How to Teach Music Literacy using Vocal Warm Ups

It is important to warm up students’ voices to prevent injury. Using vocal warm ups that develop music literacy skills is also an efficient and effective way to multitask. Time is so short for music classes and I am always looking for additional ways to naturally fit in more music literacy activities.

This post includes tips for teaching solfege hand signs, developing music literacy skills using movable Do, practicing diction, and expanding students’ range all during your warm up. That is MULTITASKING!

How to Teach Music Literacy using Vocal Warm Ups


There are many different vocalization activities that are helpful as an initial warm up. A short list is below.

  • Sirens
  • Bubbling or Buzzing
  • Ghost Voices
  • Yawn or Sigh
  • Humming
  • Vocal Slides
  • Follow the Melodic Contour Activities

Use a flashlight, laser pointer, bean bag, ball, scarf, or another object to indicate a melodic contour. Or, follow the shape of graphics displayed on a whiteboard.

Now, let’s talk about melodic solfege warm ups to develop music literacy skills.

Guidelines for Teaching vocal warm ups for music literacy

  • The rhythm patterns used in warm ups are usually pretty simple. Read the rhythm on the first day you introduce a new warm up. This reinforces the entire process for reading music – Steps for Reading Music.
  • Begin with a limited number of pitches. Depending upon the age/experience of your students, consider starting with only So Mi or Do Re Mi. Your students will be much more successful by starting simple.
  • Practice each warm up a minimum of 4-5 class sessions.
  • Reinforce each pitch concept by performing multiple warm ups with the same pitch set.
  • Introduce only one new pitch at a time. Make sure students have a firm foundation reading and singing assigned pitch groups before moving to the next.

Solfege Warm Ups | Movable Do

Using carefully sequenced solfege warm ups is an ideal way to “sneak” music literacy skills into every class or rehearsal. Warm ups typically modulate between several different keys. This provides a natural way to learn about movable do.

Initially, beginning music students will not recognize the function of sharps and flats in key changes. They will, however, easily identify the notes moving up the staff as the keys change. For this reason, I recommend initially using diatonic key changes instead of chromatic key changes as illustrated in the images below.

Tongue Twister Vocal Warm Ups Key Change 1
Tongue Twister Vocal Warm Ups Key Change 2
Tongue Twister Vocal Warm Ups Key Change 3

Call students’ attention to the key signatures. Students do NOT need to know key signatures, but they do need to be aware that they change. Later, this will make the concept of learning key signatures much more understandable.

Teach Hand Signs

Require students to anchor their hand signs on specific locations of their body to help conceptualize the relative position of each pitch. Students often simply change the shape of their hand(s) without demonstrating that So is higher than Mi, etc.

Solfege Hand Signs - Do Mi So La

Add Prompts to First Few Slides

Depending on the level and prior knowledge of your students, consider notating the music with prompts for solfege note names. Add the prompts directly to the note head. Gradually eliminate prompts as you sing through the modulations.

Solfege Vocal  Warm Up ALL Note Prompts
Solfege Warm Up Partial Note Prompts
Solfege Vocal Warm Up NO Note Prompts

Important Note: By adding prompts directly to the note head, you ensure that students are focusing on the correct part of the note that determines the pitch. Do NOT simply add the pitch names in place of the lyrics. While this does help students learn the sound of the pitches, they do not learn how to read the music. They do not make the connection to the pitches and their placement on the staff.

Speech Practice

Tongue Twisters make fun vocal warm ups. If you are using this type of warm up, or any word combinations that may be hard to pronounce, be sure to practice speaking the lyrics slowly with clear, crisp diction prior to singing.

Focus on One Element at a Time

After singing and signing the solfege pitches and speaking through the lyrics, sing the warm up sequence slowly focusing on one element during each class – pitch, diction, tone, phrasing, dynamics, tempo, etc. This will allow for some variation during each rehearsal.


Keep the accompaniment simple. Do not play the “melody” of the warm up. You want to teach students to become independent singers. Simply play the chords to establish the key.

If possible, play left-hand chords on the piano while demonstrating the solfege hand signs with your right hand. Or, choose a student to lead the hand signs if students need guidance.

How to Teach Music Literacy using Vocal Warm Ups

Key Changes

As you are initially teaching beginning students about key changes and movable Do, consider having them actually sing “key change” as you make the modulation. Then, as students become more comfortable, have them simply think “key change” and make the modulation silently.

Vocal Range

Take into consideration the best vocal range for your students. Your warm ups may go higher than some students are ready for. Be ready to stop at any point. Do NOT push young students too high.

If you want to encourage some students who are ready to expand their range, allow others to drop out and lip sync or simply demonstrate the hand signs if the pitches get too high for them. Students should not simply stop participating. Keep them engaged.

Use Simple “Just-in-Time” Design

Design your warm ups to focus student attention. Introduce elements “just in time”. If you want students to sing the pitches, do NOT include the lyrics on that slide. Otherwise, students will focus on the wrong element.

Solfege Vocal Warm Up ALL Note Prompts
No Lyrics When Students Read & Sing Solfege
Tongue Twister Solfege Warm Ups with Lyrics
Add Lyrics “Just-in-Time” to Focus Student Attention

Reinforce Targeted Pitches in Repertoire

During class or rehearsal, ask students to identify the targeted warm-up pitches in a song. After all, this is the ultimate goal – to be able to read and perform music, to become musically literate.

Be Efficient and Effective

Warm ups should only compromise a short segment of class. Develop a system that is efficient and effective. You can accomplish all of these tasks in 5 minutes or less.

No-Prep Sequential Solfege Warm Ups

Do you need a sample to use as a model to design your own solfege warm up activities? Download this FREE Tongue Twister So Mi Warm Up Sampler. It is sure to give you some ideas.

Are you short on time? Do you just need to invest in a NO-PREP resource? This Tongue Twister Warm Up BUNDLE includes 20 warm ups. The bundle is 40% off of the individual sets and includes the following sequential resources.

NO-PREP Tongue Twister Bundle

This bundle includes the following ready-to-use sets with simple piano accompaniment.


Developing music literacy does not happen by accident. You have to plan carefully to Integrate Music Reading into EVERY Class.  Vocal tongue twisters warm ups are FUN and they can become an important part of your music literacy plan.

Don’t forget to download this FREE Tongue Twister So Mi Warm Up Sampler to try out with your classes.

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