The 6 Best Vocal Warm Ups that Work Wonders
Updated: September 2018
Much like athletes need to take the time to prepare before a big game, voice actors need to know how to warm up their voice to perform their best behind a microphone.
Voice warm-ups have many benefits as they can loosen up your vocal cords and prepare you to nail your next audition or big presentation. Using your voice for an extended period of time can be challenging if you’re not prepared. Read on to learn how to warm up your voice::
- Body Stretches
- Humming and Lip Trills
- Descending on Nasal Consonants
- Tongue Twisters
- Yawns (to increase vocal range)
Why Vocal Warm-Ups are Important
The more you tone your vocal cords, the more versatile you will be, all while reducing your chances of injury. Simply put, if you get behind the microphone feeling tense or stressed, you are going to sound tense and stressed. But if you get into the booth feeling relaxed, limber and physically ready to tackle the day, your vocal performances are going to reflect that state too.
Tip: The sillier you sound and the better a voice warm up makes you feel, the more elastic, agile and comfortable your voice will become. Have fun with it!
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.”
Vocal Warm-Up Exercise 2: Humming and Lip Trills
A loose, gentle modulating hum is a nice way to ease in your facial muscles as well as create space for resonant sound. It gets your resonators going which in turn will help restore your vocal tone quality after sleeping for several hours.
Lip trills and flutters will also help loosen facial muscles and get your vocal cords warmed-up. Even better, if you try them in the shower.
Vocal Warm-Up Exercise 3: Descending on Nasal Consonants
Another good trick to open up the passages is to descend on a nasal consonant sound. If you are a fan or student of IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet), you know that there are a number of ways you can warm up your sinuses and nasal passages.
Take the English word onion for example. It’s quite nasal, particularly the second syllable – 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 fave is any word that ends in a Z, like buzz or fuzz. Linger on the Z to get resonating.
Vocal Warm-Up Exercise 4: Frictives
Fricatives are consonants that are formed by impeding the flow of air so that a friction sound is produced. Common consonants are p’s, b’s and t’s. You can learn more about how to produce fricatives from vocal coaches.
This animated video from Glossika shows how frictives are produced:
Vocal Warm-Up Exercise 5: Tongue Twisters
Articulate, articulate, articulate. In the voice over business, this is 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.
5 Classic Tongue Twister Exercises
- Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York…. (repeat and speed up as necessary)
- 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?
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 6: 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 Time Magazine interview, 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,” he says. “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: With more oxygen flowing up to your brain, you’ll also find that you are more alert.
How to do a Yawn-Sigh
- Open your mouth as if to yawn, and slide all the way down from the top of your vocal range to the lowest grumble you can muster.
- You’ll know when you bottom out.
Only do this a few times per warm up and never start with this one – leave it until the end when you have already exercised your voice.
Vocal Warm Up Tips
Some other tips to consider so that you get the most of your vocal warm ups, include:
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It may go without saying, but a good sleep the night before, about eight hours if you can swing it, and a well conditioned, lubricated voice is the best preparation for warming up at the crack of dawn. This means staying well hydrated, well before you need to perform. Water is your best friend!
Do Your Vocal Warm-Ups in the Shower
If you’re a multi-tasker, you could 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 as the moisture will coat and help protect your throat, vocal cords and more.
Bonus: Get even more tips and tricks on making your voice as performance ready, and your day as productive as can be in this feature post with Susan Berkley: Vocal Health Tips from a Voice Coach.
Do you have any voice warm ups to add?
What voice warm ups work for you?
Add your tips, tricks, techniques and tongue twisters below!