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Any suggestions on how to train to lift the soft palate?

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miss pk
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Hi: For some reason, I have a lot of difficulty doing this consistently. there are times when i feel like i get it right and it really seems to help with getting through breaks, accessing my upper registers and improving my tone (i sound less nasal and brighter). is that even what's supposed to happen when you lift the palate? anyway, i have problems doing it correctly on a consistent basis - and when i do it wrong, it seems to create other problems - tensing my jaw, throat tension and all this other bad stuff. :|

I am somewhat new to singing, so I don't know if this is a common problem, but f anyone has any suggestions on ways i might 1) be able to learn do this consistently/reliably 2) and also explain how i can tell when i'm doing it correctly (what it feels like, how it should sound, etc), i would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks!

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For some reason, I have a lot of difficulty doing this consistently. there are times when i feel like i get it right and it really seems to help with getting through breaks, accessing my upper registers and improving my tone (i sound less nasal and brighter). is that even what's supposed to happen when you lift the palate? anyway, i have problems doing it correctly on a consistent basis - and when i do it wrong, it seems to create other problems - tensing my jaw, throat tension and all this other bad stuff. :|

I am somewhat new to singing, so I don't know if this is a common problem, but f anyone has any suggestions on ways i might 1) be able to learn do this consistently/reliably 2) and also explain how i can tell when i'm doing it correctly (what it feels like, how it should sound, etc), i would greatly appreciate it.

miss pk: I will start with the latter question, and proceed to the former: When the soft palate is not down, there is not nasality. Nasality is most easily tested when singing a vowel, by just pinching the nostrils together gently as to shut them. If there is a change in the tone quality of the sung note (usually accompanied by a strong vibration in the nostrils, between the pinching fingers), then the the tone is nasal.

If there is no change in tone quality, then the tone is not nasal, and the soft palate is sufficiently high.

As to exercises: Amongst classical singers there is an axiom, almost a Zen moment: The thing you try to do deliberately will cause undesirable consequences elsewhere. In the case of 'doing' something to deliberately raise the palate, the consensus is that trying to deliberately raise it does not necessarily succeed, and causes undesirable muscle tensions when trying.

However,indirect methods based on natural reflexes, are a reasonable Path. Here is a comment I've saved from an e-mail by Professor Lloyd Hansen:

All of the traditional methods for lifting the soft palate such as 'smelling a rose', 'a surprised inhale', 'the "A-ha" moment' etc. etc. rely on the body's automatic reflex of lifting the soft palate and not on a conscious direct effort to do so. And they are valuable resources to use in making the singer aware of the effect of a raised soft palate on the vocal tone without the concurrent possible tension that occurs when a conscious attempt is made to lift the soft palate.

To this I add my own thoughts, about the use of consonants:

Many exercises which use semi-occluded consonants work very well for the training of the high soft palate, as these sounds cannot be made when the palate does not rise and shut the velopharyngeal port (VP for short).

I recommend the following syllabic exercises to you for helping to carry over the high palate into vowel sounds. The Th referred to below is the voiced one. In each case, sustain the consonant for about 2 seconds, open the minimal amount to the vowel (tongue tip in most cases), sustain the vowel a few seconds, and then close to the final consonant and sustain the consonant for a couple seconds. Repeat each word a few times, on each note starting at the D next to middle C, and transposing upward by a semitone after doing all the words, until you reach the G above middle C.

Th-ee-Z (these)

Th-ay-V (they've)

Th-oh-Z (those)

V-oo (french Vous)

Z-oo-Z (Zoos)

Th-uh (the)

I think you get the idea. These type of sounds can also be combined into multi-syllable pronunciations, such as

They've Zoos! and

V-ee-Z-ah-V-ee-Z (French vis-a-vis)

Incidentally, all of these exercises are also fabulous for reducing too-heavy registration in this particular voice range, and in the transition from lower voice to middle voice.

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Thanks so much, Steven! I'm glad to hear that it's not just me that experiences muscle tension when deliberately trying to raise the soft palate in an isolated manner. I will certainly try the indirect ways of doing this. It's interesting that you also talk about " reducing too-heavy registration ". All my life i've pretty much sung with my chest voice only - pulling it up to sing higher notes - very throat muscle-y style of singing. After taking lessons, i've definitely improved my ability to use my head voice more and lessen the use of throat muscles, but in the middle area, i definitely feel like my voice is too heavy still and reducing the "weight" is a challenge. i want to feel more free and fluid in the middle area but sometimes i feel like my vocal chords literally have luggage and are too heavy to sing a song that jumps around a lot. the lifted soft palate seems to alleviate the weight so i hope these exercises will help with that. any other ideas on how to reduce "weight" would be welcome as well! :D

Thanks again.

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After taking lessons, i've definitely improved my ability to use my head voice more and lessen the use of throat muscles, but in the middle area, i definitely feel like my voice is too heavy still and reducing the "weight" is a challenge. i want to feel more free and fluid in the middle area but sometimes i feel like my vocal chords literally have luggage and are too heavy to sing a song that jumps around a lot. the lifted soft palate seems to alleviate the weight so i hope these exercises will help with that. any other ideas on how to reduce "weight" would be welcome as well! :D

miss pk: I am happy to hear that you are enjoying progress during your study. Excellent!

The 'too much vocal weight' challenge is a very common one. Do not feel alone in that. The 'cords with luggage' image... that is very apt.

The road to take depends somewhat on your particular voice. Do you have a fluty-soft headvoice tone available to you anywhere in the range? If so, what is the lowest note where it will work?

In the mean time, all of the semi-occluded consonant exercises I mentioned can be done softly, which on its own will lighten the registration just a bit. I think you will be surprised what will happen when you do a soft Z followed by a soft /o/ (oh) on the G or A above middle C. To be sure that you do not just 'clunk' into the /o/, sustain the Z on its own a few times, and then open _very_ slowly from the Z to the /o/, keeping the tonal concept as consistent as you can.

FYI, the vocal weight issue also may involve a bit of air overpressure. To get that out of the picture for just a bit, lay on your back on the floor, with a short pillow under your head. Do the consonant exercises in this position. I believe you will notice some beneficial changes using this approach for a bit.

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I'd like to add a simple idea to the great stuff here about how to lift the soft palate:

Try raising your eyebrows, working your eyes as if you are expressively talking to a small child or animal. Look in a mirror to make sure you're doing this. Now sing this way.

The eyes have it!

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Regarding the soft palate--as a child I learned to raise my palate so the doctor wouldn't use the tongue depressor which always gagged me. I've had very little trouble since. I'm big on visualization and isolation as well as mirror and flashlight. One needs to learn how it feels to have the soft palate up and out of the way. I think working on the soft palate without complicating matters with singing can be effective. I have my students take a flashlight and go to the mirror and just look after they have looked in my mouth. i bounce it up and down and they are very impressed:lol: Once they get it, I ask them to feel it kinesthetically, then close their eyes and feel it. Then I have them move it up and down, if they can--they work on it at home if they can't. Then we add sound. There is also going from ng to a vowel, feeling the palate peel off the back of the tongue. You can visualize the action once you know what it looks and feels like. I realize this is an answer to a very early question, but I'm just discovering the fori!

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  • 3 months later...

I have read that you lift your front lips as if biting an apple and smile a little at the same time raising your cheeck muscles up a bit. I have heard this from a number of sources.

BryanPMitchell: This may cause a reflexive upward motion of the palate, but also will change some of the acoustics of the vocal tract in other areas. Lifting the top lip and/or smiling will affect the vocal tract length and the ratio of cross section/length of the vocal tract from the teeth to the outside of the lips. These actions will change the frequencies of the resonances, and _may_ also cause the soft palate to rise. As to whether this is consistent with vocal tone quality objectives will vary by individual. If not consistent, then there are other ways to achieve the high palate without making the apple-eating embouchure.

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Steven,

Do you know of any other resources that have pictures/descriptions of the velopharyngeal port? Does port assist in getting the sound "in the mask?"

John: There's bunches. I will pull some together for you.

On the second question, the answer is 'yes', but needs a fuller explanation, since there are other factors involved.

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