10 Vocal Warm-Ups to Improve Resonance for Singers

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These exercises are more effective with a full understanding of the pharyngeal tract and its relation to vocal resonance. The first exercise emphasizes pharyngeal resonance, exercises two through five focus on nasopharynx resonance, and exercises six through ten encourage the body to sing with both. Some will work better for you than others, so spend more time on those exercises that make a difference for you.

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Yawns are wonderful tools to open up the back of the throat, adding warmth and loudness to the voice. The best use of the yawn is to breathe deeply as if about to yawn and attempt to sing with that same feeling. The soft palate should be lifted and back of the throat feels as if an egg is stuck in it. Lower notes are easier to sing with an open throat, so start by singing a single pitch in a lower register. Note the open feeling. Now sing a five-note scale from top to bottom, 5-4-3-2-1 or sol-fa-mi-re-do with the same open feeling. Higher notes should be as open as lower notes, but require more point as described in more detail under “Hum.”

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Humming accesses the natural brightness of the voice, which nasopharynx resonance contributes. You may also concentrate on singing in the mask of the voice for the same effect. This type of resonance is particularly important in order to sing high notes easily and to help low notes project. Start by humming on a pitch high for you. Note the buzzing feeling on the bridge of the nose. Now open the mouth into an ‘ah,’ while continuing the feeling of a hum. Are your high notes easier to sing? If so, then you are doing the exercise right.

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Sing the Vowel ‘E’

The tongue is high in the back of the mouth and out of the throat when singing ‘e,’ or in IPA ‘i’ as in “feed.” For many, the ‘e,’ is their first introduction to nasal resonance. Listen for the ringing sound of efficient resonance as you sing it on a five-note scale going up and down (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 or do-re-mi-fa-sol-fa-mi-re-do). Allow yourself to sound excessively nasal two or three times as you sing it if you are struggling to hear a difference. For some students, the overdone version of the exercise is beautiful singing. Having someone with a well-trained ear listen to you explore your voice as you sing these exercises will help you make needed changes.

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Use Plosive Consonants 'B' and 'P'

For those who sound excessively swallowed and focus undue attention on pharyngeal resonance, plosives can help focus attention forward. When producing ‘p’ and ‘b’, air pressure builds up behind the lips. Concentrating entirely on exploding the consonants will draw emphasis away from throaty singing. A useful melodic pattern is 8-5-3-1 or do-sol-mi-do. Sing the notes using ‘p’ or ‘b’ followed by one vowel, for example, bi, bɑ, pi, pɑ. Each note should reiterate the consonant: bi-bi-bi-bi. For over-thinkers, you may want to combine the two consonants: bi-pɑ-bi-pɑ or bi-pi-bi-pi. This exercise may bring the sound forward into oropharynx rather than nasopharynx, so it should not be used solely.

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‘N’ and ‘ng’ are nasal consonants requiring a large amount of buzzing in the nose. Singing them in combination with vowels requires singers to add a brighter resonance from the ‘n’ and ‘ng’ into the vowel. Since singers often lose this “ring” to the voice when going down the scale, I like to sing it on 5-5-4-4-3-3-2-2-1-1 or sol, sol, fa, fa, mi, mi, re, re, do, do. The first 5 or sol is ‘ning’ and the second is ‘y,’ the same applies to the other repeated scale notes. You may also change the last vowel to improve other vowels. Variations include Ninga (ah as in father), Ninge (e as in aid), Ningo (oh as in ode), ningoo (ooh as in food).

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New (njʊ)

Sing new with a slightly more open vowel, as in ‘book.’ This word combines the brighter resonance of ‘nj’ with ‘ʊ,’ which opens the back of the throat for a warmer quality. Both male and female voices should sing the word in lower and middle registers, as the vowel is often open in higher registers and more brightness is required. I suggest singing it on a descending chordal pattern 5-3-1. As the pattern makes finding a half step higher easier to find than a half step lower, start in the lowest part of your voice and work your way up to the middle of your voice.

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Use the Consonant ‘Z’

The consonant ‘z’ has several unique qualities that encourage a balance of laryngopharynx and nasopharynx resonance. First, the tip of the tongue buzzes just behind the front teeth and reminds singers to place the voice forward as needed for nasopharynx resonance. Second, the tongue is forward and out of the back of the throat. The space created is needed for laryngopharynx resonance. Singers can practice any number of melodic phrases. One of my favorites has already been mentioned. It is a five-note scale going up and down: 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 or do-re-mi-fa-sol-fa-mi-re-do. Add ‘z’ to the vowel of your choice, for instance: zi, zɑ, ze, zo, zu, zI, zɛ, zʌ, zə, za, and etc. Or you can switch it up by singing a different vowel on each scale degree: zi, zɑ, za, zo, zu, zo, za, zɑ, zi. Some might find to take a melodic segment from a song they are working from and sing it using ‘z’ and the vowel of their choice.

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Vowel Tuning

Singers often have a favorite vowel they resonate or sound best singing. On one single tone sing your favorite vowel and then switch to another vowel of your choice. While singing the second vowel, try to keep the qualities of the first. The five main vowels in English in IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet transcription are: ‘ɑ’ as in fog, ‘e’ as in ate, ‘i’ as in see, ‘o’ as in ode, ‘u’ as in too, ‘I’ as in pit, ‘ɛ’ as in thread, ‘ʌ’ as in up, ‘ə’ as in could, ‘a’ as in pat, ‘ʊ’ as in book, and ‘ᴐ’ as in pot. If your favorite vowel is ‘i’ as in “feed,” then try these combos: i-ɑ, i-e, i-o, i-u, i-I, i-ɛ, i-ʌ, i-ə, i-a, i-ʊ, and i-ᴐ. I use the same scale as for the exercise using ningy: 5-5-4-4-3-3-2-2-1-1 or sol, sol, fa, fa, mi, mi, re, re, do, do. The first scale degree gets one vowel and the second gets the other.

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Large Skips

Practicing large skips helps singers find consistency throughout the range of their voice. In this exercise, it encourages an open throat as you ascend the scale. This is accomplished by keeping a neutral larynx position and relaxed throat when singing high. The exercise is 1-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 or do-do-ti-la-sol-fa-mi-re-do. Sing the first note long enough to notice the feeling of the mouth, tongue, jaw, and throat. When skipping up an octave, keep the feeling as best you can. It may take some practice but will improve your upper range tremendously. Be sure to keep the same sensation and engagement as you go down the scale.

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Arpeggios with a Descending Scale

An arpeggio up looks like this: 1-3-5-8. It is a simple choral pattern. In this exercise the arpeggio is combined with a nine-note descending scale and looks like this: 1-3-5-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 or do-mi-sol-do-re-do-ti-la-sol-fa-mi-re-do. It is one of my favorite vocal exercises to sing as it is beautiful as well as useful. The exercise is used to integrate the voice. The open throat and lower larynx of the lower notes should continue into the upper range and the buzzing brightness of the top notes should continue all the way down the scale.