Warming Up Children’s Voices

Warming Up Children’s Voices

We cannot allow in a relaxed inhale without a gentle exhalation. By whispering on nonsense syllables, la-la-la-la, or counting from 1-10 repeatedly we can get in touch with a gentle, extended exhale.



Between the time they wake up, have breakfast, and go to school or daycare, children hear pretty much adult vocal models. Any vocal sound that is childlike is more “childish” such as puppets or cartoon characters. For some inexplicable reason, the character voice is the dominant voice in children’s popular culture. And the professional model of children’s voices is exemplified in the overproduced (both physically and electronically) tension-ridden sound of shows like “Annie”.

Warming up
For young children, the warm-up can be a winding down, the opportunity for them to explore their unique voices.

The objective is not to teach them melodic patterns, but to “posture” their voices in a manner conducive to easy participation as singers. As an experiment, try teaching a song to young children before warming them up, and then after warming them up. In my experience, there is a world of difference. With the latter, the children sing out with confidence. Here are some warm-ups that you can try:

Slide whistle 
This is first because it is my number one favorite warm up to do with children. They are responding to a sound that is not an adult voice. They find it delightful – silly, joyful. We go from low to high, high to low, ask them to “wiggle their voices,” sirens, small intervals. After a few rounds with just their voices, ask the children to “copy” the slide whistle with their bodies: first fingers, then arms, just legs, growing small and large with their whole bodies.

Yawn and a stretch
The yawn sets up the breath, the voice, and even the brain, beautifully.

Animal sounds
Pigeon coos, kitten mews, and puppy whines. One of my favorites is to put the warm up in the context of a story: We hear a sad baby owl in a tree. We call out to it in a similar, gentle voice. The baby owl hoots back to say it’s lonely. We reach up high, gently take the baby owl and let it rest on the palm of our hands and have a conversation in hoots and coos. Then we open our palms and let the baby owl fly away. The children are engrossed in a story like this, natural, age-appropriate sounds flow.

Sound effects 
Fire truck and police sirens, old-fashioned locomotive whistles, electronic beeps, baby cries (they love to show how they’ve grown!), the imaginary sound of a flower opening its petals, wind whooshes…anything that captures the imagination and doesn’t feel as if they’re over-producing or straining.

Humming and lip trills
Lip trills are made by releasing air with the mouth closed – making a motor boat sound. If you find it difficult to make a lip trill, it is usually do to lack of air and/or tight muscles around the mouth.

Rhythm Warm-Ups
Children – and even tweens and teens – seem to enjoy rhythm patterns. It trains the ear and engages the community. If you are introducing a new song, make the rhythm of the song part of the warm up by breaking the song down into bits. As an example, let’s break down the old Mother Goose rhyme “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary”. Make up nonsense syllables for each line, and have the children echo you:

“Mary, Mary quite contrary” could be bah-dah-bah-dah-bah-dah-bah-dah 

Then the children echo that.

“How does your garden grow” could be bee-dee-bee-dee-bee-dee.

The children continue to echo for the rest of the song or chant. If you are familiar with a more formalized way of teaching rhythm – the “tah-ti” system for example – by all means use that, but the real objective is to get them involved in making and playing with music.

Eventually, everyone gets in the game. While sitting in a circle, someone starts with a rhythm pattern, the group chants it back, and the person on left chants a new rhythm pattern, and so on. The idea is not to break the chain.

Whispered Exhale 
We cannot allow in a relaxed inhale without a gentle exhalation. By whispering on nonsense syllables, la-la-la-la, or counting from 1-10 repeatedly we can get in touch with a gentle, extended exhale. The objective isn’t to see for how long you can exhale, but to simply whisper, allowing the exhale to take as long as necessary so that the inhalation can be natural and relaxed.


Check out these related articles

Singing with Young Children

More Tips on Singing With Young Children


Brook Packard is an educator, musician, and Gaia Women’s Leadership certified life coach in addition to many other creative endeavors. She is the author of When the Bishop Comes to Visit, an Activity Book for All Ages. Brook helps families make bedtime simple and put sleep first at the Sleepytime Club. Sign up for a free guided meditation with illustrated booklet that helps children “Put the Day to Bed.”


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