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.

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Morning Singing Gig? 5 Ways to Quickly Warm Up

Do you feel like you sing better as the day goes on? There’s a reason for this! Learn from voice teacher Elaina R.‘s experiences here…

Once, when I was in high school, I participated in a Solo and Ensemble competition early in the morning. I gave my accompanist – the school band teacher – a ride to the competition. To warm up, I sang through my songs in the car as he listened in horror. I sounded absolutely terrible!

“Are you OK?” he asked me.

“Yes, I’m just warming up,” I told him. At the time I thought this was a perfectly acceptable way to warm up by screeching through my repertoire. “I will sound fine when we get there.”

The band teacher sat back in his seat. “Well, it’s scary,” he muttered.

He was right! I sounded scary, and it wasn’t good for me. Now that I am a little older, with two vocal degrees under my belt, I know how to warm up properly for early-morning singing engagements.

Morning Blues: Why is it Hard to Sing in the Morning?

Many singers complain that it takes forever to warm up for early singing engagements. This is because the vocal cords have been lying dormant all night. Just think about the rest of your body in the morning; it feels lethargic, and you have to stretch before you do any strenuous physical activity. Vocal cords work the same way.

So, what’s an early-morning singer to do? Check out my tips to the right.

Try These Tips!

Singing at the crack of dawn doesn’t mean your voice has to crack (ha ha). Here are my five go-to tricks for warming up in just a few minutes in the morning

1) Drink a glass of water immediately after you wake up. Since you don’t drink any water while you sleep (one would hope), you wake up dehydrated each morning. Drinking 16 ounces of water as soon as you wake up – and continuing to sip water throughout the morning – lubricates your cords.

2) Supported talking. If you talk in the morning, don’t resort to the gravely, glottal-fry morning voice so many people use. Instead, breathe properly and support your sound the way you do when you sing. The result will be a higher, clearer vocal tone. If you talk like this for a few minutes, doing vocal warm-ups becomes a lot easier

3) Hum. Humming is a gentle, relaxing, low-impact vocal warm up, perfect for waking up sleepy cords. You can do it as you prepare for your gig – even while you eat or brush your teeth! For best results, move up and down your range a bit rather than staying in a limited pitch range.

4) Lip/tongue trills. I start each warm-up session with tongue and lip trills, regardless of the time of day. Like humming, lip and tongue trills are low-impact and are a great way to get your cords and breath working. Here is a quick tutorial.

5) Sing an easy song before moving on to harder stuff. Instead of going straight to your hardest piece, do something more relaxed and low first, even if you are not performing it that day. Use the piece to adjust your tone, articulation, and breathing before moving on to more challenging pieces.

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What if I Don’t Have a Place to Warm Up?

Finding an effective warm-up can be a challenge for a singer on the go and for singers with limited practice time. It’s a constant challenge for a singer to have traveled long and far for an audition, only to realize there is no place to warm up!

To avoid being the dreaded cliché of the singer warming up loudly in the bathroom, here are some tricks and tips to warm-up discreetly and effectively.

  • One of the singer’s best tools is humming.

This can be extremely effective and does not require a lot of time or a special place. A great starting warm-up is to begin with short successive hums as if you are imitating a junky old car. Pick a pitch that is comfortable within your range and move up and down throughout the voice repeating this exercise on different pitches.

Not only is this a great warm-up up to begin with, it can also be effective in keeping the voice warm if there is a long period of time between warm-up and performance.

  • A great warm-up to follow up the junky old car trick is to hum and chew.

Again, pick a pitch that is comfortable and hum a five-note descending major scale. While you are humming your descending scale, make a chewing motion in your mouth as if you have a huge wad of gum in your mouth. Make sure there is space inside your mouth and between your back teeth.

While doing the exercise, exaggerate the chewing motion to warm up the face muscles and jaw. After you complete your scale, move up by a half-step and repeat the process until your voice is warm and your face and jaw are relaxed.

By using these exercises, it’s possible to achieve an effective warm-up outside the practice room.

– Cincinnati voice teacher Katherine K.

Extra Resources for Singers

vocal warm-ups

What About Public Speakers?

warm-ups for public speakers

Speakers, you can use many of the same warm-ups! Here are some great resources:

» Vocal warm ups, via
» How the Best Public Speakers Warm Up Their Voices, via Business Insider

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Vocal Warm-Ups for Actors

Vocal warm-ups aren’t just for those learning how to sing – even theater actors need to prepare their voices before a show. In this article, acting teacher Jasmine B. gives you five important tips to improve your vocal warm-ups…

Warming Up: Everybody’s Doing It

When I went on my first tour, I ran into a lot of actors who didn’t believe in the value of a good warm-up. Some would say, “Ha! – that’s my warm-up. I’m ready!”  However, I didn’t subscribe to that notion. I liked the ritual of the warm-up and knew that when I didn’t warm-up, I wasn’t as good onstage as I wanted to be.

It’s a general assumption that singers must warm up more than actors, but that’s definitely not true. We’re similar in many ways, including using our voices as instruments and delivering intense emotions onstage; a Eugene O’Neill play can certainly equal the demand of a two-hour musical.

In fact, one of the best methods to improve your singing is by learning how to act. Acting may sound like an unconventional way to get better at singing, but it truly helps for garnering confidence and emotion for your voice.

Singers and Actors Alike

As an actor, a vocal warm-up is an important part of your pre-show or rehearsal ritual. Your body may be instrumental to your ability to perform, but your voice is just as important. A warm-up not only prepares you for the immediate tasks ahead — like playing the rapid-fire, back and forth notes of David Mamet, or singing the incredible words of August Wilson – but it also maintains the health and elasticity of your instrument.

However, a practicing artist must have a flexible and thorough routine with a light touch, otherwise you risk overworking your instrument and causing more harm than good. Want to see how it’s done?

Let’s take a look at five steps for successfully warming up your voice, with some great videos from the National Theatre.

1. Start Off Slow

A vocal teacher of mine used to ask my class before every warm-up session, “What else have you done today?” As in, “Have you had a speech class, spoken a lot, or used your voice in any significant way today?”

If he asked this in the afternoon, chances are our voices had already been warmed up enough to properly function. If that was the case, she would work on our articulators and focused resonators. But if we’d not done much that day in terms of a class or vocal activity, she’d start with the basics.

2. Check Those Resonators

As an undergrad, one of my favorite exercises was the “siren,” in which we emulated an ambulance or police siren using the range of our voice; we started from a crouched position at the bottom of our range, slowly rising as we ascended to the top of our range.

There may be times when your voice cracks within in your range — mine is usually a transitional spot in between my chest and head voice. You should settle into this voice crack and explore it. Skipping over it doesn’t make it stronger, but working through it certainly will. Once you identify your voice type, you’ll be able to actively prevent voice cracks by acknowledging your limits.

3. Focus Your Sound and Open Your Voice

Here’s a simple tweak to instantly improve your singing voice: pick a spot in the room and send your sound to that spot. As the exercise goes on, your spot should increase in distance, forcing you to project your sound further and further.

I like to pick specific objects to project upon (and sometimes other people in the room). Try once to project your voice to that specific spot, then include other objects or people in the room as you continue to sing.

We do this to remember that while it’s important to send the sound and intention to our onstage partner, it’s imperative to include the audience. After all, they’re the whole reason you’re on stage in the first place!

4. Test Your Articulators

Tongue twisters are great for warming up and working through tricky sounds. Some of my favorites are “Give Me the Gift of a Grip Top Sock” and “Proper Copper Coffee Pot.” There’s a plethora of them — pick which one suits you!

Before shows, my class and I would do “Topeka Bodega” together or “Red Leather Yellow Leather.”

Follow along with the video to the right for some great exercises for your articulators.

5. Put It All Together

Speak some of your most troublesome lines of texts to someone else in the room, or to a mirror if you’re by yourself. What’s the use of warming up if you don’t apply it to the text you have to sing or speak?

Before you start practicing one way, try to determine which singing style and genre work best for you. I recommend practicing the style that you think works best for your voice; this can be determined by the sound of your tone and how large of a range you need.

Try to recite the tongue twisters linked in tip #4, and keep practicing it until your pronunciation is clear and articulate.

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What’s Next?

Now that you know how to properly warm up your voice, make sure to incorporate these exercises and tips into your daily practice sessions! Need extra help? Make sure to check with your voice teacher for additional exercise ideas.

Post Contributors

Post Author: Stuart G.
Stuart G. teaches singing, songwriting, vocal training, and musical theater in Boston, MA. He’s a graduate of Berklee College of Music with a double major in Music Education and Songwriting. He specializes in singing and writing contemporary pop music. Learn more about Stuart here!

Post Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She received her Master of Music from the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

Post Author: Katherine K.
Katherine K. teaches vocal training, ear training, music theory, and more in Cincinnati, OH. She holds a Masters degree in Music from the The College-Conservatory of Music at The University of Cincinnati. Learn more about Katherine here!

Post Author: Jasmine B.
Jasmine B. teaches acting in Los Angeles, CA. She’s an alumni of the Drama Division at the Julliard School of dance, drama, and music. Learn more about Jasmine here!