Choose the right warm-up – 5 Tips

Side view of human head and a "sunburst" around the larynx depicting a warm-up for your voiceChoose the right warm-up

Here’s another article we wrote a couple of years ago for the Voice Council Magazine. This one’s on vocal warm-up techniques and advice.

A new client told us the other day that when she did a YouTube warm-up, her voice was as tired as if she’d been doing a 2-hour gig. That’s not what a warm-up is about! -says Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.

The goal of a warm-up is to get you ready to work with your voice, not to launch into a complete voice workout. You want to increase blood flow to your vocal muscles to maximise their potential. The muscles are then primed to contract (for lower notes and power sounds) and be stretched for high notes and crossing the gear changes.

Here are our 5 top tips for warming up along with the goals for each one. Overall these should take you 10-12 minutes to complete.

1. ‘Hello Body’

Do some simple stretches or bends – nothing aerobic and no weights – a couple of yoga moves would work well, some Quigong (chi kung) moves, or simple Pilates stretches.

The voice is housed in the body – if you are physically tense or over-tired it’s likely to impact on your voice

WHY? The voice is housed in the body – if you are physically tense or over-tired it’s likely to impact on your voice.

2. Breath-Voicing Check-In

Using an FF sound puff out a little air – think of a sighing out action – nothing heavy duty. Do it again but make it a little longer and let the FF morph into a VV. Do the FF-VV routine for a couple of rounds on a comfortably low pitch in your voice. If your voice feels in good shape so far, go on to Step 3 Option 1: Moving your voice.

If your voice feels tired, then do 1-minute bursts of FF-VV 3 times with a rest period in-between and check your hydration. Then go on to Step 3 Option 2: The straw for tired or croaky voice.

WHY? This gets your vocal folds vibrating gently. This exercise helps you check in to the breath-voicing relationship, known as ‘phonation threshold pressure’.

3. Movement-Voicing Check-In

Option 1: Moving Your Voice

Make a “mm-Hm” sound just as you would if you were agreeing with your friend on the phone. Think ‘smiling inside’ as if your friend said something slightly funny. You’ll make a small pitch glide when you do this (covering a few notes in your range). Repeat the sounds so that you extend your pitch-glide until you are able to go the lowest note in your comfort zone, and the highest. Keep the volume small, this is not about powering through you range.

WHY? This sequence allows you start working your vocal range from where you are today.

When you’re happy with this go on to step 4: Finding the spaces inside the voice

Option 2: The Straw For Tired or Croaky Voices

Voice Council Staff writer Kathy Alexander has already written about the value of using a straw to rebalance your voice if it is tired.
Hum down a straw into a glass or bottle of water. Start with short bursts of sound then build to pitch glides. Pay attention to the size of the bubbles: splashing means you are working too hard so aim for a consistent, gentle flow of bubbles.

WHY? This exercise (called the semi-occluded vocal tract, or S.O.V.T.) with water creates an extra ‘back-pressure’ useful for singing in commercial styles, without pushing your voice.

Hum down a straw into a glass or bottle of water. Start with short bursts of sound then build to pitch glides

4. Finding The Spaces Inside The Voice

Put your right forefinger in your mouth between your teeth, just right of centre. Make these sounds:
Change hands and repeat with your left forefinger just left to centre of your mouth.

Starting on a comfortable note and working up and down, sing these pairs of sounds:
Make sure you cover the range of notes for today’s songs.

WHY? The first part makes your tongue and soft palate move independently of your jaw, getting you ready for singing words; the vowels in the 2nd part of the exercises are a quick-fire way for you to balance and optimize resonating space inside the mouth so that you don’t push the sound out in performance

5. The Finisher

Using a phrase from one of the songs you plan to work on or perform today. Choose a phrase that sits in your mid-range and sing it with the lyrics. Repeat the phrase moving higher or lower by step to work your vocal range.

WHY? This embeds your warm-up by using ‘real world’ song material.

These top warm-up tools help you keep your voice in shape every day.

Find our more about our warm-up exercises in our One-Minute Voice Warmup app here

or our book This Is A Voice: 99 exercises to train, project and harness the power of your voice here (new paperback edition by the Wellcome Trust out now)

Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher are eminent educators who run ‘Vocal Process’, a multi-genre and multi-media practice.
Gillyanne has a doctorate in female voice research and authored the bestselling book ‘Singing and the Actor’. Jeremy’s work has been commissioned by London’s Science Museum and after winning a national piano competition, represented Yamaha as a guest artist.