How The Pros Warm Up Their Voice Before a Show

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Being a musician is a lot like being an athlete.

There’s gear to take care of and there’s physical skill and conditioning you need to be able to perform your best. This takes maintenance and practice, and when it comes game time, the pros don’t just show up half-drunk five minutes before face-off and skate out to knock heads (unless you’re ’70s hockey player or rock star).

Pro singers, especially, all know how important vocal warmups are to ensure a solid performance and protect their instruments. Here are some of the top techniques pros use to warm up before a show.

Lip Bubbles (a.k.a. Trills)

Possibly the number one initial warm-up. You can find footage of singers from Charlie Puth to Celine Dion to Mariah Carey to Ariana Grande doing lip trills before shows or sessions. Lip trills are easy to do — just close your lips but leave them relaxed and push air and sound, vibrating your lips like a big baby. “Brrrbbbrrrbbbb”.

You can start with soundless blubber faces to relax your lips, then move to notes. Start low and move high in a gentle sweep, then come back down. Or, do like I do and trill the national anthem in three different keys!

Celine Dion once somehow wowed the crowd on Ellen by demonstrating these.

Tongue Trills

Tongue trills sound very similar to lip trills, but they’re done with the tongue instead. It’s simple — just “roll the r” as in “Burro” or “Ruffles have ridges.” Do this with high to low sweeps or even simple melodies. You can even start other exercises off with a short tongue trill. “Rrrrrubber baby buggy bumpers…”

+ Read more on Flypaper: “The Anxious Aspiring Vocalist: How to Get a Grip on Singing-Related Insecurities.”

Tongue Twisters

Speaking of rubber baby buggy bumpers, tongue twisters are another great vocal warmup that you can do early in the routine. Not all pros use tongue twisters, but they’re great for improving diction and a must for rappers. You can do them just talking and nice and relaxed, but once you get warm, you can start adding pitch and singy timbre to them.

Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • Red leather, yellow leather
  • She brewed a perfect cup of coffee in a copper coffee pot
  • She sold sea shells down by the seashore
  • You know New York, unique New York, you know you need unique New York
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
  • Rubber baby buggy bumpers bumping

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Kiefer: Keys, Chords, and Beats

Siren Exercise

The basic siren exercise is also simple. Start with an “ooh” sound and simply sweep up from low to high and back down, basically sounding like an ambulance siren. You can add in a crescendo as you rise too, and even vary the vowel.

Stay relaxed and don’t strain to go too high. Like any dynamic stretch an athlete would do, the point isn’t to effort yourself to a wider range, but to gradually get wider and higher as your voice relaxes and opens.

Vowel Work

Opening up the mouth and throat with exaggerated vowels is great for stretching the jaw, loosening the whole mechanism, and gaining control. You can elongate each vowel in a speaking register, add notes, and do scales. Ariana Grande has been known to do a vowel drill that goes “waaaaazy waaaazy waaaazy, woozy woooozy woozy” and so on.

Celine Dion does a drill that includes staccato vowel scales followed by legato vowel scales followed finally by mixed elongated vowel scales with stops. See what I mean on this interview she did with Larry King.

Breathing and General Physical Warm Up

Some singers do this and some don’t, but it can be really helpful to get yourself moving in a general sense first. Get a short jog in, do some dynamic stretching (especially with your core, shoulders, neck, and jaw), do some yoga, and try some breathing exercises like breath holds and purse-lipped breathing.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “12 Creative Vocal Effects for Bedroom Pop Production.”

Whatever You Do, Do It

Every pro has their own way of going about warming up and finding the most effective warmup for you may take some experimenting. The main point is don’t neglect warmups and make a point of doing warmups and exercises daily.

If you’re just getting started these exercises should give you a good start.

Meanwhile, if you’re serious about your voice, keep learning and find a great coach to help you find the next level. Your warmups may evolve, but as long as you’re doing them, your shows will be better for it!

Don’t stop here!

Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Ryan Lott, Com TruiseJlinKiefer, RJD2, and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production.

RJD2: From Samples to Songs

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