Just like you would warm-up your muscles before exercise, you should always warm-up your vocal chords before singing! Stretching and relaxing your vocal chords will ensure a healthier voice, and when put into a good routine, will increase your vocal range and abilities. We are going to share with you a few breathing exercises and vocal warm-ups that you can start using to take your voice to the next level!
Exhale on a Hiss
A widespread (and very impactful) breathing exercise is one in which you will inhale for a specified amount of time, and then exhale on a hiss or “sss” sound. Find a metronome, or download a metronome app, and set it to 80 bpm in 4/4 time. Next, practice different amounts of time inhaling an exhaling. Remember that as you inhale, you should be breathing from your diaphragm, not your neck and shoulders. You can use this chart as a guide to get yourself started:
|4 Counts||4 Counts|
|4 Counts||8 Counts|
|4 Counts||12 Counts|
|4 Counts||16 Counts|
|2 Counts||4 Counts|
|2 Counts||8 Counts|
|2 Counts||12 Counts|
|2 Counts||16 Counts|
|1 Count||4 Counts|
|1 Count||8 Counts|
|1 Count||12 Counts|
|1 Count||16 Counts|
Challenge yourself with this exercise and time how long you can exhale on a hiss before you run out of breath! Just make sure that you give yourself time in between each inhale so that you don’t get lightheaded.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped, muscular and membranous structure that separates the chest and abdominal cavities in mammals; it is the principal muscle of respiration.
The Straw Technique
Another excellent breathing exercise is exhaling or humming a tune through a straw. When your breath is concentrated through the straw, you are solely focusing on breath support since your face and body will be remaining still. You can follow the same format as the “hiss” exercise, or you can hum the song(s) you are working on through the straw. You can inhale through the straw, or you can inhale outside of the straw if you feel lightheaded. Next, use your exhaled breath to carry your hum through the straw. Try and hum an entire song–it’s harder than it looks!
Make sure you are not biting down on the straw, but gently placing it between your lips so that all of the air you exhale is exiting throug the straw.
Lay on Your Back
Laying on your back is another useful breathing exercise because it forces you to breathe with your diaphragm. Try singing through one of your voice pieces while you are laying on your back and place your hands on your stomach. Each time you inhale, you should feel your stomach expand, and your diaphragm move up.
One of the gentlest ways to start warming your voice up is with a hum. We recommend starting with some major pentascales and going up by a half step as high as you comfortably can.
Repeat the process, this time going down by a half step as low as comfortably possible.
You can also hum minor pentascales, arpeggios, octaves, etc. Just hum until your vocal cords start to feel warm and ready!
Take a breath, and send the breath between your lips and let them vibrate. Make sure your lips are relaxed, and you will find yourself doing a lip trill! When it comes to using lip trills for a vocal warm-up, you will want to take it a step further and add pitch to your trill, so that you are essentially “singing” via lip trills.
Lip trills are very beneficial as a vocal warm-up for several reasons:
- They help relax your lips so that you can deliver clearer diction and vowel sounds
- They take the pressure off of your vocal cords during warm-up
- They warm up your diaphragm and its surrounding muscles for better breath control and support
Try singing some pentascales or arpeggios through a lip trill, and for even more exercise, try singing through an entire piece on a lip trill.
Sirens, or “octave slides,” sound exactly like what their name suggests: sirens. To break it down, a siren means sliding on an “oh” or “oo” from your lowest comfortable note all the way up to your highest comfortable note, and back down again. This exercise can seem obnoxious and silly, but it’s incredibly effective. Sirens warm up the very highest and lowest parts of your registers while also connecting these registers. If you struggle with a smooth transition from your chest voice to your head voice, this is an excellent exercise for you!
Warming up by singing through your vowels is a great way to focus your tone and energy before you start singing through your repertoire. Sometimes when we are tired or distracted, our tone can close up without us recognizing it, so taking a few moments to consciously focus your tone will result in a much more efficient practice. You can start on any note and move up or down by a half step as you go. Sing through the vowels “ae-ee-ah-oh-oo” and do your best to connect each vowel, not breathing until you move up to the next note.
Arpeggios are not only effective as a vocal exercise but as an ear training exercise as well! The quicker you sing arpeggios, the more difficult it gets to hit the center of each pitch. As you sing, really focus on moving from one pitch to another with precision. You can sing arpeggios on a vowel sound such as “ah” or “oh,” “solfège,” or, you can add a phrase with the same number of syllables as there are notes. For example, try: “Mighty fine weather today.”
Solfège ladders are a lot of fun! You will start at do; then you will sing do-re-do, then do-re-mi-re-do, and so on, until you get to the next octave! Here is what it looks like all together:
This exercise causes you to focus on pitch and syllables at the same time, so it’s a great way to fire up your brain when you’re working on memorization. Start slow and work on increasing your speed.
Solfège ladders are also a lot of fun to sing in a round! Have one person start the exercise, and when they reach measure 3, have the next person start from the beginning. You can do this with as many people as you want! The more you have, the more difficult it is to hold your part!
If you aren’t familiar with solfège, check out our article: “Solfège: What Is It, And How Is It Used?”
Arpeggiate Alternating Major and Minor Triads
This exercise is definitely more difficult being that it’s an ear training exercise as well an intonation exercise. Start by arpeggiating a major triad, go up a half step, and then arpeggiate a minor triad, go up a half step, and repeat the process. You can do this on any vowel sound, solfège, or phrase.
HA-HA-HA (Great for chest voice)
The last exercise we are going to show you is a lot of fun! This exercise is perfect for singers looking to strengthen their chest voice or increase their chest voice range. It’s simple–all you have to do is sing “ha” on each note of a descending pentascale.
The trick is to allow for space between each note so that your emphasis is strong on each pitch. Think of these notes as staccato as well as accented. Sing these notes in your chest voice and push yourself to increase your range each time!
We hope these vocal warm-ups and breathing exercises were helpful to you and inspired you to start warming your voice up with a purpose! As always, make sure you are taking care of your voice, and if you’re in need of a remedy, check out our article: “Vocal Remedies: 5 Best Products for Singers.”