Singing puts some serious demands on your body.
To project a clear sound your diaphragm, airways and vocal cords all work together. The energy it takes to do this can strain your muscles and vocal cords.
Just like in sports, you can’t expect your vocals to sound their best if you go in cold.
That’s why vocal warm-ups are key for producing your best sound and avoiding injury over the long term.
What are vocal warm-ups?
Vocal warm-ups are a routine of exercises that singers go through before starting a singing session. They usually focus on warming up the vocal cords, diaphragm and muscles required to sing.
A vocal warm-up can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour, depending on the needs of the singer and time constraints.
In general, it’s advisable to spend at least 10 minutes warming up before entering a vocal session.
Why you should warm-up before singing
If your diaphragm and core aren’t ready to project clear sound, you might not perform at your best—worse, you could even injure your vocal cords over the long term.
You might not perform at your best—worse, you could even injure your vocal cords over the long term.
It’s up to you how you use vocal warm-ups into your songwriting workflow, but developing a solid routine is completely worth your time.
One great way to find the perfect vocal warm-up routine is to work with a vocal coach who knows exactly what your voice needs to stay healthy and sound its best.
But if that’s not an option for you right now here are ten great vocal warm-ups to try next time you get ready to sing.
Before you start singing you need to stretch out your airways and muscles.
A great way to do this is simply by yawning a few times.
Why? Because a yawn both stretches your muscles and involves opening up your airways—the next time you try it, pay attention to the stretching feeling in your throat.
It’s a great way to release tension in the diaphragm and prepare your body for singing.
2. Gentle coughing
After you’re done yawning, the next way to release tension and get your airways ready to make sound is with some light coughing.
You don’t need to force a hard cough. Just lightly push air through your lungs and throat in a similar way to how you cough.
Lightly push air through your lungs and throat in a similar way to how you cough.
It’s another great way to get your diaphragm warmed up and ready to go.
Just be sure not to confuse this with clearing your throat, which puts stress on your vocal cords.
3. Lip rolls up and down the cliff
Cool, now it’s time to start making some sounds. Let’s take a look at the most common vocal warm-up—the lip roll.
Lip rolls teach your diaphragm and your voice to work together in an ideal way because they teach how to regulate air pressure and movement in the body.
Start with the looser letter B, don’t make a P sound since it tends to clench the jaw.
Initially shouldn’t start by singing scales, instead, try rolling up and down “the cliff”.
Climbing the cliff means singing a note that glides from the bottom of your register to the very top.
But don’t punch the top note or start squeezing and clench, just sing where your range is comfortable.
Once you’ve done a few runs up and down the cliff, try doing them while shaking your head from side to side, or lift and drop your shoulders before climbing the cliff.
Another body movement to try is bending your knees as you climb or descend the cliff.
The goal of introducing body movement in this exercise is to help know how to feel your abdomen and diaphragm contract as you move your body while singing.
4. Scales and interval training
The last vocal warm up is really more like an exercise that you should always be practicing—simple interval training and scales practice.
Spend time learning your intervals so you can jump from note to note more precisely—don’t just practice whole and half steps.
Practice basic melodic lines that highlight important intervals. I’m talking about exercises like alternating thirds, triad arpeggios and melodies with larger skips like fifths and octaves.
One trick—memorize specific songs that feature different intervals, it’s handy for locking down your interval singing skills.
5. Try scales on a lip roll
Now it’s time to try some lip roll scales instead of climbing the cliff.
Try to alternate between an arpeggio pattern and a do-re-mi-fa-so-fa-mi-re-do major scale pattern.
Again, as you move up your register, don’t punch the high note, every note should come out evenly.
That being said, lip rolls are one of the safest exercises for exploring your range
Don’t be afraid to go higher and higher while warming up with lip rolls. But remember, you can’t force your range up, you need to gradually climb.
Listen to what your body is doing when you push higher, you definitely shouldn’t feel pain or burning
If you can’t maintain a lip roll at a certain pitch or after a while of exercising, pause and loosen up the shoulder with a few shoulder rolls.
Keep working at it, it takes time to expand your range!
Nasality is something that most vocalists want to eliminate from their singing voices.
The truth is, the root of nasality is your tongue placement. Retracting your tongue puts too much pressure on your throat, causing your airway to clench up.
Instead, you need to learn how to use your tongue to push, rather than retract when singing—the Yah-Yah exercise can help.
Start by resting your tongue on your bottom lip, essentially sticking it out.
Release your jaw and keep it slack. With your tongue still hanging on your bottom lip, hold a finger to chin to stabilize the jaw and keep everything still.
You can always try this in front of a mirror to make sure nothing is moving.
Now, try and sing a scale while trying your best to produce a clear Yah sound.
Pay attention to how your tongue moves forward with each Yah and remember to keep your volume level.
The goal is to focus on releasing the tongue and applying the right amount of pressure rather than allowing it to retract and pinch your throat.
Another area of concern for many vocalists is singing short staccato notes.
One way to teach yourself how to apply the correct amount of pressure to produce a short note is with the Uh-Uh vocal warmup.
Sing a scale using only the word “Uh”, keep it level in volume between notes, and try to sing quietly. Don’t push for a loud and breathy sound—don’t say “Huh”, make sure you’re singing “Uh”.
As you go higher, don’t squeek or increase in volume. There shouldn’t be any bracing for the top notes either, it’s all about smooth transitions and level volumes.
8. Vocal fry
Here’s a unique one you might not have thought of—vocal fry!
For those who don’t know, vocal fry is that crackling sound the human voice makes right before producing a consistent vowel sound.
Vocal fry is that crackling sound the human voice makes right before producing a consistent vowel sound.
You can sustain a vocal fry by slightly pinching the airflow in the back of your throat when you produce and sustain an Uh sound.
To use it in your warm-up, try to sing a scale or climb the cliff while triggering vocal fry, and move around your vocal range.
If you’re in a pinch for time, this exercise is a go-to because it really helps add more clarity to your singing.
While this exercise is completely useful for everyone, it’s especially important for voices in the lower register.
Vocal fry helps you extend your range, better tone quality, greater ease in singing.
Just fall into it, focus on it being crackly and don’t force it.
9. Inhale, hold, exhale
An important vocal warm up that helps you exercise the diaphragm, your pressure control and your lung capacity is the inhale, hold, and exhale technique,
It’s best done by inhaling for three seconds, holding for three seconds and exhaling for three seconds.
Then repeat at four, five and six-second intervals. If you need a challenge try and get up to eight seconds or longer.
Remember, you are inhaling deep into the diaphragm. The goal is to make your diaphragm responsible for producing sound, so pay attention to your core as you go through exercise.
When you exhale make an “S” sound, like a snake!
You’ll notice yourself running out of air as you exhale, that’s a good thing—train yourself not to pinch the throat or force the “S” sound as you run out of air.
After you’ve mastered the “S” sound try it with a pulsing F sound, then combine pulses with holding an “F” sound.
10. Syncing speaking with singing
For many singers balancing the act of speaking with the act of singing can be a major challenge.
One exercise that can help is by singing the word “yum” and exaggerating the action of chewing for each note.
When you try it, focus on balancing air pressure to create a consistent tone.
It’s a playful exercise and it will sound a little silly but try to convey an emotion like frustration or joy only by singing the word.
It’ll sound ridiculous but just have fun with it.
Don’t skip your cool down
After a vocal session, cooling down is just as important as your warmup—much like how a runner stretches before and after a marathon.
A vocal cool-down can consist of the same exercises as a vocal warmup.
But choose exercises that relax the diaphragm and the muscles in your neck and torso.
Climbing and falling down the cliff in particular are two great exercises for a vocal cool down.