Vocal warm-ups make for a great cast- bonding activity, and are an opportunity to get out pre-show jitters. You wouldn’t run a marathon (or do any exercise, for that matter) without stretching first. And as any good voice or diction coach will remind you, the muscles in your mouth are no different. Vocal warm-ups are crucial “stretches” as you prepare for a rehearsal or performance—good both for vocal health and for ensuring the audience will understand what each actor is saying on stage. 

Here are 8 tongue twisters that go beyond “unique New York” and will get your whole cast buzzing. Have actors deliver the line in character for an extra creative twist.

1. Who washed Washington’s…?
There’s a whole host of Ws in this one—forcing you to keep the words at the front of your mouth and focusing on articulating the latter part of each word. For an extra challenge, sing the phrase, then go up or down a half-step with each iteration:

Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear when Washington’s washerwoman went west?

(My high school theater program added a short beat between “washerwoman” and “went west.”)

2. The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue…
This one is short and sweet. But you’ll be surprised how difficult it can be to say each word in order! Try at faster and faster speeds to sharpen your -s, t- and th- sounds:

The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue.
The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.

3. To sit in solemn silence…
This classic dates to at least 1885, where it appeared at the end of the song “I Am So Proud” in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Mikado. You might perform this as a call-and-response, with the cast repeating each phrase after a “cantor:”

To sit in solemn silence
On a dull dark dock
In a pestilential prison
With a life-long lock.
Awaiting the sensation
Of a short, sharp shock
From a cheap and chippy chopper
On a big, black block

Gilbert and Sullivan shows, in general, are a great source for tongue twisters. Hamilton fans will recognize the title of the fast-paced “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from the duo’s Pirates of Penzance.

4. A big black bug…
As in “Who washed Washington’s,” the alliteration in this phrase allows you to practice separating each word:

A big black bug bit a big black bear
And the big black bear bled blue.

5. Mommy made me mash…
This tongue twister practically melts in your mouth:

Mommy made me mash my M&Ms, oh my!

It’s even “sweeter” when set to music, doubling as an excellent singing warm-up.

6. How much wood…
You’ve probably heard the first half of this famous tongue twister, but the second half adds a bit of complexity:

How much would could a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Like “To Sit in Solemn Silence,” this phrase also has its origins on the stage: the 1903 musical The Runaways.

7. Peter Piper…
Another infamous tongue twister, this nursery rhyme about Peter and his pickled peppers (first documented in 1813) has a few different versions:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?

All those popping Ps make this a great option for mic checks, too.

8. Something from your (or another) show…
If there’s a troublesome line of dialogue in your show itself, have the whole cast walk through that—even if just one actor will say the line on stage.

For something more musical, you could try “The Speed Test” from Thoroughly Modern Millie or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins. A fast-paced rap from Hamilton (Lafayette’s entrance in “Guns and Ships” or Angelica’s “So this is what it feels like to match wits…” in “Satisfied”) might also do the trick.

The Benefits of Vocal Warm-Ups

Your cast has worked hard to memorize their lines and bring pathos to the dialogue. By helping your actors be heard clearly, vocal warmups will ensure they clearly share all that effort with the audience. 

Andrew Koch is a writer and editor from Cincinnati. In addition to tongue twisters, he also warms up with strange-sounding vocal exercises.

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