By Dan Inglis, co-authored with Unu Sohn
If you’re not stretching before you start singing, you’re not using your optimal voice. Singing requires you to engage and also relax a lot of your muscles, from your abdomen to your larynx. Stretching your muscles improves your breathing, alignment, and vocal production. It increases blood flow to the larynx, lungs, and tongue — all of which you use to sing.
If you don’t have a vocal warm up exercise routine, it’s time to get one. As a Professional Singing Teacher who is certified in Estill Voice Training, I’ve put together simple neck and head exercises that help you stretch the muscles of your spine and increase blood flow to the important organs you use to sing.
Just follow these six simple exercises prior to singing and see how your voice automatically opens up:
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 1: Head Tilt to the Left
Lean the top of your head to the left while relaxing your body, lengthening your spine, and deepening your breath. Put your left hand on your head to increase the stretch on your right side. You can also drop your right shoulder downwards while doing all this to intensify the stretch even more. Make sure to hold the stretch for 25–30 seconds. We often think of holding stretches in 10 second increments, but this short amount of time actually isn’t enough for your muscle to elongate. After 25–30 seconds, you will feel the elongation and stretch. There will be a specific moment when you feel your muscle loosen up. This moment often occurs at the same time as a deep exhalation and may unfold over a period of five seconds.
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 2: Head Tilt to the Right
Do the same thing but on the opposite side now. Remember that you can intensify the stretch by weighing down your head with your right hand or dropping your left shoulder down away from your ear. Hold the stretch for 25–30 seconds, until you feel the elongation of the muscle.
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 3: Head Drop to the Front
Let your head droop gently forward. You can use your hands here to support your head and lessen the stretch, or use them to pull down on your head and increase the stretch. Modify this stretch — and the others — according to your body’s needs!
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 4: Head Drop to the Back Left
You never want to drop your head straight back, so pull your head diagonally back to the left to stretch your right sternocleidomastoid. This muscle is important for the posturing and anchoring singers do for high intensity voice qualities. You should consult a real teacher for high intensity voice qualities, but relaxing this sternocleidomastoid before and after high intensity voice qualities allows the smaller muscles near the larynx to stay free.
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 5: Head Drop to the Back Right
Repeat for the other side. Don’t forget that each stretch should be held for 25–30 seconds! You want to properly elongate each muscle in order to expand the range of movement for your muscles.
Vocal Warm Up Exercise 6: Neck Rolls
Neck rolls allow you to explore your range of motion. Neck rolls cannot substitute for real stretches. Neck rolls alone may not stretch your muscles fully. A neck roll done after stretching will reflect an increased range of movement. After the neck roll, make sure to bring your head upright and align your head directly on top of your spine. Make it feel as though only your skeleton is holding your head up, and no neck muscles are doing the job instead.
And that’s it for the vocal warm up stretches! Make sure you check with your physical therapist or doctor, and adjust the stretches accordingly. Each day is different! Listen to the sensations in your body to figure out if you need more or less of an intense stretch.
As a vocal coach, I can help you build healthy voice habits. You can always reach out to me with any questions, I love connecting with new singers. Until then, use these exercises to begin your singing sessions in good alignment!
Along with singers at moderate and high levels, I have trained dozens of “non-singers” and would proudly show you how to start singing!
I know how to create a safe, no-stress environment and give you the specific feedback and prompts you need to reach your vocal goals. To learn more about singing lessons, contact me on my Savvy profile.