rolling your “R’s” as you go through your range from low to high.

Vocal Warm-Up 7: Loosen Your Jaw

For proper vocal technique, you’ll want to drop your jaw lower than when you’re simply speaking. With your finger, trace along your jawline from your chin to your ear. The curved part between your jaw and your ear is where you want to drop your jaw.

Just think about how you yawn. Keep your mouth closed and try to yawn while you feel where your jaw drops. That’s where you want it while you’re singing. Just remember to avoid simply dropping your chin.

Vocal Warm-Up 8: Two-Octave Pitch Glide

For this easier vocal warm-up technique, try making an “eeee” or “ohhh” sound, and slowly glide through the chromatic notes of a two-octave range. Slowly glide up, and then back down. This helps transition from your chest voice to your head voice.

Vocal Warm-Up 9: Vocal Sirens

Similar to the pitch glide, the vocal siren exercise uses an “oooo” sound and slowly goes from the lowest note of your range to the highest, and then back down – like an emergency vehicle siren. The sound is continuous and covers all the tones in between the notes.

Vocal Warm-Up 10: Vocal Slides

Also called a portamento – Italian for “the act of carrying” – this technique is very similar to the siren exercise. Just like the previous warm-up technique, you slide from one note to the next in your range, only you don’t sing the in-between notes.

Vocal Warm-Up Tips

There are a few other things to consider so that you get the most out of your vocal warm-ups. Try these out:

A Good Night’s Sleep

As with most things in life, a good night sleep – eight full hours, if you can manage it – is one of the best ways to prepare to use your voice.

Do Your Vocal Warm-Ups in the Shower!

Everybody loves to sing in the shower! And besides, you’re already a multi-tasker, so there’s no reason you couldn’t fit your warm-ups into your morning shower routine! The acoustics are always great, and the warm water is a plus. What’s more, the humidity will also help because the extra moisture will help protect your throat, vocal cords, and more.

What vocal warm-up techniques do you use? Tell us in the comments!