How to Exercise Your Vocal Chords

Kevin Ott
Vocal Chords Exercises

Singers must maintain their vocal cords just as athletes must take care of their bodies. Exercises will help you keep your voice in good health while strengthening your vocal performance.

General Pointers Before You Begin

Before you dive into these four exercises, keep the following principles in mind:

  • Vocal exercises should be done with care and caution to avoid straining or injuring your voice.
  • The goal is to stretch your vocal cords in gradual increments slowly. This means start easy, then gradually increase the range of the exercise. Avoid straining your voice.
  • Exercises should move through the entire spectrum of your vocal range from chest voice to head voice.
  • If your voice is in good shape, warm-ups can be as short as five to 10 minutes or however long you need to transition from your speaking voice to being comfortable and strong in your singing voice. If you're sick or if your voice is out of shape, your warm-up might need to be longer (i.e. 15 or 20 minutes).

Pro Tip: Use Disney Songs to Warm Up

Professional singer Leslie Woods, a label-signed recording artist whose singing talent has landed her in film appearances and music videos, has found an interesting remedy for vocal warm-ups: use old songs from classic Disney movies (especially Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast, which she favors). Woods said that if you listen carefully, the melodies in classic animated Disney movies often move from chest voice to head voice in a single line of lyrics in a smooth way that is perfect for warming up and smoothing transitions.

The Super Slow Motion Hum (or Lip Trill)

Humming is a common warm-up exercise. To add a unique twist, you can hum the Disney songs above (or other songs you like) in super slow motion. Just hum the songs at a very slow tempo (as if you were walking in slow motion) and use a metronome to keep the melody steady and moving forward. It will take much longer to get through the phrasing, so you don't have to do the whole song. Just do one or two lines. This will stretch your diaphragm and help you focus on your breathing. You can also slide gradually between notes to stretch your voice.

The Lip Trill Version

If you're feeling adventurous, you can sing the songs in slow motion using lip trills as the woman is doing below (though she is not doing it slowly).

Combine Tongue Twisters With Sliding

You can add a unique twist to your vocal sliding exercises by inserting tongue-twisters into the routine. For example, if you start on a note near the bottom of your range and slide up to the top, pause on each end of the slide (the low and the high note) and sing a tongue-twister sentence. This will help you stretch the muscles you need for good enunciation while also giving your voice a good exercise.

Sing Arpeggiated Major Seventh Chords in 6/8

This exercise is better suited for near the end of your warm-up session when you feel loose and nimble. It can be done with the following steps:

  • Sit down at your guitar or piano and arpeggiate a major seventh chord, then sing along to each note you play.
  • Choose a chord low enough in your range so that you can hit all the notes comfortably. You want to avoid straining.
  • Play the arpeggio in a moderate 6/8 time signature that has an easy swing and sway to it. This gives you plenty of space for your voice to sing the arpeggio in a relaxed way.

Singing the notes of a major seventh will give you the chance to cover a wide range of notes spanning from the tonic to the seventh while getting your voice nimble and warmed up making interval leaps.

Gentle Major-Minor Cool Down

Many singers love to do a mellow cool-down exercise after a performance or rehearsal. The following exercise takes advantage of the sense of relaxation that happens psychologically (and physically) when you switch from a major key to a minor key with lower notes.

  1. Play a major chord on a guitar or piano. For the sake of this example, it will be an E Major chord.
  2. As you strum or strike the chord, hum the first five notes of an E Major scale: E, F sharp, G sharp, A, B.
  3. Hold the B note for several beats.
  4. Switch to an E Minor chord.
  5. As you strum or strike the chord, hum the same notes but lower the third note (G#) to a minor note: E, F sharp, G natural, A, B.
  6. Repeat this exercise for a couple minutes, switching back and forth between major and minor. It is a relaxing exercise, and the key change to a lower minor sound causes the body (including vocal cords) to relax.

Set Up Your Environment for Any Exercise

Successful singers have trained themselves to be as relaxed and loose as possible not just in their voice but in their legs, arms, back and everywhere else. For this reason, use easy psychological and physical relaxation techniques. It may seem silly at first, but set up your own personal spa in your warm-up space, no matter what vocal exercise you do. This may include things like:

  • Setting up aromatherapy candles that help you relax
  • Bundling up in the comfiest bathrobe, slippers and or other beloved article of clothing or blanket that comforts you
  • Having a comforting hot drink at hand to sip in between every vocal exercise
  • Starting a soothing crackling fire in your fireplace or playing one of the pre-taped ones on your TV
  • Playing comforting white noise, such as pre-taped rain storms or ocean waves

The things used will vary for everyone, but the goal is to set up an environment that relaxes and soothes you psychologically and physically during your warm-up. Because of the personal effects involved, this exercise is better suited for an at-home warm-up, not when you're back stage about to perform.

A Beautiful, Complex Instrument

The human voice is a complex instrument that can be difficult to develop. It can take years of work to reach the level of excellence you desire. But whether you are doing a gentle partial warm-up or a more complex warm-up that requires precise control, every exercise you do is helping you develop a beautiful instrument.

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How to Exercise Your Vocal Chords