Lip Rolls or Nay Nays?

When to do easier vocal warm ups and when to do harder ones

    Two singers started working with me this year who were already ahead of most singers. They knew the basics of singing technique, they both warmed up daily with lots of humming and lip rolls, and their voices were supple and relaxed. The problem for both of them was that they couldn’t sing with any power or volume. They needed to do vocal strength work as well as easy warmups. This might include exercises that are rangier, louder, or require more breath-control. Mix and safe belt exercises using “Nay” or Nyeah” fall into this camp as well. This might include singing more demanding songs, or songs in keys slightly out of a singer’s comfort zone. I slowly added some strength-building exercises to their warmups over the course of several weeks, and both of them noticed an improvement.

    Then allergy season hit. Marcus was able to continue his newly-revised warm up despite his allergies, and his range and power continued to improve. Will hadn’t figured out what herbs, meds, or other fixes he needed to help control his allergies. He was so laid low by them that he had to back off of the newer, more intense exercises. I switched him to an easier warmup until the pollen count dropped.

    Marcus and Will are perfect examples of some related points I want to make:

• It’s helpful for most singers to do both gentle, relaxing vocal warmups and vocal strength-building exercises. How much to do of each kind of warmup will vary from singer to singer. You may need to experiment a lot to find a good basic warmup, or you may need to work with a coach to develop one.

• Once you’ve got a good balanced vocal regimen, how much of each kind of exercise you should do daily may vary, since some days you may need to treat your voice more gently than others.

    So how do you know how much and what to do? As you know if you’ve read my articles or worked with me, if it hurts to sing it’s time to back off and go easier. Keep that as your red flag, especially as you try adding more difficult exercises or songs. Remember that you are not building strength if you can feel vocal fatigue after you sing: that doesn’t mean that you’re building your vocal muscle, it means you may be tiring it out.

Here are some indicators that you may need to do a more gentle warm ups:

• You have a high-stress job
• You’re under stress for another reason: relationship problems, band issues, career worries, etc.
• You have or are getting over allergies or a cold
• You have tenderness or tension in the sides of your neck and/or shoulders
• You have TMJ
• You have GERD
• You talk all day long before you start singing at night
• You’re on tour
• You take meds that dry your voice: these include meds for allergies, anti-depressants, Parkinson's, and many others
• Your heater or air-conditioner is on a lot, or you live in a place with a dry climate
• Your voice feels dry and/or tired most of the time.
• You’re a beginning singer

Here are some indicators that you may need to add some strength-building exercises to your warmup:

• You feel great after your warm up, but singing actual songs tires you out
• You’re soft-spoken
• You tire quickly if you sing at more than a soft volume
• Your sing a style of music (like rock or Broadway belting) that requires a lot of vocal strength
• Your low notes are weak or wobbly
• You can only sing songs in a small range, an octave or under.
• You’re prepping to go on tour
• You need vocal endurance so you can last through 1-4 sets
• Your tone is soft or too youthful sounding.

    Neither of these are complete lists, I just want to give you some ideas so you can start to figure out what you may or may not need right now. Remember that your voice is affected by the environment and by stress, so what is appropriate for you to do vocally each day is always changing. You may be one of the lucky singers who rarely needs to vary his or her regimen, but more likely you’ll be like most of us, and need to make continual subtle and not-so-subtle adjustments. As you learn your voice more and more you’ll figure out how to make these adjustments so that you are always developing and maintaining your voice at the right level of intensity.


If you need some gentle warm up exercises check out the Vocal Recovery Warmup. This is an exercise-based warmup.

If you need a combination gentle AND strength building warmup check out The No Scales, Just Songs Vocal Workout (this is song-based method, not exercise-based).

If you need a combination gentle AND strength building warmup and also want to sing jazz songs and learn about vocal style check out Singing with Style (this is song-based, not exercise-based.)