You are here because you are looking for singing exercises. Good for you, some people will just give their best shot at the hardest song they know and hope for the best, without warming up, without working specifically on their technique - but not you!
You are in the right, my dear, and you have come to the right place. Here you will find not only warm-up exercises - with which you HAVE to start before you sing, but also exercises which help you develop your technique. You want more range? I got a sequence for you to try out. More volume? Join the club! I will help you out. And there is more.
A few general remarks: this article contains a few videos, one for each vocal ability you might want to improve on. I also have a separate article about breath support exercises, which pretty much completes the series of desired vocal skills we all crave.
When you start singing, don't just start singing! Like any athlete would tell you, do some warm up. What does that mean? Get your body ready for singing by starting out with minimal and vocally healthy exercises. Like athletes begin with warming up their muscles before they work out, run, what have you. Don't skip this step.
I also have another basic vocal warm-up of about 15 minutes.
1. Lip trills/rolled r's: short range
0:25 in the above video. If trilling your lips is difficult for you, go on rolled R, or a vocal consonant like v or z. If you do a z, I recommend that you perk your lips, as it helps open up the spaces inside. As this is a warm-up, we do the exercise on a very short range: 1-2-3-2-1. You're not expected to go all the way to the low and high notes that I do in the video. This warm up is for all voice types, so you should sing until you're not comfortable anymore.
2. Slides: 1-5-1
3:22 in the above video. Again we'll go on lip trills, but this time we will slide from low to high and back. Don't jump from one note to the other, but make a siren noise instead. I recommend going over this exercise a couple of times and also try it with NG: a nice sound to make siren noises on.
3. Woo woo woo
6:38 in the above video. We're just going woo woo woo woo woo on a short range: 1-2-3-2-1. While the W helps to get a momentum so that the start of the sound is nice and smooth: it prevents 'big beginnings' or attacks on the vocal cords. When you do the woo woo woo: look in the mirror and make sure your jaw drops on every single woo.
As we go up, I want to change the exercise a bit and go on woaw and extend the range: 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1.
4. Closing the vocal cords: u-oh and ngya
10:30 in the above video. The uh-oh exercise is here to help us close our vocal cords. To do it properly think minimal effort. Don't go big. First say the uh-oh and then do an exercise with it. When it's time to sing don't start "singing", don't think of making a singing sound. Instead, just say uh-oh on a certain pitch. Don't try to make it pretty. Another way to close your vocal cords AND have some twang in your voice (twang is a bright, almost squeaky quality which all good singers use), is by saying ngya. As you go up, make sure you don't make the first ng too long, or this will stop your airflow and add pressure.
4. Sing on Five Italian vowels A/E/I/O/U
15:08 in the above video. First say the 5 vowels legato (connected, without breaks). Then do that on the notes. When we go higher, we'll change the vowel order to I/E/A/O/U. the melody changes, too, check the video!
As you go up and down on the melody with these exercises, don't think about going up or down- even if the melody is! Think about going to the sides. Hold an imaginary rubber band and stretch it to the sides.
Before doing these range exercises, I recommend that you do a light vocal warm-up first, Like a smart dancer, you don't want to go directly to a split before doing some gradual and basic stretches. Your voice needs to be a little bit warmed up before we can expand our range.
1. Lip trill slides over a full octave
0:25 in the above video. If the lip trills are hard, you can also do a rolled R or use the NG, as in 'tongue'. First make a sound, without a certain pitch. Go from a low pitch area to high and back, with a slide. Don't jump up and down. Imagine a siren noise. We'll go a whole octave: 1-8-1. To prevent ourselves from tightening muscles in our throat in the upward motion of the slide, we can throw our hand back, as a nice trick for releasing the muscles.
2. Vowel i
5:48 in the above video. The vowel i is a good one to start on. If this is challenging you can try it on u, as in You. I recommend having a vertical opening of the mouth for the i, instead of most people's default which is to stretch the lips to the sides and barely open the mouth. Work with a mirror if you don't know how to do that yet. Think of opening the jaws in the back as I show in the video (also for the u).
3. Baby noises
8:44 in the above video. As you say the baby sound waaa, make sure you have nice lifted cheeks and a dropped jaw. I call it the bad-ass face. Your voice has a bit of squeakiness in it - that's the twang (the professional word for squeaky!) and it helps with closing the cords and keeping the clear, connected quality as we go lower and higher in the range.
4. Five Italian vowels: i / e / a / o / u
10:57 in the above video. The less you think about going up and down, the better. You can think sideways, or backwards. Just replace that up-and-down motion with a different direction (the more often the better, on every note is best), this way you will be able to go higher AND lower without straining.
If at some point during these range exercises, you feel like you're pushing, making an effort - if your throat hurts: STOP. You may go a step back and try again, do what you already know that can help you "fix it". But don't overdo it!
This set of exercises will get you more resonance to your voice: more power and volume.
1. The hand trap
0:06 in the above video. We'll try to trap the sound and the air, so to speak, in between our hands. Lay one hand on the upper part of the chest - just under your collar bone. Put the other hand on the back of your head, just under your skull. Make the NG sound, as in the end of the word tongue. Feel the vibrations on both your hands. The more you concentrate on those hands, the more resonances you'll be able to get. We won't 'send' the sound out, and we're not making a big sound. Just think about the sound staying between the hands.
If you need even more resonance, visualize the sound going into your mouth towards the neck hand, and then travelling down to your chest hand. This is of course a mind trick, it's not physically what happens. But it's effective.
An important thing to realize here is that the air and the sound in our voice play a zero sum game. The more airy your voice is, the less sound, or less resonance, you get. When we whisper, we barely produce sound. If you want a louder sound, you want to "extract" air. So here we are imagining we use almost no air. Thinking of the trap helps with that.
2. Speaky quality: yo yo yo
6:06 in the above video. You can keep your hands where they are in the trap position. They will help you. Say yo yo yo yo yo. Next say yo yo yo on the notes. Don't make a singing sound, make it ugly even. Hear (and feel) how that is louder?
As you go up, the sound might be weirder and weirder in your ears. The extreme version of the speaky voice is a squeaky voice. And we need that for the extra high and low notes. But don't worry about it, it's a tool to become louder and richer, eventually it won't sound squeaky or weird on the outside (and it probably already doesn't)
3. Trill to vowel
9:42 in the above video. Do a lip trill part and then repeat the sequence with a vowel. (again, if you can't do lip trills, replace them with the NG sound. When doing the lip trills, concentrate on where you feel the vibrations, and how much air you are using. Use that feeling when you're also saying the vowel. You might feel vibrations anywhere the air goes when we breathe, that's great.
4. Inhale on a vowel
14:16 in the above video. Another way to have more resonance is to make sure the spaces where the air goes are open. A really good way to do that is to feel where the air goes when you inhale. I like the exercise on a vowel, for example u. I create the u shape and breathe in with that shape of the mouth. When we sing on u, we visualize the sound going in the direction of where the air was.
This exercise turns on awareness of what is going on inside your body. That's new for some of us. If you need some time for this, take it. With time you'll be able to feel where all the parts of the respiratory system - which is your vocal instrument - are.
5. Backward motion (pointing with the thumb)
22:26 in the above video. In this exercise we'll combine what we worked on with the squeaky/speaky voice and the backwards motion. 'Thinking backward', whether you are speaking or singing, is very helpful. It makes you concentrate on the pharynx - which is your main resonance.
The gist: These two things
All the resonance exercises focus on opening up your spaces/resonances and then concentrating on those. You need both. It's not enough to just open the space and it's also not helpful to try and concentrate on the space, if it's not open.
Chest voice / belting exercises
If you wonder how to access more chest resonance, these exercises will help you out. If you're into pop and rock style singing, and you want to belt, that's basically taking that chesty quality up to the higher notes.
0:30 in the above video. First things first. The chest cavity: that's a space in which you want to feel vibrations. Mostly in the upper chest. Start by tapping there with a flat hand, or bang on it with your fist. Make noises - no loud noises - but feel the boom box you have there. Now we'll do the exercise bam bam bam 1-2-3-2-1 while tapping. Did you feel some relaxation happening in your neck/jaw/shoulders? That would be great, as it will give you more access to this resonance.
Not sure? Look in the mirror and do what I call chin-to-chest: make sure that your chin is not pointing forward, which would result in a crooked neck. The chin should be pointing towards the chest - but not the whole head! Just the chin.
As you go up, at a certain point your voice will want to change to a softer quality. If that happens, and you want to keep the chest quality, tap your chest and make sure you SAY bam-bam-bam on the note.
After doing this exercise a few times, you can also put your hand on your upper chest and feel the vibrations. That's one way to make sure it's working.
2. Speaky / squeaky voice
5:22 in the above video. Whenever you want more chest voice, make sure your voice has the quality of the speaking voice. That helps closing the vocal cords fully without tension, which gets you the chest voice quality.
Put your hand on the chest and just say 'Hi'. Make sure that you don't use too much air, don't try to exhale too much. Do the chin-to-chest also here, to get more access to the chest.
Now the exercise: hi hi hi, 1-3-1. Just speak and put it on the notes. INSIST on the speaking voice.
3. The Taylor Swift exercise
10:34 in the above video. For belting / chest voice I like what Taylor Swift did in a video I saw on YouTube (below). My version is a bit simpler, so it's more accessible. We open our mouth and put on our badass face: dropped jaw and lifted cheeks. And we will say: aah aah aah. We're looking for a tiny aah aah aah. Put that small sound in a big space. The end result will probably be a big sound, but don't MAKE it a big sound.
Ah ah ah nya nya nyaa ah aah...
Check out Taylor Swifts warm-up below. It starts with the exercise we just discussed. Watch her badass face, and watch her release the muscles and jaw every single time. It's all really squeaky, and can get her to very high notes! I think that's super cool.
Especially if you go higher, you have to keep reminding yourself to keep speaking on the notes. It might feel weird in the high register. We're not used to speaking on high pitches. But as long as your throat doesn't hurt, you're fine.
Tip as you go up: think about your sound being uglier and uglier. As we sing, we often try to make our sound pretty. We add air and muscle tension to it. Instead, imagine an ugly voice, which will help closing the vocal cords, and use less effort.
Head voice exercises
These fun exercises will make you aware of the vibrations in your head, thereby making your head voice richer.
What we call the head resonance or head voice is sound which resonates in our pharynx and nasal cavity.
1. Sighing and humming
00:34 in the above video. You can feel head resonance by putting one hand right under your skull in the back of your neck. (We also did this with the hand trap in the resonance exercises). Start with humming, and see if you feel vibrations there. Make sure you relax your muscles, make it a bit like a sigh. If you feel your sound is too airy (you can tell if you quickly run out of air, or if it sound airy in recordings), try not to exhale too much. You can also put your fingers under your cheek bones and feel the vibrations there.
Next step: sigh and hum on an exercise, for example mm mm mm mm mm (1-2-3-2-1). 2:49 in the above video. Make sure you sigh. By the way, you can have this head voice quality, this 'sighy' quality, also in the low notes.
Personally, as I go higher, I need to close my vocal cords a bit better, and will get a bit more speaky voice. You can experiment and see how that goes for you.
2. About to sneeze/yawn
6:28 in the above video. Try with me: make a sound as if you are about to sneeze. That will get you a head voice that is a bit richer: the sound right before you would sneeze. We will make that sound on 'hoaw' (3-2-1).
Play around with the amount of air and pay attention to what that does to your throat. Different people can tolerate more or less air going through their vocal cords. I don't like it, personally. But some might not mind it so much. In the long run, I wouldn't recommend being in your head voice all the time.
3. Owl noises
10:55 in the above video. Slide from bottom to top and back. We're looking for an almost spooky voice. Some people think of a ghost, which is a slightly different sound, but same principle. it gets you more head voice. It will also help you go to the low notes with that quality.
Experiment and see what helps you more: the ghost or the owl.
4. The yoga teacher voice
13:37 in the above video. To have a direct access to the head voice when you're singing a song. Your sound should always be clear and exist in the resonances and not be 'sent out'. When singing in head voice, the sound can sometimes be a bit too dark and unclear. My tip to make people still understand you while using head voice, is to use the yoga teacher voice. Talk like you're calming someone down. First say the words in the yoga teacher voice, then put it on the notes.
We are not looking for a powerful sound: that would be the chest voice. We're looking for something that is quite soft. Also, it doesn't need to be very airy, it will be more so than chest voice, but it is your artistic choice how airy to make it.
speaking about vocal exercises...
What you get on this page is a toolbox. Having a toolbox is one thing, becoming a carpenter another. For systematic and lasting improvement you need a system and guidance. So...
Mixed voice exercises
If you've worked on your head voice and chest voice, you may want to mix them. Different styles of singing have different mixes. Musical theater's mix is more chest dominant, baroque is more head dominant, opera singing a lot of both.
In the below tutorial we'll feel how it is to have both qualities at the same time.
1. 'Mrs. Bennet'
1:07 in the above video. Mrs. Bennet from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice series is one of my favorites. Her voice is one of the best things about her, and it so happens to be a very nice head+chest mix! So if you just have a listen for a few times and try to talk like her - your on the right track.
If you're not used to the exercise I gave in the video, you might experience cracks in your voice. That's perfectly ok. Your vocal cords will get used to it and it will smooth out. So don't stop if that happens: only stop if you have discomfort in your throat.
What I like the most about this character is her sob, and that's actually a voice exercise in itself. A sob or cry is a very good mixed voice.
5:59 in the above video. In yodeling, you flip between a very chest dominated sound to an almost exclusively head voice. Start with an ugly, speaky voice. Then, make a 'heady', spooky voice. That can be on a higher pitch. Then flip between them. Have fun with it. We'll do it on an exercise: a whole octave jump.
Experiment with this
When you get the hang of the yodeling, you will feel the difference in your throat between head and chest. Knowing how this feels, the next step is to 'add' a bit of that head voice resonance to the chesty sound you made before. The high note will sound very different than before. Don't be afraid to experiment with this, to sound weird.
Vocal cord exercises
When we can properly close the vocal cords, that gives us real control over our voice, not that false sense of control that often beginners try to achieve by using throat and jaw muscles.
Closing the vocal cords: compare it to a balloon that you let air escape through. The opening has to be tight enough to produce a real sound. Closing your vocal cords only a little bit, will give you an airy, whispery sound. Closing them fully (without totally shutting them of course) will give you a rich and loud sound. Another benefit of the vocal cords closing is that you can sing beautiful long phrases. The vocal cords are a gate that keeps the air from escaping too fast.
These exercises are about fully closing your vocal cords. That doesn't mean you can't play around with different degrees of vocal cord closure in your singing, as long as you can go back to basics.
1. Exhale and stop the air
5:03 in the above video. This is a way to make the mechanism of closing the vocal cords active and conscious. Breathe out, breathe in, then exhale a tiny bit and STOP. Make a small sound like 'he'. Don't give me a HUUH! Keep it small. We don't want to put pressure on our vocal cords.
Next part of the exercise. After closing the vocal cords in this way, start talking (without an additional breath) while pretending you're not breathing out. Of course, in order to make a sound, some air has to come through - but pretend that you're not!
Pro tip: you can replace this speaking with any kind of vocal exercise. In the video above I do the 5 Italian vowels.
2. 'Uh-oh' on the notes
11:35 in the above video. A nice way to practice the vocal cords closing real fast and 'small', is the 'uh-oh' sound. We will then say 'uh-oh' on the note: 'uh-oh' 'uh-oh' 'uh-oh' (3-2-1). Don't try to sing, really say it. If you feel a big pushy HUUGH, then think about a smaller sound. Thinking of a naive child helps: uh-oh...
3. Twang / squeaky voice
14:53 in the above video. I really like this one for closing the vocal cords. I use it in every warm-up. Every time I need more volume, more range, it's just good overall.
We will do the magic ngya. So the NG and then the YA, but short after one another. Really simple, on the notes: 5-4-3-2-1. Put on your bad-ass-face: cheeks up, jaw down. Higher notes will feel much easier when you do them on the NGYA.
4. Robot voice
18:22 in the above video. The first step of the robot voice exercise is about closing the vocal cords immediately after starting each syllable. You're barely letting any air out in this staccato, 1980's robot way of speaking. See 20.03 in the above video. Say a phrase from a song you want to sing in the robot way. The next step is to do it on the notes, and pretend that you are not using extra air (even if you are!).
Pay close attention to what it feels like, the vocal cord closure. It should feel minimal, like not making an effort. If you feel a big pushy HUUGH, then visualize a smaller sound.
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About the author
I'm an opera singer and (online) voice teacher, based in Amsterdam. It took me more than a decade to overcome my share of mental and physical issues and reach a professional level as a singer. Because of this background, and my 10+ years of teaching experience, I believe I can speed up your learning curve as a singer.