Thursday, October 28, 2010

Importance of lip and tongue trills

There is no fixed answer for how often or even when you should do lip/tongue trills. Most singers use these kinds of exercises as they have need of them. Using them in a daily ritual way is no guarantee that they will automatically produce a better voice. Some form of awareness of what is happening when you do them is necessary, And yes, there are other forms of this type of exercise that are as effective or even more effective, depending on the individual singer.

It is helpful to better understand why such semi-occulision devices are effective and helpful. Semi-occulision simply means that you are using the mouth and/or tongue and even the teeth to partially close the opening at the facial lips end of the vocal tract. Such partial closure allows a breath pressure to build up within the vocal tract and it is the presence of this above the vocal folds breath pressure that gives the benefit of these exercises.

In effect, the vocal tract breath pressure created by semi-occulision exercises, acts as a back pressure above the vocal folds and this reduces the amplitude of oscillation of the vocal folds. A reduced amplitude of oscillation means that the vocal folds are more easily able to adjust to the requirement and desires of the singer. A typical benefit of such exercises is a reduction or even the elimination of the register change as the singer sirens up and down the extremes of his/her vocal range. This is possible because the reduced amplitude of the vocal fold oscillation makes it easier for the vocal folds to lengthen/tighten and shorten/loosen during the vocal siren part of the exercise. An awareness of this vocal tract back pressure that occurs during these exercises is helpful to the singer because it allows him/her to be more in control of the use of the exercise.

Forms of the exercise that I have used are the following. They are not given in order of preference. All of these are most effective if used with a siren sound that takes the voice from the bottom of its range to as high as is comfortable.

a. lip trills
b. tongue trills
c. back of the hand placed very near the slightly puckered lips almost closing and sealing the mouth opening
d. blowing air through loosely closed lips and then adding tone to this configuration. The lips will often tickle when doing this.
e. a variation of the puffed lips. Place a clean folded handkerchief or folded paper towel over your first finger and place the finger horizontally at your lips close enough so that the lips create a breath seal around the handkerchief/towel covered finger. You will discover that you can exhale out through the mouth and the breath passes through the fibers of the handkerchief or paper towel. Siren through this handkerchief/towel. It is a very effective way to warm up the voice without making a loud sound yet you are singing at near full voice.
f. semi-occluded sustainable consonant sounds such as v, voiced th, l, m, n, ng, and even z.

Normally the vowel /a/ is used during these semi-occluced sirens but other vowels are also beneficial if for no other reason than that they make the singer aware that it is position of the tongue that creates the vowel so the tongue must be put into the necessary position for the desired vowel without changing the semi-occluded position of the lips. Obviously this cannot work with semi-occlusion consonants that require the tongue be in position against the teeth or lips such as lip trills, voiced th, l, m, n, ng, and z.

Try these out. I would be interested in which of them seem to be most helpful to you. I have used them all with my students.

Lloyd W. Hanson

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