The Ultimate Guide to Vocal Warm-Ups

Intro to Vocal Warm-Ups and FAQs

Want to become a better singer or speaker? Taking the time to warm up your voice is an essential step to practicing and performing that will keep you singing beautifully for years to come. In this guide, we’ll explore some of our teachers’ key tips, and the best vocal warm-ups for singers, actors, and public speakers to try out!

First, let’s run through some FAQs, answered by Boston voice teacher Stuart G...

– Why is warming up important?
Vocal warm-ups are one of the key essentials to protecting yourself from injuries, such as vocal nodules (nodes) or polyps. Just like an athlete wouldn’t begin a game without stretching first, you shouldn’t sing without properly preparing your body for the stress that singing can put on your voice.

– I sing really quietly… so I don’t need to warm up, right?
Not quite. While singing too loud and too often can hurt your voice if you’re not doing it right, singing relatively quietly does not protect you from hurting yourself.

A good metaphor is to think of your singing voice as a stage. If you’re a quieter singer, such as an indie/folk singer-songwriter, your stage may be only a few feet off the ground, while a louder and more intense singer, such as the lead singer of a rock band, might have their stage be 10 or 12 feet off the ground. Neither one is any better or worse than the other, but the rock singer definitely needs a longer ramp to get on the stage.

I try to warm up to the level of intensity I plan to sing at, and then a little bit more for safety. But remember that if it hurts, you may be pushing yourself too far, and it might be time to consider building a shorter stage until you can work with a professional voice teacher to build that stage back up.

– So how do I get off the stage?
The reason this metaphor works is because of something called a vocal cool-down. While some voice teachers do not teach vocal cool-downs, many singers swear by them!

If we bring back the analogy of athletes warming up before a game, it’s important to remember that they also cool down after the game ends. This is essentially the ramp that brings you off the stage after the show. Vocal cool-downs should be less intense than warm-ups and act as a transition from primarily using your singing voice back into the everyday world of speaking.

– What if I’m not performing today?
An important part of keeping your voice healthy is singing on a regular basis. I recommend that all vocalists make an effort to rehearse for at least a half hour to an hour, four to six days per week, depending on your age and experience. Remember that warming up and cooling down are integral parts of singing, even if you’re just rehearsing today.

– What is the best vocal warm-up?
There’s not one all-around best warm-up for everyone. It depends on your voice, your style, and many other factors. The best way to know what warm-ups you should do is to work with a professional vocal instructor. However, if that’s not possible for you, you can still develop a warm-up routine on your own.

I recommend a 10-15 minute warm-up and about a 5-minute cool-down. Also, don’t start with something too strenuous. Want some example exercises? Check out the sidebar to the right and try the exercises I use with my own students.

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Try This Warm-Up!

1) Stretch:
Singing is a skill that uses the entire body. Take a minute to stretch your arms, legs, back, neck, jaw, and shoulders before you begin your warm-up.

2) Breathing:
Breath control is another essential for singing. Try breathing on a count (in four beats, hold four beats, out four beats) or use the common “tss” slow release exercise.

3) Lips/Jaw:
Lip trills sliding up and down a fourth or fifth are a great way to loosen the jaw and lips. Make sure you’re sliding between the two notes; you don’t want to be stepping or leaping. If you can’t do lip trills, you can substitute a hum, but make sure to keep the soft palate raised.

4) Scales:
Sing up and down major or minor five-scales, octave-scales, or nine-scales. Unlike with the trills, make sure to hit each note individually while still singing legato. Start with a simple major five-scale and work your way up to longer scales. You can also add simple skips or arpeggiate chords. Try to use several or even all of the five basic singing vowels: Ah, Eh, EE, Oh, and Ooh.

5) Cool-Down:
Cool-downs should be simple. Lip trills, hums, and simple scales in your comfortable range are all good ideas.