7 Vocal Warm Ups That Work Wonders
We all know that every professional athlete needs to take the time to stretch their muscles to adequately prepare for a big game. In much the same vein, any experienced voice actor understands that vocal warm ups are necessary to ensure that they can deliver their best performance when they step up to the microphone.
The difference between an impromptu vocal delivery and a script read following a sufficient vocal warm up can make a noticeable difference in the finished recording.
Vocal warm ups have a tremendous amount of benefits. Vocal warm ups can help loosen your vocal cords, and set you up to nail your next voice acting audition or company presentation. Using your voice for an extended period of time is challenging if you’re not prepared.
Read on to learn about the best vocal warm ups to try before your next read! This article will lead you through the following exercises:
- Body stretches
- Breathing exercises
- Humming and lip trills
- Descending on nasal consonants
- Tongue twisters
- Yawns (to increase vocal range)
The Importance of Vocal Warm Ups
The more you tone your vocal cords, the more versatile your voice acting capabilities will be. All the while, diligently running through a series of vocal warm ups 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 the script read, your vocal performances are going to reflect that state too.
Tip: The sillier you sound and the better a vocal warm up makes you feel, the more elastic, agile, and comfortable your voice will become. Don’t be shy. 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.”
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 Theatre, 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 should involve some breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are an ideal way to relax your vocal cords 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 cords 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:
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 4: Descending on Nasal Consonants
Another useful trick that any voice actor 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 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.
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.
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 this vocal exercise:
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 Ps, Bs, and Ts. 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:
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.
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 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, vocal cords, 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 you have any vocal warm ups to add?
What vocal warm ups work for you?
Let us know your tips, tricks, techniques, and tongue twisters in the comments!