If you are a serious vocalist, then you need to get into the habit of daily practice. This should include a variety of vocal exercises and vocal warm-ups, not just singing along to your favorite tunes or belting it out in the shower!
There are plenty of people out there willing to dismiss the vocal exercise approach but at the end of the day, those singers at the top of their game typically have a coach who will put them through their paces.
Many singing exercises may seem silly or even pointless if you can already sing the songs in your repertoire from start to finish. But to develop as a singer, you need to learn about your voice. As it is a part of your body, the way to learn to use it has to be instinctive and natural.
Vocal warm-ups and exercises are a good way to do this. They help you to warm up your voice before you sing, ensuring you don’t damage your vocal cords while also making you more familiar with your own voice. Without lyrics to think about or a melody to follow, you can focus on your built-in instrument in a better way!
Before You Use Your Voice
Before you let out any sound, it is good practice to get yourself as relaxed as possible. Your singing apparatus includes your head, neck, chest, respiratory system, facial muscles, and tongue. Ideally, you should do a few head and shoulder rolls, stretch your mouth and get a few breathing exercises in before you try any of the following.
We detail some great body warm-ups in our how to sing better article. You might even want to give yourself a facial massage and try some tongue twisters. It is also a good idea to force a yawn this naturally relaxes and stretches all of your key singing mechanisms at once and gets you to breathe deeply.
You should never try to sing with a dry throat. Before you sing, drink plenty of liquids. Especially if you are feeling under the weather. The vocal cords need lubricating before you demand anything from them.
Water is best but make sure it is room temperature. Cold drinks are not a good idea, they will cool your body temperature and make any of the warming up you are trying to do useless. Warm drinks are best. Try a honey and lemon tea and avoid coffee.
Best Vocal Exercises & Warm-Ups
One of the simplest and best vocal warm-ups you can do is to hum. When you hum you are using a much softer vocal technique, it puts less strain on your vocal cords and is a nice way to prep them for the singing that is to come. You can also feel the vibration of your vocal cords, with your lips together, you should feel the vibrato.
Although we try to avoid the hiss of an ‘s’ sound when we are recording with a mic because it causes plosives. Practicing hissing can be a good way to develop better breath control. You can hiss violently expelling all your air or you can draw it out very slowly. With your teeth together there is a tighter space for air to escape, you can learn to ‘eek it out’ and lengthen how long you can sing a note for.
The note you sing relies on your vocal cords opening and closing and the amount of control you have over the process. Releasing as little air as you can let out a creaky sound for as long as possible. Like the exercise above, this will help improve your airflow control for holding a note but it also keeps your vocal cords in a ‘closure’ position.
Press your lips together loosely, you want air to escape through them rather than your nose. You can hold your nose if you can’t get it to work, you want to hum but project the sound through the lip. Don’t make a buzz with a ‘z’ sound like the name implies.
With your teeth together the jaw should be relaxed. You can play with pitch. You may get very tingly or tickly. You can counter this every so often by blowing hard with very loose lips like a horse!
5. Siren Glides
Just as the name suggests, you want to try and imitate a siren here using an ‘oooo’ sound. You can start low and climb in pitch or vice versa. You can even start somewhere in the middle and pitch your voice above and below the note. Try different kinds of emergency service sirens.
If you have a piano you can pick a note and glide your voice up the octave. You don’t want to sing the notes individually but rather let your voice transition from one frequency to the next with no discernable motion.
You can focus the exhalation to your nose and practice moving the airflow from your mouth to your nose. You can also make this sound without any air expelled at all.
‘Aahs’ are probably the most important vowel sound that a vocalist can practice. The sound ‘aah’ projects further than a closed vowel sound such as ‘ee’ which relies on a different mouth shape. It also lifts your palette giving you a classical vocal tone.
Try singing ‘aah’ in a low vocal register to get long legato notes and then mix it up with some short ‘ah ah ah’ sequences. Make sure you use your diaphragm to stop and start the notes, not your throat.
You can practice the ‘aah’ sound with the solfege and arpeggio exercises further down this page. You can further amplify this sound by sticking your tongue out ever so slightly.
7. Ay & ee
To get your jaw and tongue working you can play with the sounds ‘ay’ and ‘ee’, try your best Spanish ‘aye aye aye’ versus some long ‘ee’ sounds. Transition smoothly between a long ‘aye-ee’, working the muscles below your chin. Notice how your palette moves. The ‘aye’ should be at a lower pitch to the ‘ee’ and you can transition between your lower and upper registers.
Try over-exaggerating the ‘Y’ sound to get explore the nasal tones. You will probably want to learn to soften for a better vocal tone.
8. Oooh Waahs
Going from a closed ‘ooh’ to an ‘ahh’ sound widens your vowel sound. You can do this in a similar fashion to the siren exercise and change pitch chromatically if you like or stick with the same note for each.
Try to keep the resonance the same throughout and give each sound equal portions of breath. You will transition through registers and learn to control your projection.
Your vowel sounds help with tone sculpting, projection, and breath control but your consonants are what give you the diction you need to make the lyrics of a song heard.
There are also some specific consonant sounds that can help you become aware of motions you might not be consciously aware of. So in addition to practicing all of your vowel sounds you need to practice consonants.
One way to do the two together is to sing the sounds that each vowel letter makes. Don’t say the name of the letter, ex. A=’ahh’, not ‘ay.’
Then you can practice each vowel sound with each consonant of the alphabet. Starting with ‘B’ ex. ’Bah Beh Bee Bo Boo’
You can double or treble each one up to get your lips moving and your diaphragm working.
Playing with vowel sounds helps you learn about tonality. There is a difference between singing the word baby for example. It can be said like ‘babee’ or ‘baybay’. It depends on what you are going for.
But some sounds close the throat or tail off too quickly. If you have to hold the word ‘Thunder’ for example in Les Miserables ‘I Dreamed a Dream’… ‘Thun-der’ can close the word whereas ‘thund-aah’ is a better shape for the tone, you can round it off later in the note.
The G’s are particularly important, they give your larynx a workout. The L’s will get your tongue flickering, and the M’s are a great facial wake-up. Of the consonant sounds, these are some of the most important sounds to practice. So if you don’t want to run through the entire alphabet see some of the vocal warm-up exercises below.
As described above, pick a monotone and start low singing ‘mah-may-me-mo-moo’ slowly.
Exaggerate the M’s and try to get through the vowel sounds with one breath. You can branch out from this monotone exercise by singing half a major scale or even a pentatonic, there are 5 sounds after all.
Notice how each vowel sound produces a different overtone in your mouth, this is key to getting the tone you want to reproduce.
10. Baby babble ‘G’
Glottal stops are something you want to avoid with singing, notes should be stopped with your diaphragm. Many singers are guilty of beginning a high note with a glottal movement. To know what a glottal sound is it is a good idea to practice glottal stops, just to know what to avoid.
An example of a glottal stop for those who don’t know would be when you swallow a ‘T’ in a word for example the words ‘bottle or water.’ First, try to say them without the ‘T’ in the middle and pay attention to your vocal cords closing. This is the action you want to avoid.
Instead, you want to practice your ‘G’ sound and baby sounds like ‘goo-goo’ ‘gah-gah.’
Much in the same way your hard ‘C/K’ sounds are important to pay attention to. We have two sounds because they are actually vocalized differently, whether or not you have paid attention before.
The hard ‘C’ is produced with your tongue in a cupped position it is made inside of your mouth. The hard ‘K’ is made further back and uses your vocal cords more.
Singing ‘cuckoo’ with an emphasis on the ‘coo’ is good for working your higher vocal register.
12. Words Ending with ‘NG’ & ‘NYaw’ sounds
The ‘NG’ sound requires the soft palate and tongue to work together providing backpressure. The motion can also be used to bridge between the upper and lower registers. Try slowing the transition between the ‘N’ and ‘G’ down.
‘Nyaw’ is also another sound that works for the same muscle groups. You can make airplane sounds. It brings the sound out of your nose and to your mouth.
Traditional Vocal Warm-Ups
Alright, we get it some of the above sounds are going to leave you feeling pretty awkward even if you do find a private place to practice. So here are some traditional vocal warm-up exercises.
13. Solfege Practice
Preferably with a piano or other tuned instrument, sing your major scale. You may be familiar with it from The Sound of Music. You can sing as the Trapp family did ‘Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do’ or use any of the vowel sounds we have already discussed. You might prefer singing ‘ah,’ ‘bah,’ ‘la,’ or ‘me’ for the whole thing.
Start on a comfortable note and match each note. Practice this as staccato notes separating each one with a diaphragm movement as well as with a smooth seamless transition with one held note.
14. Chromatic Scales
As with the major scale above, you might want to explore other scales eventually if you have some understanding. The blues scale is particularly useful for popular music and sped up can help you achieve some vocal acrobats in the style of Christina Aguilera. But, chromatic scales are a simple scale for anyone with no music theory knowledge. They also warm your voice up really well.
The ‘Do-Re-Mi’ mentioned above skips notes. A chromatic-scale sings all the notes between them as well. If you sit at a piano play every single key black and white consecutively. If you have a guitar, play every single fret matching the notes.
Arpeggios are a great vocal warm-up, there are many types as they are break downs of chords but the most recognizable would be to sing the 1st, 3rd, 5th (triad), and 12th notes of a major chord. To refer to the ‘Do-Re-Mi’ method listed above, you would be singing ‘Do-Mi-So-Do-So-Mi-Do’ from a middle C.
Classical singers often sing Bella Signora ‘be-la-sign-o-o-o-ra’
Start on one note and take the whole thing up a step when you finish each sequence.
16. Octave jumps
One last vocal warm-up to help prepare your voice for notes with a larger distance is an octave jump. Essentially you are jumping from a C1 to a C2 for example.
Try to get the transition as smooth as possible and it helps with jumping from your chest to head register. To stick to the ‘Do-Re-Mi’ example it would be a low ‘Do’ to the final ‘Do.’
As you will have seen from the last few vocal warm-ups and exercises, whether you want to learn it or not, a little music theory alongside your pursuits will help and it is good to have a tuned instrument to hand to practice with to make sure your pitch is on point.
Fortunately, there are virtual pianos that you can download onto your mobile devices to help with this. If you want to improve as a vocalist then the singing exercises laid out here will help you with your journey!