Improving your vocal ability requires the same level of practice and dedication that developing your skills on an instrument does.
Natural talent certainly plays a big factor in a vocalist’s ability. But with consistent practice, anyone can learn to enhance the tone, pitch, and competence of their singing voice.
This guide includes 6 vocal exercises for singers to incorporate into their practice and warm-up routines. These exercises aim to help you to maximize the potential of your vocal ability, and to enjoy the process as much as possible.
Table of Contents
Why Warming Up Is So Important
The best way to illustrate the importance of warming up your voice is by using the analogy of an athlete. When a long-distance runner begins a race, they go through a strict routine, easing each of their muscle groups into strenuous activity.
If the athlete skipped their warm-up and went full-throttle into a race, they would be likely to get injured, and at the very least, their performance would be compromised due to their muscles being unprepared.
For vocalists, warming up is equally as important. When you sing, your vocal cords, throat muscles, facial muscles, and of course your diaphragm are all engaged. These parts of the body need to be warmed up, just like the runner must warm up their thigh and calf muscles.
The main benefit of warming up your voice is that it gently stretches your vocal cords, and clears your throat. When done properly, each part of your body is gradually eased into singing, which prevents injury and preserves your voice in the long term.
Warming up is not solely a protective measure, though. When done consistently, it also helps you to become more aware of your vocal ability and causes improvements to aspects such as your pitch, timbre, and breath control.
The first three exercises in the following list are focused on warming up your voice, then we’ll get into some methods for developing it further.
1 – Lip Rolls (Trills)
The first exercise in a vocal warm-up routine must be gentle on the vocal cords and surrounding muscles. The goal of this exercise is to engage the vocal cords without causing any strain, easing your voice into action.
Lip rolls are very simple. All that you need to do, is gentle close your lips, and blow air out of them so that your top and bottom lips quickly come into contact. At first, you should push out the air without using your voice at all.
Start by inhaling for three counts, gradually lifting your shoulders as you breathe in. Then, rather than forcing the air back out, simply allow your shoulders to relax and fall back to their natural position while using the lip roll technique to exhale.
Repeat this exercise ten times without using your voice at all. Focus on synchronizing the movement of lifting your shoulders with the inhale, and allowing them to relax as you exhale while lip rolling.
After completing the first phase of this exercise, now you can being to engage your vocal cords and muscles. Again, inhale for three counts, but this time there’s no need to move your shoulders.
By now, your upper body should be relaxed enough to support your vocal cords. Therefore, you can focus on warming up your voice. When you reach the top of your inhale, producing a comfortable note that is in the lower register of your vocal range.
As you exhale using the lip roll technique, ascend from that note, until you reach the higher registers of your range. Ensure that you maintain the lip roll, as this protects your voice while it is being warmed up.
After ascending from a low note to a high note for 5 rounds, repeat the exercise, this time, beginning your exhale at a high-pitched note, and lip-rolling down into your lower register.
This exercise may look and sound a little strange to a passerby or an unprepared housemate. However, it’s by far the most effective way to begin a vocal warm-up routine!
2 – Scales and Sounds
The second vocal exercise for warming up your voice requires you to have access to an instrument, or at least a device that can generate musical notes. There’s plenty of free note generators online that will work just fine if you don’t have a piano or guitar to hand.
Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of musical scales. This exercise will help you to develop your knowledge of scales, but it’s not necessary to have any experience before you attempt it.
The first thing you need to do is use your instrument or note generator to find a note that sits comfortably in the middle of your vocal range. Singing this note should not cause you to strain, belt, or push out the air. It should feel relatively effortless to sing as your speaking voice does.
Once you’ve found a note that you’re comfortable with, write it down. For example, if it is the 4th A on the piano, write down A4. This will help you to monitor your progress and vocal range as you repeat the exercises.
If you understand the major pentatonic scale, you can take the note you’ve chosen and use that as the root for the scale. So for A4, you would use the A major pentatonic scale starting from that note.
For singers who have no prior knowledge of scales, you can simply search for the scale online, and you will be presented with several videos and audio tracks that play it through your speakers.
Now that you’ve found the scale, you’re going to begin by singing it over and over whilst keeping your lips tightly shut. All of the air should be coming out of your nose, and this will evoke the sound of “mm”.
“Mm” is one of the safest sounds to use at the start of your vocal warm-up routine. It reduces tension on the vocal cords and is dynamically consistent, so there are no sudden spikes in effort or dynamics.
Ascend and descend through your chosen major pentatonic scale a handful of times. Then, repeat the exercise using the following sounds: “ah”, “oo”, “ya”, “oh”, and “ee”.
As you move through this exercise, you can also move up the scales. So for example, if you started by singing the A major pentatonic scale, you can move up a semitone each round, to B flat major pentatonic, B major pentatonic, C major pentatonic, and so on.
Be careful not to push your voice too much at the stage. When you reach a note that requires more effort to sing, begin the exercise again, and don’t attempt to belt out any high notes for the time being.
3 – Sustaining the Notes
The final singing exercise for warming up your voice before you move on to the exercises designed to improve your vocal ability requires you to sustain the notes for longer. Up until now, each note should have been held for a short time to prepare your voice for this exercise.
Using the same scale that you chose for the previous exercise, you’re going to sing each note for the full length of your exhale. Start by inhaling until your lungs are full of air.
Then, as you release the air, sing the root note of the scale. You can use any of the aforementioned sounds to do this. “Ah” is a particularly easy one to start with.
Focusing on sustaining the note for the full duration of your exhale. Once you have a little air left in your lungs, inhale again, and then repeat the exercise, this time singing the second note in your chosen major pentatonic scale.
Repeat this until you have ascended through the scale, then take a short break and go back to your natural breathing pattern. Then move onto the next scale, and go through the exercise again.
When you sustain the notes on your exhale, be sure to keep your voice soft. The aim of this exercise is not to sing loudly or with power, but rather to sing at a consistent volume and tone.
This exercise is the perfect conclusion to your warm-up routine, as it also helps you to improve your tuning. The more you repeat it consistently, the better your ears will become at identifying correct notes and intervals in the scales.
4 – Triad Exercise
The triad exercise is designed to further develop your ability to sing in key. Again, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t had any experience with the concept of triads or chords before.
Using your instrument or note generator, find the major chord of the scale that you initially chose. Using A4 as an example, the major chord of this root note would consist of the following notes:
A major triad chord is made up of the 1st (root) note, the third, and the fifth notes in the scale. When you’ve found the correct notes, you’re going to singing them individually in an arpeggio.
This means that you move from the first to the third, to the fifth in one repeating pattern. When you reach the fifth, you go back to the third note, and then the first, and repeat it.
The main benefit of singing triads is that it develops your knowledge of intervals, and your ability to transition between notes. Many singers have no problems singing in tune when they are attempting a single note, but moving between several can throw their pitch-off.
You can repeat the triad exercise using any major or minor chord. Then, when this becomes easy, you can try more complex chords such as major 7ths, minor 7ths, or even diminished chords.
This exercise is equally as beneficial to your physical singing ability as it is to your theoretical knowledge and musical ear. It will help you to improvise vocal melodies if practiced consistently every day.
5 – Engaging the Diaphragm
In addition to tone, playability is the next most important aspect of a guitar. Both Gretsch and Epiphone produce highly playable guitars, but there are some significant differences between the two.
Firstly, many of Gretsch’s guitars are ¾ scale, length models. These guitars are popular amongst beginner musicians, as their fretboards are generally easier to navigate. This reduced size affects the playability and tonality.
Although they don’t use the same quality of materials as their Gibson counterparts, you can still expect to find high-quality tonewoods on the top-end Epiphone models.
Overall, Epiphone guitars are highly playable, but they don’t quite reach the heights of Gretsch’s top-end offerings. This is subjective, however, and based on my own experience with both manufacturer’s instruments.
6 – Expanding Vocal Range
It’s a common misconception that vocal range is a natural attribute that is very hard to improve through practice. Indeed, their physical structure of your vocal cords and muscles is a factor, but they can be strengthened using the right exercises.
Using your instrument or note generator as a reference, start with the lowest note on the piano and attempt to reproduce it. If you find this note to be too low for your range, move up sequentially until you find the lowest note you can sing.
Then, do the same at the top end of the piano. Without straining, identify the top note in your vocal range by gradually moving down until you locate it. Write down the lowest and highest notes that you were capable of singing.
As you perform your vocal exercises daily, repeat this processing of assessing your vocal range, writing down any changes. Over time, you’ll find that you’re able to sing lower and higher notes than you thought possible.
Stick at It!
The most important quality that you’ll need to see noticeable improvements in your signing ability is persistence. Simply performing these exercises once in a while won’t provide you with the benefits you’re looking for.
With consistent practice, you’ll notice remarkable improvements in a matter of weeks. All it takes is around 20-30 minutes of focus per day to help your voice reach its maximum potential!