Everyone talks about vocal warm-ups… students talk about them, teachers talk about them, researchers talk about them, and everyone is trying to say the same thing. A vocal warm-up routine is essential for many reasons (health, flexibility, endurance, etc.). Interestingly, despite a tremendous number of questionnaire studies, there is very little evidence that a vocal warm-up routine is beneficial for the reasons singers believe.

Now in case you do not read the rest of this article, there is no evidence that a warm-up routine is harmful in any way, and warming up may prove to be beneficial at some point in the future.

How Singers Use Vocal Warm-Ups

The line gets blurry in the United States, where I am based; warm-ups, vocalist, and exercises are interchangeable terms. This is partly because trying to be “efficient” with our limited lesson and/or practice time, there is a lot of overlap in the patterns used for each. Part is they have been overlapping terms for so long that it is hard to separate them. The final component is the vagueness of the goals we are seeking. So what are the differences?

Vocal Warm-ups: These are a series of vocal patterns designed to slowly warm-up, stretch, and empower the vocal mechanism to unlock the singer’s potential and prevent injury.

Vocal Exercises: Musical or Rhythmic patterns designed for skill acquisition. 

Vocalises: Really vocalises are a subcategory of vocal exercises. Specifically, they are musical patterns sung on a single vowel.

So for clarity’s sake, we are talking about Vocal Warm-ups and Vocal Exercises.

Remembering that singers and teachers use the terms interchangeably, how are singers using this dedicated part of their practice?

According to a 2012 study by Gish et al., five-note scales at a rapid tempo are by far the most popular exercise, followed by fast one-octave scales, legato arpeggios, and glissandos (using lip trills). Rarely do singers include messages di voce, chromatic scales, and one-octave scales slowly. Most singers warm-up for less than 10 minutes and rarely before speaking activities.

These results indicate a focus on speed and ease; the participants also rated their most used exercises as easy to complete and not used for skill acquisition. This matches the overwhelming opinion that warm-ups will help prevent injury and that their voice is more cooperative after warming up.

While most singers report warming up most of the time, the place where the number is probably close to 100% is choir rehearsals. I can confidently say that I’ve never been in a choir rehearsal that did not have some sort of warm-up in my entire life. Thoughts about warm-ups in choirs consist of similar ideas of warmth, stretching, and health, but there are additional thoughts around the ensemble’s sound because singing in a choir is a group activity. The ensemble goals of vowel matching, blend, vibrato control, and group dynamics, to name a few, are fantastic but would require the singers to already to prepared to sing.

Vocal Cool-Downs

Vocal cool-downs are a reasonably recently emerging concept for singers, coming with the idea of vocal athletes. Like athletes from other sports, the idea is for vocalists to do a series of exercises to relax the voice after intense and prolonged singing. Due to the newness of the concept, there is little agreement on what a successful cool-down protocol would look like or to the effect it might have. One 2016 study by Ragan found that singers overwhelmingly feel better 12-24 hours after using a cool-down protocol than when they don’t use the protocol. Like using a warm-up protocol, expert listeners were frequently unable to discern a difference between singers who had previously cooled down and those who had not.

But What Does The Research Say?

The research around vocal warm-ups is more lacking than you might expect for a topic so heavily engrained into accepted pedagogy practices. That is not to say that people aren’t writing about it; there are hundreds of articles and studies about the topic, with the majority focusing on the singer’s perception before and after warming up. Motel et al. found that despite singers rating their singing as improved, listeners did not discern any difference with various durations of warm-ups (2003).

Many believe that the vocal folds are warmed through use, but they have more in common with the postural muscles of the body that are active all of the time. The primary function of the vocal fold mechanism is not phonation but as a protective system for the lower respiratory system; because of this, the vocal folds close between each breath. One of the interesting parts of the neck area is how little temperature fluctuates during exercise. In 2009 Morris, et al. measured the temperature change in the esophagus during exercise as increasing by only 0.2C. I could not find any studies that measured temperature change directly at the vocal folds.

Several studies have found that phonation threshold pressure (PTP) increases across a singer’s range, which may be due to increased vocal fold viscosity; however, the effect has been significantly varied across study participants. This is significant because an increase in blood flow should decrease viscosity and phonation threshold pressure. (Elliot et al. 1995)

Some Final Thoughts About Warm-Ups

Warm-ups, cool down, vocal exercises, oh my! So I want to make it incredibly clear. Warm-Ups, Vocal Exercises, and Cool Downs completed responsibly are unlikely to cause you any harm. With warm-ups and cool-downs, the worst thing that can happen is that you get a placebo effect and feel better about your singing. Vocal exercises you should simply be doing, probably way more frequently and intentionally than you are.

I propose a change in how we utilize this time; we have already blurred the language by making warm-ups and exercises interchangeable. Instead of focusing on warming up the voice, we should be focused on skill-building, practice intervals, Messa di voce. Start in an easy pitch range and increase but keep the intention on the accuracy, not simply completion and speed, which come with the concept of warming up.


Elliot, N., Sundberg, J., & Gramming, P. (1995). What happens during vocal warm-up? Journal of Voice, 9(1), 37–44. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0892-1997(05)80221-8

Gish, A., Kunduk, M., Sims, L., & McWhorter, A. J. (2012). Vocal Warm-Up Practices and Perceptions in Vocalists: A Pilot Survey. Journal of Voice, 26(1), e1–e10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2010.10.005

Hoch, M., & Sandage, M. J. (2018). Exercise Science Principles and the Vocal Warm-up: Implications for Singing Voice Pedagogy. Journal of Voice, 32(1), 79–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2017.03.018

Morris, C., Atkinson, G., Drust, B., Marrin, K., & Gregson, W. (2009). Human Core Temperature Responses during Exercise and Subsequent Recovery: An Important Interaction between Diurnal Variation and Measurement Site. Chronobiology International, 26(3), 560–575. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420520902885981

Motel, T., Fisher, K. V., & Leydon, C. (2003). Vocal Warm-up Increases Phonation Threshold Pressure in Soprano Singers at High Pitch. Journal of Voice, 17(2), 160–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0892-1997(03)00003-1

Ragan, K. (2016). The Impact of Vocal Cool-down Exercises: A Subjective Study of Singers’ and Listeners’ Perceptions. Journal of Voice, 30(6), 764.e1-764.e9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2015.10.009

Ragsdale, F. W., Marchman, J. O., Bretl, M. M., Diaz, J., Rosow, D. E., Anis, M., Zhang, H., Landera, M. A., & Lloyd, A. T. (2020). Quantifying Subjective and Objective Measures of Singing After Different Warm-Up Durations. Journal of Voice, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2020.08.005

Sugars, J. M., Co-supervisor, D. W., & Sugars, J. M. (n.d.). Courtney ByrdTrends of Vocal Warm-ups and Vocal Health From the Perspective of Singing and Medical Professionals.

Titze, I. R. (n.d.). Edward Byrom’s Reply to Choir Warm-Ups: How Effective Are They?”. 2.

Josh Manuel


About The Author

Josh is the founder/owner of Manuel Creative Arts Academy in Dayton, OH, where he teaches voice lessons for students of all ages. Josh is a graduate of Wright State University in Dayton, OH, and is currently working on his Masters of Vocal Pedagogy at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ. Josh’s performance experience has consisted of various operatic roles and membership in multiple choral ensembles. Josh is an active voice researcher exploring the interactions of airflow and intensity.