Physical and vocal warm up exercises for musical theatre

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Every performer needs a solid warm up routine that they can use before rehearsals, shows, class, or practice sessions. As singers our instrument is inside our bodies, so it's beneficial to warm up the muscles around your torso and get blood flowing around your respiratory system. The following sequence will warm up your body and mind in preparation for vocalizing: 

Physical warm up:

  • Starting position: stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and shoulders back. See a detailed description of singer's stance here
  • Swing your arms side to side.
  • Keep swinging your arms, and add twisting your torso into the swing, so you’re engaging your core.
  • Reach your arms all the way above your head and look to the ceiling, stretching out your abs.
  • With your arms still fully extended, lean over to the right, stretching out your obliques. Then lean to the left.
  • Lean all the way over and touch the floor, or as close to the floor as you can. Hold there for a moment.
  • Slowly roll back up to standing, vertebrae by vertebrae, letting your arms and head hang heavy. Your neck and head will be the last parts to roll up. 
  • Roll your neck around in circles both clockwise and counterclockwise. 
  • Roll your shoulders back several times, then front several times. 
  • Extend your arms fully out in front of you and clasp your hands. Look at the floor and take a deep breath. This stretches out the top of your shoulders (trapezius muscle). 
  • Extend your arms fully behind you and clasp your hands. Look at the ceiling and take a deep breath. This stretches out the muscles around your collarbone and chest (upper pectoralis muscle). 
  • Let your arms fall back to your sides, and shake your arms and hands out. 
  • Keep swinging and twisting, now engage your legs by adding a small squat as your swing. Swing, and squat. Swing and squat.
  • Return to starting position and extend your arms fully out at their sides. Circle your arms around to the right like a windmill.

Your upper body is warm! Now give some attention to your face and neck.

  • Make a big, wide face. Open your eyes, mouth, nose, cheeks as far as you can open them.
  • Scrunch your face tight. Close your eyes and mouth, and hold all your facial muscles as tight as you can.
  • Stick your tongue out as far as you can, then bring it back in. Alternate a few times.
  • Give your cheeks, temples and facial muscles a massage.
  • Buzz your lips or roll an "R" to get your lips and tongue in motion. 

Everything around your voice is now warm. Add some vocalization:

  • Make an ambulance siren sound: sing "woo" starting at the bottom of your range, slide up to the very highest pitch you can make, and then slide back down to the very lowest pitch you can make, ending with a growl or crackle sound.
  • Make a “ng” sound, like the end of the word “singing.” This sound resonates in the back of your mouth/nose area. Sing “ng” on a 1-3-5-3-1 scale pattern in the middle area of your range.
  • Now warm up the bottom of your voice: sing “mee, may, mah, mo, mooh” on a 5-4-3-2-1 pattern, going lower each time.
  • Warm up your upper range: sing “vi, vi, vi, vi, vi, vi, vi” on a 1-3-5-8-5-3-1 pattern, going higher each time.
  • Practice diction: say, “the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tounge” as a tongue twister repeated quickly, and really stress each consonant. You can speak this or sing it on pitches.
  • Engage your diaphragm by making a “ts” sound. Say “ts” 4 times, then hold for 4, for a total of 8 counts, like this: “ts, ts, ts, ts, tssssssssssss.” Repeat this and make the hold longer to challenge yourself, you can hold for 4, 8, 12, 16, etc.
  • For a more detailed set of vocal exercises that covers the foundations of vocal technique, see our Vocal Exercises book

Your body and voice are performance ready. Close your warm up by getting your mind in the zone:

  • Tighten your body, every muscle in your body and face, and hold it tight. Then let it all go while sighing a big “ahhhhhhh.” As you say “ah” mentally release all the tension and stress from your day that is unrelated to your performance or practice session.
  • If you are with a group or class, end your warm ups by all putting a hand in the center and choose a meaningful word to shout as you release your hands. It could be a word like “passion,” “energy,” a word from your show or song, or whatever motivates you.

You're ready! Your blood is flowing, your voice is warm, and your mind is connected to your show or practice material. Go forth and make great performances!

More resources

Like what you read here? For a more detailed set of vocal exercises that covers the foundations of vocal technique, see our Vocal Exercises book

Also, read our posts on the benefits of vocal warm ups

If you’d like 1-on-1 training on specific vocal issues, check out private vocal lessons in person or via skype.