a close up photo of a woman singing into a condenser microphone

7 Vocal Warm Ups That Work Wonders

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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:

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:

  1. Unique New York, unique New York, unique New York.
  2. A big black bug bit a big black bear.
  3. She sells seashells by the sea shore.
  4. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  5. 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!

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Comments

  • Mesha
    June 20, 2007, 1:30 pm

    Yes… I believe that all of these tips and suggestions have been good.
    I have been singing since I was 6 years old and I am now 17. It has really hard for me because I have a really beautiful voice but sometimes under pressure it’s hard to let out and I have been suffering from this for years and I really need help!
    THE INFORMATION THAT WAS GIVEN TO ME WAS REALLY HELPFUL.

    Reply
  • Newcomer
    June 30, 2007, 2:59 pm

    I remember something about a cork… Hold on…
    Okay, found it. Here are some good warm-ups to add to the list!
    http://www.voiceacting.com/archives/32warmups/

    Reply
  • Maura
    October 9, 2007, 4:08 pm

    It’s better to do your warm up exercises lying on the ground and bending your knees.
    If you hold your hand on your lower stomach you will be able to see if you are singing from the correct place.

    Reply
  • Gabe
    April 18, 2009, 7:04 pm

    I’m 14 and recently discovered my passion for music and singing. I just started taking singing lessons and my next one is next week. I don’t have that great of a voice and I want to make singing my career I want to go to Juilliard for college but I need to improve. I will improve but I wanted to know if you guys had any tips for me. Thank you I would greatly appreciate your comments and advice.

    Reply
    • Ana
      October 11, 2020, 2:39 pm

      hey so its been like…11 years… how did it go? did you end up pursuing music? did you go to Juilliard? i gotta

      Reply
  • zayne
    June 4, 2010, 8:05 pm

    i go to a performing art school in Santa Ana called OCHSA and we’ve learned all these tips in singing class. They are especially helpful when i have to do a song in my first class.

    Reply
  • Lisa Rice
    December 17, 2010, 10:08 am

    Great tips, Stephanie!
    Any athlete knows that stretches and warm-ups are essential to peak performance. Voice over might not be considered a sport but it definitely gives everything above the waist a workout. We have to warm up if we want to deliver our best.

    Reply
  • Aaron Goodly
    November 23, 2011, 9:00 pm

    Awesome information Stephanie. I also want to add that when your mouth is starting to feel dry, an apple usually helps me out and corrects the issue pretty quickly.
    All the best,
    Aaron

    Reply
  • Vinnie Vinson
    December 1, 2011, 2:29 pm

    Coffee and a decongestant.

    Reply
  • Martin ONeill
    December 1, 2011, 2:29 pm

    Cup of tea

    Reply
  • Danny Danielson
    December 1, 2011, 2:30 pm

    Pudda Dugga Gudda! X10

    Reply
  • Zeke Elizondo
    December 1, 2011, 2:30 pm

    I’m having this problem right now. Got to get into the studio and I sound like a frog!

    Reply
  • Justine
    July 24, 2012, 12:53 pm

    This is good. I’ve been doing research and this is the most thorough response to the question. Thanks Steph

    Reply
  • Ryan
    September 2, 2012, 10:09 am

    Before doing any or all of these wonderful exercises you should actually do a physical warm up first. A little cardio followed by light stretching (especially of the neck) will prepare and loosen both the abdominal support muscles and the neck/laryngeal structure.

    Reply
    • Courtney Hull
      January 16, 2020, 4:38 pm

      Your mean like the first one on the list? Seriously, dude. 😒

      Reply
  • LionBlood
    May 11, 2013, 2:58 pm

    The best exercise I know of, which revolutionized my voice is called the “Lip Roll” or “Lip Trill”.
    All you do is basically act like a baby and go “bbbbvvvvv” with enough air power to make your lips vibrate.
    What this does is firstly relaxed your larynx(swallowing muscle) and teaches your voice to use the right technique while singing. The lyranx muscle is like just under your chin connected to your neck.
    A new thing I starting doing is actually to massage my larynx, ’cause when you sing you should be so relaxed as if you just had a professional massage(STAY AWAKE OFCOURSE!!!)

    Reply
  • Andy
    December 4, 2018, 6:59 am

    that’s great need to learn more ,i need to be the best

    Reply
  • Pranayeshwar Vashisth
    February 19, 2019, 7:33 am

    The information provided here is very useful for a person like me ,who is a fresher in this field.
    There is no reason if I follow these guidelines and don’t succeed.

    Reply
  • Lawrence Bruce
    March 8, 2019, 11:19 pm

    The Whispered “Ah” as taught by Alexander Technique teachers is the best I know for releasing and placing the voice – especially if done while in the Position of Constructive Rest. (There are YouTube demos for these). And for the warm-up supreme, for years I have followed Kristin Linklater’s recommendation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

    Reply
  • Nikhilsunuwar
    June 10, 2019, 7:39 am

    yes i belive this is so so super duper helping exercise thank you

    Reply
  • Jacob
    July 5, 2019, 5:04 pm

    My high school choir teacher had us do tongue-twisters to warm up before practice. And one of the was:

    “One big bug bled blue blood, while the other big bug bled black”

    This helps me when I warm up, if it can help anyone else, I’d by glad.

    Reply
  • Mark Shafrath
    October 6, 2019, 10:30 am

    Great tips and ideas Stephanie. I’ll surely use them. A singing voice can always be improved and is always the case, the more a person knows about a subject, the more insightful he/she becomes.

    Reply
  • Owen Baker-Flynn
    October 22, 2019, 12:15 am

    I take about 12-18 inches of dental floss and put one end on my tongue. Then I slowly and using my tongue and lips roll it into a ball. This doesn’t really do anything for the voice, but does work all those muscles.

    Reply
    • oompa loompa
      February 11, 2020, 4:08 pm

      ok….

      Reply
  • Jay Cofffman
    February 21, 2020, 9:01 am

    Another one I do is “in an imaginable”. I find this to be a tough transition to make between the words. I practice this with my daily warmups, saying it over and over, attempting to say it quicker each time.

    Reply
  • Kristi Gaddy
    June 5, 2020, 12:23 am

    This was great!!

    Reply