Have you ever begun a long, intense workout without warming up and then finding that you tire more quickly in the middle of your exercise? The same happens with singing when you skip the vocal warm-ups! After all, singing is just as much a physical process as swimming or running — it requires precision movements from your entire body. This is why at What’s Your Jam, we often run through a series of vocal warm-ups with our students before their lessons or recording sessions.
1. Breathing exercises Inhale, hold, then exhale. Controlled breathing will help you to get as much air as possible into your lungs while exercising your diaphragm and improving your lung capacity.
Try this exercise: Inhale for three seconds, hold for three seconds and exhale on a hiss for three seconds. Then repeat this at four, five and six-second intervals.
Since singing requires breathing from the diaphragm (which gives your voice more power, control and expressive tone), be sure that as you’re doing this exercise, you’re inhaling deep into your diaphragm.
2. The siren exercise
With the siren exercise, warm up your range and stretch your vocal folds so that you’ll be able to transition through the notes smoothly without straining or squeezing! On an “ooh” syllable, start with the lowest note in your range and gradually slide that “ooh” all the way up to the highest note you can reach comfortably. Then, bring the “ooh” back down to the lowest note in your range. Repeat this several times by gliding up and down your vocal range and as you practice, work on holding the high and low notes for shorter durations so that one round leads fluidly into the next.
3. Lip trills
This exercise requires you to press your lips together in a loose pucker to make a motorboat sound so that your lips vibrate rapidly. This may look silly, but plenty of some of the world’s most famous celebrities do this too simply because it’s such an effective exercise!
Once you’ve gotten used to this exercise, add sound to your lip trill by singing scales or even combining it with the siren exercise.
4. Tongue trills
This is quite similar to lip trills but instead of rolling your lips, curl your tongue and roll your “R’s” as you go through your vocal range. As you practice and your endurance improves over time, try tongue trills for longer periods of times or combine it with the siren!
5. Humming exercises
Humming exercises are very simple to do but yet very effective for developing your vocal resonance and tone quality.
To do this, place the tip of your tongue just behind the bottom of your front teeth and then make a “hmmm” sound with your jaw open but your lips closed. Keep your mouth closed as you hum notes up and down your range. As you hum, you’ll be able to physically feel the resonance of the vibration in your face, head, throat and chest. This vibration helps to relax your muscles and relieves tension that can affect your voice.
6. Vowel warm-up
This is a great way to focus your tone and energy before you start singing. When forming vowels, it’s important to know the right lip, tongue, and jaw position so that you’ll be able to pronounce words with greater clarity and articulation when you sing.
To do this exercise, sing through the vowels “Ah, Eh, Ee, Oh, Ooh” on the same pitch and then repeat this exercise by singing the vowels up and down your vocal range.
7. Solfege and scale exercises
The solfege exercise helps you to recognize the different scale pitches by ear and stay in tune. This aids with improving pitch, harmony and sight-reading musical scores! Start on middle C and sing through the solfege up and down the scale. Take your time and listen to each pitch.
8. Tongue twisters
Tongue twisters are often a common exercise in primary schools to help children practice and improve their pronunciation and fluency. Not only are they very effective in perfecting pronunciation, but they’re also very fun!
Practice repeating short phrases that are difficult to say (ie. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?) quickly. As you progress, try repeating them at various pitches!
This isn’t just a reflex for when we’re feeling sleepy or bored; it actually makes for a great vocal warm-up exercise! But of course, in this exercise, you don’t necessarily need to force a yawn.
Try out this exercise for yourself:
First, open your jaw wide and inhale slowly as if you’re yawning
On your exhale, close your mouth but keep your teeth apart such that your mouth feels relaxed.
After taking a few yawning breaths, try humming while exhaling your breath in a controlled manner.
Rinse and repeat.
This exercise helps to relax your facial muscles and loosen your throat to help your voice resonate.
10. Jaw massage
Use your fingers or palms to locate the area right below your cheekbones where they meet your jawbone. Then, massage this area in a circular motion to stimulate blood flow.
Don’t your facial muscles and jaw feel much more relaxed already? Whether it is the stresses of daily life or just something out of habit, most of us are usually unaware that we are subconsciously clenching our jaws throughout the day. This massage helps to release the tension in the jaw and mouth to help you pronounce words clearly when you sing.
Vocal warm-ups prepare you for the intense vibrations that come along with singing so that you don’t run the risk of accidentally damaging your voice by straining it. Apart from that, it also helps you get comfortable throughout your full range before you sing the more extreme notes in a song. Take about 20 minutes each day to do some of these simple vocal exercises — we assure you that your vocal cords will thank you for this!