It’s worrisome how loads of singers just get up and begin to sing without a single care in the world. Like how can you be so mean to your vocal cords? Those things are your babies. You should treat them well.
Look at it, runners stretch before running. And so do weightlifters, dancers, footballers, cyclists, etc. But most singers? They just “wing it”. Well, that’s just a pity because vocal warm up exercises are very important to your singing effectively.
Today, our article is going to cover almost everything you need to know about vocal warm ups for singers. And we’ve even taken the liberty to show you a few of the best free online exercises currently available. These lessons will address different voice ranges and you’ll really enjoy them.
But first things first, before we assume, let’s understand what vocal warm up exercises really are.
What Is a Vocal Warm Up?
A vocal warm up includes a series of activities carried out with the voice to prepare it for singing. Actually, vocal warm ups aren’t just for singing, actors (especially stage actors) also need vocal warm ups too.
The aim of a vocal warm up is five-fold. So, generally a vocal warm up exercise should give you a total body warm up, prepare your breath, prepare your resonators and articulators, help you move from your speaking register to your singing register easily, and finally, help you prepare for the song you’re about to sing.
A total body warm up might seem unnecessary. However, it isn’t. When the back, shoulders, abdomen, and neck are properly stretched, it can help to avoid tension. Tension often impacts negatively on sound by constricting the larynx or other breathing muscles.
As for breath, aside stretching the muscles involved in respiration, there’s more to be done on these muscles. They not only have to be trained to take quick breaths but also to sustain exhalation for a long time. Also, to work on the intercostal muscles, panting air or puffing air are also other ways to prepare your breath.
Now, to the articulators…
They include your teeth, lips, and the tip of your tongue. They also exclude your jaw. Unfortunately, many engage the jaw in articulation only to end up frustrated because of the tension created in the muscles around the face, as well as the tongue. Tongue twisters are popular vocal warm up exercises that handle the articulators.
There are two resonators involved in singing which are the hard and soft surfaces in the oral cavity. They affect the production of sound waves during phonation. And while the hard surfaces can hardly be controlled, the soft ones (e.g. the soft palate) can be trained by the singer. This can help to improve on the timbre of sound produced.
Switching from your spoken to your singing register is perhaps the most complex part of all the vocal warm up aspects. Usually, it involves a host of exercises. A good warm up should involve changing of pitch which helps to stretch the vocal cords nicely, and consequently improve singing quality.
Now, here’s a little secret most people don’t know. Just like regular physical activity, there are vocal warm ups and vocal workouts and they are different concepts.
It’s not hard to tell the difference.
Vocal warm-ups are usually much quicker, and they are often not very comprehensive. They are simple “stretches” you do every morning or before a show, just to get your voice in the mood.
Vocal workouts are different. They are like going to the gym and getting a crossfit routine done. This takes a longer time and the routine is usually far more demanding than warm-ups. Vocal workout routines will, most times, also include one or two vocal warm-ups in them.
Nonetheless, both still share some similarities…
They are not to take the place of vocal lessons as they just help to prepare a good voice to perform at its peak. If the singer does not have the proper singing techniques or hasn’t properly gained mastery of his singing, even professional vocal warm-ups or vocal workouts won’t help him/her out.
So, the first step for anyone hoping to sing well is to get singing lessons first. Doing vocal warm-ups will then put your voice in a good place to utilize all the techniques it has learned.
Why Are Vocal Warm Ups for Singers So Important?
Many people fail to recognize this but singing is a very physical process. It’s just like playing football or baseball. Parts of your body will move in a precise manner for you to sing well. In view of this, singers must take care of their voices while they sing and before they sing as well to get the best results.
For those that go to the gym, do you recall how sore you felt after a particularly stressful day at the gym? Or how black and blue you felt after going out for a run?
Oftentimes, it’s because you didn’t stretch properly before carrying out those activities. So, you ended up in pains. The same can happen to your voice.
So, here are top reasons vocal exercises for singers are crucial to their singing careers.
1. They help you to put your best voice forward:
If you sing regularly and are very observant, you would have noticed that the quality of your voice does tend to fluctuate per time.On some good days, you could probably go full throttle all day and sing your heart out without any problem.
On some other days, three songs at the max, and you’re beat.Also, sometimes, the really high notes just come to you. Other days your voice is just meh, and hitting a high note is a real uphill task. Or for some, mornings are terrible periods to attempt singing.All these issues are easily taken care of with vocal warm-ups. Before your performance or recording session, try warming up your voice and you’ll notice a very significant difference when you sing.
The exercises will help to loosen your muscles. Plus, it will help to improve blood flow around the parts that constitute your voice box.This way, you don’t have to wait till it’s a “good day”. You will always be able to deliver on your different vocal abilities at every point in time.
2. They help to improve your skills:
Think of an athlete, the more he exercises, the more his muscles are strengthened. The same happens to your vocal muscles when stretched and exercised frequently.
When singing, your vocal chords often have to deal with very intense vibrations. However, you can prepare them for the task ahead by exercising them first.
Vocal exercises can help to increase the acid in the muscles that surround your vocal chords. This will, in turn, help to condition your muscles to work better.
One of the things your muscles have to do is to interact with the tendon in your throat. If you engage that tendon correctly, it will stretch. And this will yield better flexibility and vocal control for you.
3. They help you sing more healthily without causing damage to your voice:
Some people are of the erroneous opinion that forcing yourself to hit a high note is the best way to go. Nope, it’s not and could even bring some bad consequences.
If you’re lucky, you could end up just straining your voice. If you’re not, you could pull a muscle, or worse, get your tendons inflamed (a condition called tendonitis). Ouch! It is every bit as painful as it sounds. And it’s so not worth it.
Also, trying to wing several performances on a “bad voice day” can equally lead to dire consequences as well. For instance, you could get tired, or start to feel very sore at the end of the day. Or you could even lose the most part of your speaking voice.
If you exercise your voice before delving into any singing session, especially the long ones, you avoid any of the afore-mentioned scenarios. Although, it might not seem logical that “singing” before you sing will make you less tired, it actually will.
Warm ups are controlled and steady. And the way they are wired, they are developed just so that the individual does not need to stress any part of his/her vocal cords while running through them.Singing really challenging pieces, or singing for really long hours without warming up can pose a risk to the singer and his/her voice.
4. They help to maintain your voice:
Look at it this way: it doesn’t matter how expensive the car is, or how powerful its engine is, without proper maintenance, it will soon stop delivering as much as it used to.
The same goes for your voice. Warming up your voice is as important as the singing for which you’re warming the voice. It’s probably even more important as it often predicts the outcome of your singing.
If you don’t exercise your voice regularly, you’ll soon find all the positive attributes of your voice gradually slipping away from you.
5. They help your voice recover from sleep:
Except you probably talk in your sleep, your voice isn’t active while you’re in la la land. And even if you do, it hardly lasts several minutes. So, generally, while sleeping, your voice remains unused for many hours. This gives mucus enough time to build up in your mouth as well as your nasal cavity. Now, normally, this wouldn’t have happened while active, and that’s why your vocal chords aren’t at their best first thing in the morning.
By exercising them first thing in the morning, you help to lubricate and moisturize your throat. This will help to “wake up” your chords so you can sing better.
The warm ups also help to strengthen the stamina of your lungs enabling you to sing for longer without necessarily feeling exhausted. Aside its physical effects, vocal warm ups also help to build your pronunciation and your projection too. No matter how good your natural voice is, it will only be a matter of time before it loses its inherent power and projection if you don’t maintain it by warming up regularly.
6. They help to reduce vocal damage:
By running headlong into a performance or recording without first warming up, you stand the chance of ruining your vocal chords. There are tons of people who damage their voices on a daily basis while “belting it out” on stage. And this is just sad, largely because it is avoidable.
Vocal warm ups can help you avoid small vocal strains like a sore throat after a big event or severe vocal strains like tendonitis.
Also, because vocal exercises require a lot of oxygen intake, they are also good for you aside your singing. A good dose of oxygen helps to stimulate the secretion of endorphins (mood-lifting hormones) which, in turn, make you feel happy.
So, you see, everyone should do vocal warm ups.
How Long Should My Vocal Warm Ups Last and When Is the Best Time to Do Them?
First of all, if you’re still reading this, then well done! You do deserve to be highly commended. You’re obviously committed to your passion.
So far, we have looked at what vocal warm up exercises really are, what they are aimed at, and why they are really important.
However, we are far from done on this vocal warm up thing. Just like any other activity, getting maximum results from your vocal warm ups means that you need to do for a specific length of time and at a particular time (more on that later).
And this is what we are about to discuss now. Here are some tips that should help you figure out how long to stay on your vocal exercises.
1. If you haven’t sung in a few days:
If you haven’t sung in a few days, then you need to warm up for up to 30 minutes, or 20 minutes at the very least. You’d need to stretch your range gradually, and remind the muscles of your chest and throat of your “pull path”, i.e. the expanding of your throat and chest by applying power.
2. If you’ve been singing full voice almost every day:
In this case, you could get away with a ten-minute vocal warm up. However, you can’t get away with zero minute. Meaning, you must do them, else your voice might crumble under the strain.
3. If your vocal chords are swollen due to misuse or laryngitis:
You’d have to take things easy a bit in this case. Start nice and slow with easy exercises somewhere in the middle of your range. From here, continue to work until you feel warmed up. However, if you begin to feel stressed vocally, please stop for the time being.
You might need to start really gradually to help take out the interstitial fluid in your chords. This might take about 20 to 30 minutes, or even longer. So, how do you know when all the interstitial fluid has been pumped out from your vocal chords? Or how do you know that you’re warmed up? Or how do you simply know when to stop? If making any vocal sound at all hurts, then stop.
If you can comfortably hit all the notes within your range and you’ve been able to smooth out your passagio area, then you’re straight. You’re warmed up and can now confidently sing with your full voice.
Please note this, if your voice does not feel fully warmed up, do not sing with your full voice. Take a break, and try again the next day. If it doesn’t get any better, then it’s time to take a longer break or see an ENT specialist for a diagnosis.
4. If you’re in between sessions on your gig:
In this case, you’d need to rest your voice whenever you get a break. This would entail limiting talking to a very bare minimum. In fact, only talk if it’s absolutely necessary. Take plenty water. And then try to warm up at least 5 to 10 minutes before the next set. This will help your vocal chords get pumped for your next performance.
Finally, it isn’t just about warming up alone, you’ve got to warm down too. When your gig is ended, try to warm down your voice to get the interstitial fluid out your chords and get them rested.
What Are Vocal Warm Downs?
They are pretty much like vocal warm ups, only that they don’t last as long, and they tend to focus more on head voice vocalizations.
When Are Vocal Warm Downs?
Vocal warm ups should, ideally, be done every day in the morning. If you have a gig, then do your warm ups an hour before the gig, in addition to the one you already did in the morning.
If you’re new to vocal warm ups, then start slow. Your first port of call shouldn’t be belting out a high C. Relax, and take things nice and slow. Don’t just select warm up exercises randomly, work with a more experienced tutor to develop a workable routine for you.
How to Warm Up Before Singing?
Now that you know the importance of vocal warm ups, and all whatnot, the next logical thing you should know is how to warm up your voice.
Of course, you will need to get more specialized exercises that can help you but generally, here are some exercises that everyone should know:
1. The Lip Bubble:
Yeah, you’d look really silly but heck yeah, you’d sound phenomenal afterwards. If you’ve ever seen a child blow a raspberry, then you know what a lip bubble looks like. The trick is to push your cheeks in somewhere below your bottom lip to keep them stable.
Then blow air through your closed but relaxed lips like you’re blowing a raspberry and voila! Simple! If you’re out of time and you need to warm up real fast, then this is your best bet. It yields significant results even in limited time.
2. Elevator Slides
These will help to work out your vocal registers and smoothen any breaks. You do this exercise by making a long, slow sound, kinda like a siren. You can begin with the “ah” vowel, ascending slowly and then descending again in like fashion. Ensure that your throat is relaxed, else the notes will catch in there, and you don’t want that. Instead, move your resonance to your head voice. As your voice gets warmed up, you can increase speed and then change to other vowels as well.
3. The Tongue Roll
This is also a quick vocal warm up, pretty similar to the lip bubble, it is equally excellent at reducing vocal tension. The tongue is the primary center of vocal tension, so you want to keep your tongue flexible and loose. A good way is to roll your Rs. Aim to hold your R for one breath without breaking or spluttering. As you get into the exercise, you can then add an “ah” sound to it.
4. Octave Jumps
These will help your intonation and how you connect to your breath. This is how it works, begin with a low note in your range and then change to that same note but this time on a higher octave. Do this about three times and remember to keep your notes staccato.
Vocal Warm-ups Video Recommendations
Finally, like we promised, we are now going to recommend some really nice vocal warm-ups we found on the internet. And you know the best of these warm ups? You guessed it! They are free! You’re welcome.
1. Introduction and vocal warm up exercises with Dr Dan Djarts
2. How to warm up your voice before singing: for all voice types with Eric Arceneaux
3. Rock/Pop vocal warm up exercises for men with Rock the stage NYC
4. Rock/Pop: how to warm up your voice before singing for women with Cari Cole
5. How to warm up your singing voice for singing higher notes with David DiMuzio
So, that’s it, folks. It’s been a wonderful time exploring the world of vocal warm ups with you. We’re pretty sure you’ve learnt a thing or ten.
Godspeed in your singing endeavors!