Humming: Basic Vocal Warm-Ups to Advanced Techniques

singer humming

Humming: it’s not just a casual pastime or an unconscious expression of a catchy tune stuck in your head. In the realm of vocal training, humming is a hidden gem, offering a myriad of benefits that go beyond mere vocal warm-ups. From enhancing your resonation to expanding your vocal range, the power of a simple hum can be transformative. Intrigued? Read on as we delve deep into the art and science of humming, equip you with practical exercises, and reveal how humming can unlock the full potential of your voice.

Why Do Singers Hum?

You might think humming is just the simple act of vocalising a closed-mouth sound, but there’s much more to it than meets the ear. Backed by vocal science and embraced by professional vocalists, humming is more than a rudimentary vocal exercise; it’s a physiological marvel.

The Science of Humming

Humming isn’t just any sound; it’s a resonant sound. When you hum, your vocal cords vibrate in a specific way that creates resonation within your vocal tract. This resonation is incredibly beneficial for singers for a few reasons:

  • Activates Muscle Groups: When you hum, you engage key muscle groups in your vocal tract, which is crucial for improving vocal tone and clarity.
  • Airflow Stimulation: Humming helps in controlling and directing airflow. Proper airflow is essential for vocal stamina and power.
  • Facilitates Pitch Control: By focusing on resonation, humming can be an excellent way to improve your pitch accuracy, helping you hit those notes just right.

The Physiology of Humming

The physiological benefits of humming extend beyond vocal practice and enter the realm of general well-being:

  • Relaxed Vocal Cords: The vibrations from humming act as a natural massage for your vocal cords, reducing stress and strain.
  • Nitric Oxide Production: Humming increases the production of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring gas in the body. Nitric oxide has multiple roles, including acting as a vasodilator that improves blood circulation, and as part of the body’s anti-viral defence mechanism.
  • Mental Well-being: The vibrations caused by humming have been linked to reduced stress levels. This has a holistic benefit on your voice, as stress and tension are often detrimental to vocal performance.

How to Hum

Understanding the mechanics of humming can be your first step to mastering this invaluable vocal technique. Let’s break it down to its core elements and identify common pitfalls to avoid.

The Mechanics

Humming might seem straightforward, but there’s a technique to doing it right:

  • Mouth Position: Your mouth should be closed but not clenched. Keep your lips relaxed.
  • Tongue Placement: The tongue should rest comfortably against the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth.
  • Throat Control: Keep your throat open and relaxed. Imagine there’s a golf ball-sized space in the back of your throat.
  • Breathing: Use diaphragmatic breathing, allowing your diaphragm to descend and your lungs to fill with air, rather than shallow chest breathing.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Even a seemingly simple act like humming can be riddled with mistakes that can impede your vocal progress:

  • Forcing the Sound: Some people push too hard when they hum, causing strain and defeating the purpose of the exercise. The key is to keep it soft and natural.
  • Poor Posture: Slouching can restrict your diaphragm and impede proper airflow. Stand or sit up straight when humming.
  • Nasality: Overemphasis on nasal tones can distort the quality of your humming and limit its effectiveness. Aim for a balanced, resonant sound.

Mastering these techniques and avoiding common mistakes sets the foundation for more advanced humming exercises and its integration into your broader vocal routine.

Types of Humming for Singers

Not all humming is created equal. Different styles and techniques can serve varied purposes, from warming up your vocal cords to fine-tuning your pitch. Here are some of the most effective types of humming you can incorporate into your vocal training.

Close-Mouthed Humming

Description: This is the standard form of humming where the mouth is closed, and the sound resonates within the mouth and head.

Benefits: It’s excellent for beginners and serves as a general warm-up. It also helps focus on pitch without the distractions of lyrics or more complicated vocal techniques.

Humming Through the Nose

Description: This involves channelling the sound so it resonates in your nasal passages.

Benefits: Enhances your ability to project sound and is particularly useful for those looking to improve their head voice.

Sigh-Humming

Description: Start with a sigh from a higher pitch to a lower pitch and transition into a hum.

Benefits: This relaxes the vocal cords and is an excellent way to start a more extended vocal exercise session.

Melodic Humming

Description: Humming the melody of a well-known song or piece of music.

Benefits: Great for working on musicality and pitch accuracy in a more engaging way than simple scales.

Resonant Humming

Description: A more advanced technique where you focus on creating a resonant sound that you can feel vibrating in different parts of your face and head.

Benefits: Increases your awareness of resonance, which is crucial for creating a fuller, richer sound.

Each of these humming types serves a specific purpose and can be beneficial at different stages of your vocal journey. Experimenting with these various styles will give you a more rounded vocal skill set and will make your humming sessions more effective and enjoyable.

Humming Warm-Up Exercises

Warming up your voice is akin to stretching before a workout; it preps your vocal cords for the singing exercises ahead. Humming is a fantastic and straightforward way to ease into your vocal routine. By incorporating the following vocal exercises into your warm-up routine, you’re not only preparing your voice for more strenuous activities but also honing your pitch, increasing your range, and improving your breath control.

Here’s how to do it effectively:

1 Humming Scales

  1. Start by humming a simple five-note scale (C-D-E-F-G) in a comfortable mid-range pitch.
  2. Ascend and descend the scale slowly, paying attention to your breath and pitch.
  3. Gradually expand to full octave scales as you get more comfortable.

2 Humming Through a Straw

  1. Take a drinking straw and place it between your lips.
  2. Hum a simple scale or melody through the straw.
  3. This technique helps with breath control and focuses the sound, making it easier to identify and correct pitch issues.

3 Low to High and Back

  1. Begin humming at the lowest note in your range.
  2. Slowly slide up to the highest note you can comfortably reach.
  3. Return to the low note.
  4. This exercise stretches your vocal cords and helps you get in touch with the full extent of your vocal range.

Humming for Vocal Range

If you’re looking to extend your vocal limits, humming can be a potent ally. Unlike more strenuous vocal exercises, humming allows you to explore the edges of your range in a relaxed, less damaging way. 

By dedicating time to the following exercises, you’ll find that your vocal range will start to expand, offering you more freedom and versatility in your singing.

4 Scale Extensions

  1. Begin with a standard octave scale, humming from the lowest note to the highest and back.
  2. Each time you successfully complete the scale, take it up (or down) one step.
  3. Continue until you reach the limits of your range, then return to your comfortable mid-range.

5 Interval Jumps

  1. Pick two notes that are an octave apart.
  2. Hum the lower note, then jump directly to the higher one.
  3. This exercise challenges your pitch accuracy and helps you become more comfortable with large vocal leaps.

6 Sustained Notes

  1. Choose a note in the higher end of your mid-range.
  2. Hum this note for as long as you comfortably can, focusing on maintaining a consistent pitch and volume.
  3. This builds stamina and helps you become more familiar with your own vocal timbre at different ranges.

7 Octave Slides

  1. Start humming at a low note.
  2. Slide your voice up to the octave of that note, then slide back down.
  3. This not only tests the limits of your range but also improves your control over pitch transitions.

Extended Humming Techniques

Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to take your humming exercises to the next level. The following humming techniques can offer nuanced improvements to your vocal capabilities and provide a deeper understanding of your voice.

8 NG Humming

  1. Start by saying the word “sing” and hold onto the ending “ng” sound.
  2. With your tongue against the soft palate, create a humming sound.
  3. Experiment with different pitches and scales, all while maintaining the “ng” position with your tongue.
  4. This technique is particularly effective for directing resonance into the “mask” area of the face, helping you tap into your mix voice.

9 Dynamic Humming

  1. Incorporate dynamics into your humming exercises by varying the volume.
  2. Start soft, get louder, and then return to a softer hum.
  3. This not only enhances your dynamic control but also adds an element of expressiveness to your humming.

10 Tempo Variations

  1. Hum scales or melodies at different tempos.
  2. This helps you become more adaptable in various musical settings and improves your timing.

11 Multi-Octave Scales

  1. Instead of limiting yourself to one-octave scales, try humming scales that span multiple octaves.
  2. This is an advanced exercise that can significantly stretch your vocal range and improve your pitch accuracy.

The Untapped Potential of Humming

Humming may appear simple, yet its impact on vocal development is profound. Serving as a multifaceted tool for warm-up, pitch accuracy, and even mental well-being, humming is an indispensable part of any serious vocalist’s toolkit. So go ahead, incorporate these humming exercises into your daily routine and transform your voice in ways you’ve never imagined.