While a vocal warm-up is always a good idea before a rehearsal, gig, or recording session, it doesn’t have to only include scales and vocal exercises.
Let’s face it, you might not always have access to a fantastic vocal warm-up. You may be on your way to a gig, your battery may be dying on your phone, or you may not have chosen your favorite vocal warm-up routine yet.
And even though we all know it’s best to do a vocal warm-up with vocal exercises to improve your singing voice, many singers, and even many voice teachers, may not know that you can use songs to warm up your voice before a performance.
3 Steps to Go From Shower to Stage
Join Matt Ramsey for his free workshop, 3 Steps to Go From Shower to Stage, on Saturday, October 30, 2021 at 10:00 AM (Central Time).
Using songs as a vocal warm-up
Now, there are several benefits to using songs to help warm up your voice. All vocal warm-ups are going to thin out mucus secretions that hang out on your vocal chords and they’re going to increase blood flow to your vocal cord tissue and help you sing better.
Warming up your voice is also going to help you eliminate the breaks and the strain that come when you try to sing something totally cold.
And finally, singing songs, and lyrics especially, help warm up the resonators and articulators in your voice that are responsible for enunciation, registration — being able to sing from your lower registers up to your higher vocal registers — and can even help you remember lyrics better.
My advice is to break this warm-up into three different parts — which means you’ll be choosing three different songs to warm up your voice before a performance.
Song #1: Your chest voice
In the first part, or the first song, choose a song that is going to help you exercise the lower part of your vocal range — we call this the chest voice. What we’re looking for here are songs that live and sound fantastic in the bottom part of your vocal range — no high notes for you, just yet.
If you’re a guy, think of singers like Johnny Cash, David Bowie, or Bill Withers. If you’re a woman, think of songs by singers like Amy Winehouse, Tracy Chapman, or Lana Del Rey. Of course, these are just suggestions — find examples from the music that you love. I want you to look for songs that really exploit that resonance in the bottom part of your voice. That’s such a crucial part of getting everything opened up and feeling great.
Song #2: Choose a song that’s starts to stretch your voice
In the second part of your vocal warm-up, or the second song, think about choosing songs with just a couple of high notes in them or just one short section that has a few high notes. Think 80 percent within your comfortable vocal range and 20 percent outside of that range.
Now, this type of song is sometimes difficult for beginners to figure out and choose for themselves. Many new singers will choose songs that are too easy or songs that are way too difficult. So, as a voice teacher, I like to give a few examples.
If you’re a guy, look for songs similar in make up to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. What’s so cool about this song is that most of it stays in the lower part, or the chest voice, of most male voices. So you’ve got the verse, “Sittin’ in the morning sun / I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes” — very easy to sing.
However, the bridge is where things get interesting, where we have that G4: “Look like nothin’s gonna change / Everything, still remains the same / I can’t do what ten people tell me to do / So I guess I’ll remain the same.”
You’ll notice that most of it stays in a very comfortable range, and just in that bridge section is where we have our high notes.
If you’re a lady, look for a song that matches the example of Rhianna’s “Stay.” It’s a beautiful song that, for most of it, stays comfortably in her chest voice. “All along there was a fever…” It’s that strong, chest voice area for most women. But at the end, she has a section, “Want you to stay, ooooh.” She has a few notes where she’s accessing the top part of her voice.
You know yourself, choose a song that’s appropriate for you.
Song #3: Go into your head voice
At this point, your voice should be pretty warmed up and you’ve even started singing songs that have higher notes in them in the top part of the vocal range, or what we call the head voice.
In the last part of your vocal warm-up, pick a song that stays up in the top part of your vocal range for longer. If you’re a guy, think of examples like Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) or Sam Smith.
If you’re a lady, try songs by singers like Mariah Carey or Sara Bareilles. The point, again, is to choose songs that fit this level of difficulty for you.
Keep it short and simple
Keep in mind, you don’t need to sing all three-and-a-half minutes of all of these songs in order to warm up your voice. Sometimes, it can be just as effective to select segments of these songs and practice them over and over and that in itself can be a vocal warm-up.
Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.
Matt Ramsey founded Ramsey Voice Studio in Austin, TX in 2012. Matt is an Institute for Vocal Advancement-certified voice teacher, a songwriter, and a blogger. Matt has helped develop singers in nearly every genre of music, from rock to pop, jazz to musical theater, and offers lots of great videos on his Ramsey Voice Studio YouTube channel.
How to prepare for a vocal recording session
How to organize a set as a vocal warm-up
Picking the perfect song for your voice
Falsetto, vibrato, and other natural vocal effects you should master
Add natural vocal effects to your songs