What Are The Best Vocal Warm Ups for Voice Actors?
Just as a professional athlete meticulously stretches before a match, so does a seasoned performer or voice actor prior to stepping up to the microphone. The preparation may be less visible but is no less crucial for delivering a stellar performance.
Much like an athlete’s pre-game rituals, vocal warm-ups and vocal exercises play an indispensable role in the world of voice acting. They serve as the vital conditioning every performer needs to take their craft to the next level, while avoiding damaging your voice and causing vocal fry.
These exercises do more than just warm up your vocal folds – they empower you to seize the spotlight, whether it’s an audition, a corporate presentation, or any other vocal endeavor. Vocal preparation makes the difference between a good delivery and an unforgettable performance, especially when your voice is your instrument.
Let’s embark on a journey together to uncover the best vocal warm-ups to try before your next performance. Ignite your passion for performance, elevate your craft, and prepare to captivate your audience!
Top 7 Vocal Warm Ups for Voice Actors and Performers
This article will lead you through the following exercises:
|3.||Humming and lip trills|
|4.||Descending on nasal consonants|
|7.||Yawns (to increase vocal range)|
The Importance of Vocal Warm Ups
Do you have a favorite word or string of words that you use to warm up your voice and get ready for the day?
Any particular words that can “articulate” that “resonate” well with you (pardon the puns!)? As a voice major, I’ve encountered hundreds of different vocal warm up exercises and it is always interesting (and entertaining) to add more to the old repertory.
The more you tone your vocal folds, the more versatile your singing or voice acting capabilities will be. All the while, diligently running through a series of vocal warm up exercises every time before you’re planning on an extended vocal session reduces your chances of injury.
Simply put, if you get behind the microphone feeling tense or stressed, you are undoubtedly going to sound tense and stressed. But, if you get into the booth feeling relaxed, limber, and physically ready to tackle that song or script read, your vocal performances are going to reflect that state too.
Tip: The sillier you sound and the better a vocal warm up exercise makes you feel, the more elastic, agile, and comfortable your voice will become. Don’t be shy. Have fun with it!
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Vocal Warm Up Exercise 1: Stretch Your Body
“Side stretches are great for expanding your rib cage and making your lungs feel like they are full of air,” says voice actor and coach Heather Costa.
“Simply take a deep breath and raise your arms up to the sky. Exhale and slightly lean to the left, lengthening in your side body. Hold it there for just a couple of seconds before you inhale to center, and then exhale over to the right.”
“Next, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale your arms up to the sky, then slowly bend at your waist on the exhale and take your hands toward the ground. It doesn’t matter how far you can go, the action of bending over is enough to give you a nice, warm stretch! Stay there for a couple of breaths, and then on an inhale slowly come back up to a standing position.”
For a visual demonstration of the perfect body stretch routines to undertake before an acting session, check out this video of Jeannette Nelson, head of voice at the National Theater, leading some young actors through a variety of useful pre-rehearsal techniques:
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 2: Breathing Exercises
After you complete your body stretches, the next step of your warm up excercises should involve some breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are an ideal way to relax your vocal folds before a big recording, and they’re bound to help expand your vocal range.
Here are a few great breathing exercises that you’d really benefit from adding into your warm up routine:
The Straw Trick
Practice humming, or simply inhaling and exhaling, with a straw in your mouth. When your lips are closed around a straw, you’ll automatically focus all of your attention on your breathing, while keeping your face and body still.
Lay on the Floor
Have you ever tried singing a vocal piece while laying with your back on the ground? It may feel strange at first, but if you rest your hands on your stomach and concentrate, you’ll be able to feel your diaphragm move. This is an easy way to zero in on your breathing.
The Hissing Exhale
As part of your vocal warm up routine, try out this next breathing exercise. Start by inhaling for an amount of time you feel comfortable with, and then when you exhale, produce an “sss” hissing sound. Each time you do the hissing exhale, switch up the amount of time that you’re inhaling and hissing, aiming to go longer with each hiss until you find yourself beginning to run out of breath.
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 3: Humming and Lip Trills
Performing a loose and gentle modulating hum is a nice way to ease in your facial muscles, as well as create space for resonant sound. Humming and lip trills get your resonators going, which in turn helps restore your vocal tone quality after sleeping for several hours. These are ideal to carry out as you start your day.
Lip trills and flutters will also help loosen facial muscles and get your vocal folds warmed up. They’re even more effective if you try them in the shower!
For some guidance on how to do lip trills, this YouTuber provides some great step-by-step instructions for taking control of your breathing:
One of our voice actors chimed in:
Your equipment is turned on, your mic is in front of you, headphones perched on your ears and your recording software is just waiting for you to start a new file. What words or phrase do you say out loud to warm up the voice and center your focus for your recording?
For whatever reason, I say, ‘boogiedaboogiedaboogiehellohellohello.’”– Dave Justus
While not exactly a lip trill, voice actors seem to have a routine to get the voice ready for recording.
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 4: Descending on Nasal Consonants
Another useful trick that any singer or International Phonetic Alphabet), you already know that there are a number of methods you can tap into to warm up your sinuses and nasal passages.should have in their toolbox is the ability to open up passages to descend on a nasal consonant sound. If you happen to be a fan or student of IPA (the
Take, for example, the English word ‘onion.’ It’s quite nasally—particularly its second syllable, which makes the ‘gn’ sound. Take that ‘gn’ sound and lovingly stretch it, slide it, and descend glissando style.
Go from the fifth, down to the root of a scale on that with an ‘ah’ sound.
Another favorite vocal warm up for many voice actors involves reciting any word that ends in a Z, like ‘buzz’ or ‘fuzz.’ Linger on the Z to get resonating.
“The best warm up words for me are to practice singing — softly — softly — the chromatic scale. Whichever octave you are comfy with. Just sing from the lowest to the highest and back… until the job is done and warm!”Maurice Smith
If you’re still a bit unsure about what it takes to warm up your voice by descending on nasal consonants, this singer explains how you can use your nostrils to perform one of many vocal exercises:
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 5: Fricatives
Fricatives are consonants that are formed by impeding the flow of air so that a friction sound is produced. Some of the most common consonants include Fs, Ths, and Vs. You can learn more about producing fricatives from vocal coaches.
This animated video from Glossika demonstrates how fricatives are produced:
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 6: Tongue Twisters
Articulate, articulate, articulate. In the voice over business, being able to distinctly enunciate your speech is by far one of the most important aspects of your performance.
If you don’t articulate or enunciate clearly, no one is going to understand a word of what you are saying.
Learn how to articulate your various vocal muscles together by tagging along with the speakers in this video:
5 classic tongue twisters:
- Unique New York, unique New York, unique New York.
- A big black bug bit a big black bear.
- She sells seashells by the sea shore.
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
- How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
There are a number of troublesome consonants that you’ll want to master your pronunciation before you step up to the microphone. Speaking each of these tongue twisters out loud serves as a fantastic pre-recording vocal warm up:
Popular Tongue Twisters
What time does the wristwatch strap shop shut?
A skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk, but the stump thunk the skunk stunk.
No need to light a nightlight on a light night like tonight.
My cutlery cuts keenly and cleanly.
Four furious friends fought for the phone.
Reading and writing are richly rewarding.
Any noise annoys an oyster, but a noisy noise annoys an oyster most.
I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen.
He threw three free throws.
Three free thugs set three thugs free.
If you stick a stock of liquor in your locker
It is quick to stick a lock upon your stock
Or some joker who is quicker’s
Going to trick you of your liquor
If you fail to lock your liquor with a lock
Someone said something simple
A simple something said to me
Simply simple someone said
A simple something said to me.
How about a tongue twister in German?
Try: Der Potsdamer Postkutscher putzt den Potsdamer Postkutschkasten und der Kottbuser Postkutscher putzt den Kottbuser Postkutschkasten.
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 7: Yawn
Now that you’ve warmed up your resonators and articulators, let’s address range.
Yawning naturally drops your jaw and regulates oxygen, while extending your soft palate.
In this interview with Time Magazine, Morgan Freeman reveals that yawning is part of the secret behind his very successful voice.
“If you’re looking to improve the sound of your voice, yawn a lot,” Freeman suggests. “It relaxes your throat muscles. It relaxes your vocal cords. And as soon as they relax, the tone drops. The lower your voice is, the better you sound.”
Bonus tip: With more oxygen flowing up to your brain, you’ll also find that you are more alert.
How to Do a Yawn-Sigh
Learning how to properly do a yawn-sigh can be a wonderful trick to add to your vocal warm up toolbox.
- Step 1: Open your mouth as if to yawn.
- Step 2: Slide all the way down from the top of your vocal range to the lowest grumble you can muster.
- Step 3: You’ll know when you bottom out.
However, you should only do this exercise a few times as a part of each vocal warm up routine. You should never start with this one, and it’s often best to leave it until the end when you have already exercised your voice.
This singer offers some great instruction and background information regarding the importance of integrating yawning into your vocal warm up routine:
Bonus Vocal Warm Up Tips
Some other tips to consider to ensure that you get the most of your vocal warm ups or vocal exercises even if you need voice warm ups for speaking. These voice warm ups for regular every day speaking include include:
Get a good night’s sleep
It may go without saying, but you can never underestimate the power of getting in a good sleep the night before a recording (the suggested amount is eight hours, if you can swing it).
In addition to being well-rested, a well-conditioned, lubricated voice is the best preparation for warming up at the crack of dawn. This means staying sufficiently hydrated, even well before you’ll be called on to perform. Room temperature water is a voice actor’s best friend! At the same time, alcohol and caffeine will detract from your hydration levels and impact your vocal performance, so be sure to steer clear of consuming liquids containing either of these ahead of a recording.
Do your vocal warm ups in the shower
If you’re a multitasker, you can probably fit your warm ups into your morning shower routine. The acoustics will be great and warm water is a plus. The humidity will also help, since the moisture will coat and help protect your throat,, and more.
Get even more tips and tricks on vocal warm ups that will properly prepare you for your next performance, and make your next recording session as productive as can be in this interview with vocal coach Susan Berkley.
Do the 5 Minute Vocal Warm Up
As with any other part of your body, your voice is supported by muscles. Not just your facial muscles but your tongue and diaphragm too. Keeping those muscles limber and toned is important for voice actors and anyone who uses their voices professionally.
As the saying goes, “use it, or you’ll lose it.” But speaking isn’t enough to maintain the fitness of all those supporting systems. To improve and maintain the quality of your voice and perfect your articulation you need to work those muscles every day.
Tommy Griffiths, a voice-over artist, voice coach, demo producer and actor, recently sent us an easy 5-minute workout for an episode of our Voice Over Experts Podcast that will have you seeing results almost immediately. It’s fast, easy, and effective. After practicing his workout several times myself, I’d venture to say it may very well give you a set of nice cheekbones too!
Stretching Exercises for Your Mouth, Tongue, and Lips
For about 1 minute:
- Grin as hard has you can and hold it for a few seconds, then quickly purse your lips, and hold. Do this back and forth a few times then quickly stick your tongue out. Stretch it as far as it will go. Then touch the back of your upper teeth with the tip of your tongue. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Say the word “wow.” Notice the positions of your mouth when you say the word? Your lips start out pursed and the word ends with your mouth open. Exaggerate the positions and repeat over and over as though you’re saying the word “wow.” By this point you should feel the facial muscles in and around your mouth.
Improving Your Articulation with the Obstruction Drill
For about 2 minutes:
- First, find some piece of copy and an obstruction for your mouth. Ideally, something about the size of a wine cork. Sit up straight or stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Place the obstruction between your front teeth and read the copy out loud as clearly as possible. The obstruction will force your muscles to overcompensate for the difficulty in articulating the words. Keep reading for about two minutes.
- Then take the obstruction out of your mouth and read the same piece of copy. You’ll notice that you now effortlessly pronounce the words.
Learning to Master Your Plosives
For about 2 minutes:
- Hold the palm of your hand a few inches away from your mouth, about where you would typically place your mic. Then say, “Pam’s preppy pal Peter.” You’ll likely feel a rush of air with the P’s. That rush of air is what creates the popping sound through your mic.
- With full vocalization, practice saying “Pam’s preppy pal Peter” until you no longer feel the rush of air. Practice this every day for about two minutes and soon it will become second nature to speak in a way that will have you plosive-free, even in your regular day to day conversations.
Did you like these vocal warm ups? What vocal warm ups work for you? Or perhaps you avoided a mistake because you took the time to warm up properly.
Let us know your tips, tricks, techniques, and tongue twisters in the comments!