Every singer knows the sound of their own singing voice. It’s our personal identification sound of sorts. Yet, we also know our voice does not always sound the same. Try singing straight from a nap and you may not recognize your own voice. A proper vocal warm up is the only way to be absolutely sure you can control what comes out of your mouth when you sing.
And the benefits of a good vocal warm-up do not end there.
In fact, vocal warm ups should be a central feature of every singer's voice care regimen. The show business is replete with examples of performers who have lost their singing voices to nodules and other factors that proper vocal warm ups could have averted. While they can blame other factors for their voice troubles, like alcoholism and smoking, they will still attest to how proper vocal warm-ups at least helped to preserve those voices.
Why Warm Up?
Proper and regular vocal warm ups will:
- protect your voice from fatigue and possible damage
- cut body tension and improve posture
- regulate your breathing for clear voice production
- condition your whole upper body for injury-free performances
- enable greater musical expression
What is An Effective Vocal Warm up Regime?
An proper vocal warm up should prepare the voice to not only sing, but do it cleanly and crisply, with both the low and high notes in your particular set. It will gently wake the larynx from its restive mode by increasing blood flow.
But a proper singer’s warm-up must encompass more than just the voice,because there is a whole system of body organs that work in concert to produce a perfect singing performance.
Your lips, jaws, diaphragm, tongue, neck, abdomen, shoulders, and other parts of your upper body have muscles that need warming up before you start singing. Besides a less than clear voice, bad posture can just as badly hurt your singing. A good vocal warm up should thus accomplish all of the following:
- increase blood flow to the larynx
- adjust your usual speaking voice to a singing one
- physically condition your upper body to relieve tension
- regulate your breathing
Slow, gentle breath warm ups are also critical in preparing respiratory organs to better handle long singing passages. Your vocal warm up should include both inhalation and exhalation exercises to prepare you for the deep and quick breaths you may need to do while singing.
While physical stretches will warm those muscles responsible for posture, they will also help eliminate tension, which affects the proper function of the larynx.
Vocal Warm-up Exercises
A good vocal warm up must warm the voice articulators – the lips, jaws, and tongue, and all the other organs involved in any vocal performance. These include the resonance chambers - throat and chest, as well as the abdomen and diaphragm, from which voice pitch is controlled.
Likewise, the shoulders and neck need to be warmed for complete relaxation. This releases any tension that may constrict the larynx and breathing muscles and affect the proper function of the vocal folds themselves. With all that covered, here's a quick look at the different exercises you can do to prepare your voice and body for singing:
Upper body exercises
Throat – Yawning is usually an involuntary exercise. At times, it catches us off guard and can be a bit embarrassing. But it is quite important for opening up the throat and clearing it for good voice resonance. Yawn exercises should be the first item on your vocal warm up. Do this by simulating an actual yawn a couple of times.
Breathing – You can’t talk or sing if your breathing is labored or erratic. To warm the breathing muscles is, thus, to warm the larynx and vocal chords. Keeping your shoulders fully relaxed, take deep breaths with your diaphragm. You should feel your stomach rising as you inhale. Slowly exhale and feel your stomach flatten in the process. Repeat several times and your breathing muscles should feel warmed up.
Abdominal muscles – These muscles, as well as the pelvic floor and psoas, are your primary singing muscles. They control voice pitch and should be where you sing from. To identify as well as warm them up, simply let out a cough. As you prepare to force the cough you will feel muscles in your abdomen start to constrict, and then relax as you release the cough. These are the same muscles you use to sing. Do a few cough repetitions to exercise and warm the muscles before singing. These cough exercises should also help clear your throat.
Jaws – Exercise your jaws and mouth by gently separating the lower and upper jaws with your fingers from your cheeks. Massage that gap in circular motions while gently opening and closing your mouth. Do a few more repetitions. Afterwards, stretch your upper and lower jaws sideways, in opposite directions, as you would with a pair of scissors. You will feel the muscles snap in and out as you do that.
Shoulders – Body tension is felt mostly in the shoulders. A lot of tension and pain in the shoulders is a clear symptom of bad posture. And usually bad posture stems from failing to properly relax your shoulders before and during singing. Simply raise your shoulders and keep them hunched for up to five seconds before dropping and relaxing them. Repeat this a couple more times. While your shoulders are hunched you could also stretch your neck sideways a couple of times to release tension from there as well.
Voice warm up exercises
Lip trills – What you do with your lips determines how your voice sounds as it leaves your mouth. Relax the muscles in your lips by doing up to ten lip trills. Simply close and pout your lips as loosely as you can. Let them vibrate by exhaling and letting air out through them. This should produce a buzzing sound, which will warm both your lips and voice. Repeat several times for greater effect.
Hums – While lip trills warm the lips, humming is great for exercising and warming the throat. To produce the humming sound, close both your mouth and throat and gently force air from your lungs into your mouth while holding your breath. Prolong the action as long as you can before finally stopping to exhale. Do the same exercise a few more times, and then a couple more with your mouth open.
Sing from the nose – With your mouth closed, arch the roof of your mouth as if you are trying to force words out through your nose. As you do that, try to reproduce the humming sound from the exercise above. This should produce the ‘ng’ sound. Give it up to five sweeps, increasing pitch a few decibels higher and even lower with each rep.
Now You Can Sing!
Any activity that demands physical exertion requires you to properly prepare your body. You would not expect a football player to run onto the field, for kick off, right off the team bus. They should first warm the muscles with gentle stretches before the tough tackling of the game itself. So it should be for singers, because singing, though not as strenuous, is also physical activity.
Going straight to belting high tempo notes without any warm up will strain your voice and pretty much every muscle involved in its production. Show your vocal folds and body some love by warming up every time before you sing. Your voice will be clearer, muscles relaxed, and your musical senses wide awake. All of which should make for good vocal health and greater musical expression.
About the Author: Julie Adams
I am a mom, a music lover and teacher from Tampa, FL. After completing a Bachelor of Music in Performance Arts, I traveled for several years before returning home where I started offering private piano and singing lessons as extra income. I met my husband in 2009 and 2 years later moved to Dallas where we settled down and I started focusing on vocal training to aspiring singers and performance artists of all age groups. I still enjoy playing the piano very much, and in my spare time you will catch doing some horse riding, drawing, doing some light reading, or just spending quality time with my family.