What a click-baity title right? Don’t worry! The video of Celine Dion is still found if you scroll down just over halfway! But if you’re interested in knowing a few handy tips about the soft-palate, feel free to read through :).
Singers spend a lot of time trying to ‘lift their soft palate’. Sometimes their efforts to do this may cause more poor habits due to the tongue, breath or jaw getting caught up with their attempt to lift the palate.
Firstly, what is the soft palate? Put simply, it is the flap of skin designed to lift to block of your nasal passage. This occurs most often when yawning. It will lower when breathing through the nose or when sneezing.
For the purposes of singing, I want you to imagine singing into a small metal cup. The sound will dissipate and fade as it continues bounce off the hard surfaces. Now I want you to imagine singing into a large metal urn that is spherical. The sound produced is far more resonant because the distance between sound source and surface is further.
In the case of the soft palate, the same thing occurs. When it lifts, the pharynx space is increased, which allows for more volume to be produced with less effort. You can always tell when someone’s palate is not lifted when you can hear that the tone is extremely nasal. The image below shows the location of the soft palate (see just above and to the back of the tongue).
Image credit to Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010.
How do you lift the palate?
Firstly, as you go about your daily life, I encourage you to be mindful of any moments when you yawn or are preparing for a yawn. This is the sensation of the palate lifting.
Disclaimer: Never fully emulate a yawn when singing. Note that when you yawn, your jaw opens extremely far and your tongue goes back into the throat. If you ever sing while emulating a yawn, you will notice an overly darkened tone.
How do you keep it lifted while singing?
It is important to distinguish that simply because you are lifting your palate during a breath, it does not mean your palate is remaining up throughout your singing. Read a little further and I will explain how to gain the sensation of palate lift during exhalation in the “Hot Potato” exercize.
The Backwards hiss: This exercize can also be found in my article on breathing and support.
- Firstly, with your lips open, but teeth close to shut, you will inhale through your mouth. This will create a backwards ‘sssss’ sound.
- As you get about 2-4 seconds through the breath, simply drop your jaw and allow the rest of the air to come in.
- You will notice a cold sensation at the back roof of your mouth.
- Try this exercize while sucking on a menthol lolly. Just be careful not to inhale the lolly.
Make sure the tip of the tongue stays on the back of your bottom teeth.
The tiger eyes/the inner smile/the smell:
These steps are not really a single exercize, but rather things you can try to emulate while singing, breathing or doing vocalises.
- When you inhale, let your jaw drop easily (do not over-drop the jaw. If you can fit one finger in between your teeth you don’t need to drop it any more).
- Let your eyes widen as if you are overly alert (But think smirk, not eyes-popping out manic)
- Imagine that you are smiling from inside the face – a little like the ‘Mona Lisa’ (D.J Jones’s often refers to the ‘Mona Lisa Smile’).
- Flare your nose slightly and feel that the inner smile is coming from this area at the sides of the nostrils. Imagine you’re inhaling perfume.
The Hot Potato:
- Imagine you have a spoon full of extremely hot, steamy potato right in front of your mouth.
- Blow on it with your lips in an ‘ooh’ shape as if to say “Or”.
- This is the best exercize to do right before vocalizing. With your tongue almost in the ‘ng’ position, blow out 3 times, inhale using the same amount of space and then vocalize on an ‘oooooooohhhh’.
- You can do various vocalizes with this, but for newcomers, I would stick with 1,2,3,2,1 on an ‘ooh’ vowel or an ‘ihh’ vowel. Before singing through the passagio, first do a series of sirens on an ‘oooh’ vowel from bottom to top so that your voice is used to lifting the soft palate through your range with ease.
This is the best exercize for finding the sensation of the lifted soft palate while exhaling or singing (rather than just inhaling!)
You can see Celine Dion performing a version of this exercize from 1:00 onwards here. Notice that this exercize can be used during your normal vocalizes:
Parting the ‘pillars of faucets’:
This is something that David L. Jones recommends. If you put two fingers in your mouth, move them to the same distance in as your back teeth and then part them (like the peace sign), you will eventually feel two rubbery ‘pillars’ which frame where your mouth finishes and where your pharynx starts.
When you ‘part’ them, you may feel a very slight gag reflex as your palate raises. It is not unlike the start of a yawn or the start of a dry wretch (but does not follow through into either of these.
Disclaimer: Note that your tongue may retract while you are in this position, so please be mindful that when you do this exercize, if the tongue retracts, do not transfer that particular position into your singing.
Once the soft palate is lifting, closed vowels like ‘I’ and ‘u’ (Italian) will become much easier. As an extension of this, your wider vowels (a, e, o) will gain more ‘squilo’ (ability to cut an orchestra). The raised soft palate is something than many intermediate singrs will have difficulty with. When the voice starts out, it is smaller and does not demand as much ‘space’ rather than just careful training to prevent push. When the voice gains presence, an increased pharyngeal cavity space is needed to be more economical with vocal volume and presence.
Thank you for your time!
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