Your vocal cords are your most important attribute if you’re a singer. Therefore, it’s vital you maintain a healthy voice box in the same way an athlete maintains a healthy body.
As every singer knows, warm up exercises are a must in order to stop your vocal cords from becoming rusty and ruining a performance, particularly if you’re performing at an important event.
With that in mind, we’ve selected some of the most important warm up exercises for singers, covering everything from breath management to vocal articulation. Check out our list below…
The hiss exhale should be a mainstay in every singing warm up exercise routine. It’s a tried and tested method designed to help you control the amount of air you exhale while singing. Additionally, it helps ensure your breath is coming from your diaphragm, not your neck or chest.
To begin, inhale as deeply as you can, though not to the point of discomfort. Then, exhale through your teeth to hiss as slowly as possible, all the time controlling the rate your breath leaves your mouth.
Count it out. Try to make the breath last 15 seconds, then 30 seconds. Challenge yourself and see how long you can make it last.
This exercise will increase your vocal agility, prevents over-exhalation, and minimises vocal strain, making your singing more measured. It’ll also relax your body to sing ahead of a performance, much like stretching does for a gymnast.
Next on our list of the best singing warm up exercises is the lip trill. Building on hiss exhales, lip trills further hone the skill of mindful breathing, while adding some tone on top.
To perform this exercise, start with your lips loosely placed together – not wide open or tightly together. Then, blow air between your lips to make them vibrate, experimenting with consonant sounds, like “h” and “b.” You should achieve a steady bubbling or warbling “brrr” sound.
Again, hold the trill for as long as possible and aim for longer and longer times. It’s also useful to practise humming a simple melody in this way to get a feel for timing out your breath in a musical context.
This exercise essentially breaks down the process of singing to its building blocks, enabling you to properly master the essential functions before moving on. Practising this way – as opposed to just singing – also stops you from overexerting your voice before you’ve even performed.
Once you feel sufficiently in control of your breath timing, it’s time to flex your vocal range. This exercise prepares the vocal cords to smoothly hit those high and low notes, and everything in between.
Begin humming at the lowest note you can manage and slide up to the highest in one unbroken breath, then back down again. This not only tests the breadth of your vocal range, it also conditions your voice to seamlessly transition in the middle.
Perform as many of these as it takes for you to consistently hit the limit of your range (without damaging your vocal cords, of course).
As you’ll know, there are often pockets of a singer’s register that are weaker than others and it isn’t simply a matter of being too high or too low. The siren exercise helps unify your vocal range and work it all equally, conditioning your voice to hit more problematic notes wherever they are.
At this point, your breathing should be in check, and your vocal range should be warmed up, so it’s time to work on pitch control by practising some scales. Scales are among the most important singing warm up exercises.
Most singers will practise ascending and descending scales with words such as “me” and “la” to test their vocal range before performing, starting and ending on a particular note. Like so…
Run through several scales this way, rising through your register. Practising this reinforces muscle memory around your vocal cords and harmonic associations in your brain, so once you’re singing without the piano, you should be pitch perfect.
More advanced singers may opt to perform this exercise a cappella and practise sight-reading scales unassisted, as with the solfege tradition. To begin with though, it’s always useful to match your pitch to a piano tone. This will guide you in tune and allow you to correct your pitch if it’s slightly off.
To transition without the piano, challenge yourself by trying to vocalise a scale after hearing only the tonic for reference.
Although diction exercises are often associated with actors, newscasters, or anybody about to make a speech, they are just as useful for singers.
They’re particularly beneficial for musical theatre singers, as their voices need to project as well as communicate the story, often without a microphone.
Tongue twisters are a great and fun way to loosen your lips and tongue so you don’t fumble lines during your performance.
Some examples include:
- She sells seashells on the seashore
- Thistle sticks, sixty-six thousand and six thistle sticks
- A synonym for cinnamon is a cinnamon synonym
- Which witch whined when the wine was spilled on the wailing whale?
- This black bug bled blue-black blood while the other black bug bled blue
Make sure you pronounce the nuanced sounds of each phrase, with clear distinction between similar consonant sounds. Repeat a sequence of tongue twisters to cover all the tricky areas like M and N, S and Sh, R and Th, W and Wh. Once you’re comfortable with each, you’ll be fully warmed up and ready for the stage!
You may want to try some of these exercises, too.
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