Doing warmups and cooldowns allows singers to strengthen their vocal cords and increase their range. Here are 10 tried-and-true vocal exercises to help you hit the right notes while taking care of your voice.
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According to voice pathologist Dr. Linda Carroll, “Just as a dancer does physical stretches before and after they move, vocal performers need to warm up before extended (or critical) voice use to ensure vocal muscles are supple, prepared for precision, and not subject to strain.” Vocal warmups, she advises, should:
- Warm up your body: Singing is created through the abdominal, back, and neck muscles. Warming these muscles up allows sound to travel up and out without getting trapped by tension.
- Prepare your breath: Breathing exercises engage the respiratory and intercostal muscles so you can sustain longer notes.
- Prepare your articulators and resonators: Your lips, teeth, and tongue all help with articulation, while the soft palate creates resonation. Warming these zones up allows for clearer, richer vocals.
- Take you from spoken to singing register: Changing pitch and projecting your voice puts stress on vocal muscles. Doing vocalizing exercises (i.e., wordless vowel sound exercises) eases the way from the smaller range of the spoken register to the larger range of the singing register.
- Prepare you for performance: A brief review of the material you’re singing helps prepare you mentally and physically for the performance. While you don’t necessarily need to include your performance material in your warmup, it’s helpful to try and hit notes of similar duration and pitch.
Unless noted, each exercise can be used with any scale. But a word of caution: Don’t take any of these exercises higher than is comfortable.
1. Glides through a straw: This exercise will help you learn how to breathe while singing. Blow air through a small stirring straw while phonating glides up and down through your range. The backpressure created by the resistance of the straw presses down on the vocal cords and helps decrease puffiness, a major source of vocal trouble.
2. Lip trills: This is a variation of the straw exercise. Gently blow air through closed lips, keeping them relaxed, and sing an “uh” vowel underneath. Your lips should start to trill. The resistance of the bubbling lips helps maintain cord closure, an important element of good singing.
3. Creaky doors: This is a great exercise to help build the coordination needed to maintain proper cord closure. Make a little edgy sound, like a creaky door or a rusty gate opening. Do a scale on this sound using very little air. The idea is to not let the sound get breathy or squeezed.
4. Ngs: Make the “ng” sound from the word “rung.” This sound is produced with the tongue and soft palate together. This again provides backpressure, while also making the transition between the lower and upper registers (chest voice and head voice) easier.
5. Nasty nays: This is done using the word “nay” on a bratty or Wicked Witch–type sound. This exercise also assists in cord closure, while the exaggerated sound makes it easier to ascend into the upper register without cracking or flipping.
6. Hooty gees: This is the opposite of the previous exercise, and it’s quite useful for a singer experiencing excess tension. Using a dopey cartoon voice (think Yogi Bear), say the word “gee.” You should feel your larynx drop. The “g” consonant should also help with cord closure due to the backpressure it creates, so you can experience accessing the upper register with a stable larynx and closed cords. This coordination is extremely important in good, healthy singing. Once this exercise is comfortable, you can drop the dopey imposition and sing on a more natural sound.
7. Coo coos: This exercise is great for working the upper register. The “coo” can be made to sound hooty, like an owl, for extra ease in working high notes.
8. Aahs: This is very useful for singers who are weak or breathy in their lower register. The sound is on the “aah” of “cat,” and can be exaggerated by sticking the tongue out slightly. Do this in your lower register in a five-tone scale (1–2–3–4–5 to 5–4–3–2–1 of the major scale). Use very little air, as you don’t want any breathiness in the sound.
9. Googs and mums: These are best used once the voice is experiencing proper cord closure and ease of production. The word “goog” (the vowel sounds like the “oo” in “good”) has both a hard consonant for cord closure and a vowel that will help stabilize the larynx. Be sure to maintain the vowel in the upper register, as vowel widening (“gaag”) can cause tension. The vowel and consonant of “mum” provide a bit less help than “goog,” making this a slightly more advanced exercise.
10. Ooh-oh-uh-ahs: Going from a more closed or narrow vowel to a wider one on a sustain is a great way to balance resonance. The more closed vowel will help you get into your upper register. Gradually open to the wider vowel while keeping the resonance in the same place. If the tone gets shouty or strained, go back to the narrow vowel to get the voice balanced again.