Vocal Warm-Ups: 9 Exercises You Should Do Before You Sing - Careers in Music
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Vocal Warm-Ups: 9 Exercises You Should Do Before You Sing

Author: Hugh McIntyre

Date: January 27, 2020

Reads: 828


Hugh McIntyre is an NYC based freelance music journalist. He mostly writes for Forbes, where he publishes several stories per day, on average. He has also written for Noisey, Billboard, MTV, Noisey, Mashable, Huffington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, Mic, Hypebot, Sonicbids, Fuse, Tunecore, Symphonic Distribution, and many more.
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Becoming a great singer requires a lot of studying, even more practicing, and plenty of performing, but what often goes unrecognized are the vocal warm-ups.

These are of the utmost importance for vocalists of any kind, and while some feel they don’t need to take part or set aside time for them, those singers do so at their own peril.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of vocal warm-ups you can do, but some will require the help of a Vocal Coach to understand, do correctly, or decide when they must be altered or implemented at all. For those who haven’t yet started a college program as a vocalist or who don’t yet have a Coach helping them along, there are still plenty of exercises that can be done safely by even the newest of belters.

These are the 9 vocal warm-ups we recommend:

  • Relax
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Open Up Your Jaw
  • Yawning
  • Lip Buzz
  • Hum
  • Solfege
  • “Mah-May-Me-Mo-Moo”
  • Tongue Twisters

Here are nine vocal warm-ups that will help you sing the best you can.

Before You Do Your Warm-Ups

You need to make sure your body is in a good place before you warm up, and that may mean scheduling your life around when you rehearse or perform. You should get a good night’s sleep, eat the right foods (there is plenty of literature on what is good to ingest or not before performing, but that’s another article entirely), and drink lots of liquid, especially tea and water.

Sometimes you won’t be able to check all of these boxes, and there will be plenty of instances when you’ve not slept quite as much as you know you should have, or maybe you had lunch too soon before you had to sing. These are okay from time to time when considering rehearsals, but if you have important live performances or even a studio session booked, pay close attention to what you’re eating and drinking, and your partying beforehand.

Importance of Warm-Ups

Young or naive vocalists will think that once they’ve proven they have a knack for singing, they don’t need to worry about vocal warm-ups, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, the best of the best are very particular about their exercises, when they do them, and they make sure that they adhere to strict diets and plan plenty of time for rehearsals. That is why they sound better than anyone else, and how they’re able to make a living doing what so many cannot.

Without warm-ups, you will certainly not perform as well as you can, but that’s only half of the warning. Your vocal cords are muscles, and just as if you were going to run a race or play a sport, you want to make sure they’re in the state they need to be.

If you don’t exercise regularly and warm-up before heading out onto the field (or stage, in this case), you run the risk of getting hurt and damaging your throat. Sometimes that happens anyway after a lot of singing, but the best way to prevent an accident, which could have long-lasting consequences, is to warm-up every time.

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1. Relax

Once you’re ready to start warming up, the first thing you need to do is relax. That might sound a bit silly, as you’re excited to get going and jump right into exercises, but this is a must, even if you don’t feel like it.

When you sing, it’s best to have your entire body be in a relaxed state, which is easy enough in practice, but which can be tough as you walk out on stage to perform in front of thousands (one day). That’s why you have to do it so many times—so your body becomes used to it!

To relax the parts of your body that need to be perfect before you begin belting, roll your head around in circles and begin shrugging your shoulders. Hold them in various positions for a few seconds, and release. Repeat this several times before you sing a single note. It’s also a good idea to stop and do this a few times throughout your singing lesson or warm-ups, in order to keep your body loose.

2. Breathing Exercises

You may know all the words and you may have memorized which notes go where in a lengthy performance, but if you don’t have your breathing down, you won’t be able to perform at your best. That’s why some pop superstars may not sound 100% when they’re in concert, as they are often running around and doing choreography, and that’s extremely difficult to manage when also singing along.

There are many different breathing exercises you should do before and during your warm-ups and performance, and I could write another article solely looking at those. Here are three quick ones that should happen before you actually sing:

A. Three Seconds
Inhale through your nose for three seconds. Hold that for three more seconds. Exhale through your mouth for another three seconds. Stay still with no breath in your body for the last three seconds. Repeat this several times.

B. Straw
Make a mouth like you’re sucking liquid through a straw. While keeping that position with your lips, inhale for four seconds, and then exhale for four seconds in the same manner. Do this several times.

C. Percent
Inhale until you feel your lungs are about one-quarter full. Stop and hold for around 10 seconds, if that feels comfortable. Without exhaling, inhale more until you feel your lungs are half-full. Hold for another 10 seconds. Do this again until your lungs are 75% full, and hold for 10 beats. Fill your lungs until completely full and hold once again.

Make sure you take your time exhaling—it’s best to do these things slowly, so your body can learn to pace breathing, which is necessary when it comes to singing.

3. Open Up Your Jaw

Just like every other part of your body, your jaw must be completely relaxed if you’re going to deliver a stellar performance. Many people tense up their jaw when they are nervous, and if you’re someone who grinds their teeth or clenches this part of your face, you know how much it can hurt and affect how you’re feeling.

Place your fingers where your jaw hinges and begin massaging the area gently. You don’t have to be vigorous or go fast in order to get the job done, you just need some movement in the area to ensure things are calmed down.

4. Yawning

Yes, that thing you do every morning when you wake up and your body wishes it was still asleep is actually a great vocal warm-up, and it’s one of the first ones you’ll do before singing. Yawning, in addition to being a completely natural occurrence, is a fantastic way to warm things up and open both your throat and your diaphragm, which is where you’ll be doing most of your singing.

5. Lip Buzz

This is…exactly what it sounds like. Put your lips together and start buzzing! Go up and down and all around with the notes you’re hitting, and as you get used to this, move your head as well. This vocal warm-up goes by many names (lip trilling is one of them), but buzzing usually ensures people know what to do with very little or no instruction.

6. Hum

We all hum, but did you know it can be a great way to warm up before you sing? Make that “hmmm” sound (which is where humming gets its name, obviously) for several seconds—five or more—at various points in your range. You can go higher and lower, but take your time doing any and all of them.

You will also want to eventually do this with your mouth open, moving up and down your range once again. The noise will sound different when your mouth is closed versus when it’s open, but it’s all helping to warm things up.

7. Solfege

You might not know that word, but you are definitely familiar with what this warm-up is.

Solfege is the fancy title given to a vocal technique popularized in a song from The Sound of Music, but which has been around long before that movie arrived. Essentially, syllables are attached to various notes on the scale, and by saying these words (or sounds, more like it), it’s easier for singers to mentally grasp the difference between them.

Singing the famous “do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do” over and over is a fantastic way to begin singing, while much of what you did before this step probably didn’t involve anything resembling words.

8. “Mah-May-Me-Mo-Moo”

Similar to the item above, this string of somewhat nonsensical sounds will also help you better understand how to say (or sing) something in one note, and then to change it quickly while making sure it all sounds just right. This vocal warm-up involves the singer saying “Mah-May-Me-Mo-Moo” all in the same note. It’s best to do so slowly and to really pronounce them out fully, not mixing them up at all.

Once one run is done, go a bit higher and repeat. Do this over and over until you can’t go any higher. This is one exercise that may be improved by the help of a Teacher, Coach, or someone who really knows this field, as sometimes even if one is paying attention, it’s possible to slip out of one note and include more than a single level in one rung.

9. Tongue Twisters

Tongue twisters weren’t just for fun as a kid, they’re actually very helpful when it comes to ensuring you can pronounce whatever lyrics may come your way as a singer. You may be the best when it comes to high notes or belting, but many a talent has been held back by the fact that they can’t properly articulate.

You’re probably already familiar with the most famous of the tongue twisters, such as “Sally sells seashells by the seashore,” “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” and “Unique New York,” but there are others you may want to add into your warming-up repertoire. You’ll have fun speeding these up, slowing them down, and singing and saying them in different notes and keys.

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