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5 Essential Vocal Warm-ups

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

Voice Student with Teacher at the Piano

Warming up...and cooling down are essential for a good workout. These activities prepare your body for intense exercise and minimize stress on your heart. They also decrease the possible muscle pain and stiffness associated with exercise. Additionally, stretching allows for an increased range of motion and eases stress on the joints and tendons. As a runner warms up before a race, we must warm up before singing.

Runner stretching
As a runner warms up before a race, we must warm up before singing.

Warming up before any workout or sport is critical for preventing injury and prepping your body.” –Johnny Lee, M.D (1)

In singing, the body is our instrument. Just as guitarists must tune their strings, or cellists need to adjust their bows before performing, singers need to prepare their instrument, their body, to sound their best and maintain longevity. Singing is a strenuous activity. In fact, according to, a 150 lb. person burns about 100 calories per hour by singing. If that person is standing it goes up to 140 calories per hour! And, that goes up even more if you are moving or dancing on stage while singing! In 1986, The American Journal of Nursing reported that opera singers had stronger chest wall muscles, better pumping hearts, and were able to maintain their lung capacity until later in life than non-singers (2).

How to Warm Up

These are some suggestions of ways you can prepare your voice and body before singing. This should take you about eight to 15 minutes, depending on how long of a practice session you've planned on. Make an effort to do a little of each types of exercise. Your teacher will give you some "go-to's" that are great tools to have in your musical toolbox.

1. Physical exercise – Get moving! A few minutes of light calisthenics and stretches are a great way to start a warm up.

Exercise is important to keep the heart pumping and the lungs taking in fresh air. In general, walking, swimming, and cycling are great options for physical wellness for singers. Mindfulness practice, including yoga and tai chi, are also beneficial (3). Avoid any exercise that encourages shallow breathing. While daily exercise is encouraged, take at least an hour break between strenuous exercise and singing, and take the day off from high-intensity activity on a day of a performance. If you have not exercised earlier in the day before singing, it is helpful to spend a few minutes doing light stretches and/or calisthenics before singing. Examples include: bending over like a rag doll and stretching your hands to the floor, massaging your jaw with your hands, or rolling your shoulders back to release tension.

2. Breathing exercises – Take a Deep Breath!

Diaphragmatic breathing; The green represents the diaphragm.

We sing with our breath. It carries the tune from our imagination to the world; it supports us. This is why it is called "breath support." Keeping the shoulder lowered from the ears and filling the lungs with air are crucial to getting the best breath support possible. The word "inspiration" comes from the Latin word, spiritus, meaning breathing or spirit. To have an "inspired" performance, starts with solid breath support.