Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nasal Singing...or Is It?

What does it mean to sing with a "nasal" placement? I've taught a few students who have come to me with the question, "How can I sing less nasal?" In each case, careful analysis of the mechanics involved in phonation and resonance proved to the students that what they characterized as "nasal" singing was, in fact, exactly opposite to what they had thought.

To illustrate, I'll introduce a hypothetical student...let's call him "Hypo" for short. Hypo sings with a pronounced twang and he has been told by his school choir teacher that he sings nasal. I am of the opinion that a musician, whether a singer or instrumentalist, will be more successful if he knows "what" he is doing, "how" he is doing it, and if he is doing it with "intent". So I begin by asking a few questions.

Me: Why do you want singing lessons?

Hypo: My teacher says I sing nasal.

Me: Do you know what your teacher means when he says that you sing nasal?

Hypo: I guess it means that I sing in my nose.

Me: How do you sing in your nose?

Hypo: I don't know.

Me: Did your teacher ever use the words "septum" or "palatine uvula" when he told you that you sing nasal?

Hypo: ...Um...huh?

Me: Hypo, sing this note for me...AAAh...

Hypo: Honk...

Me: OK Hypo, now hold your nose like you're going to dive into a pool and sing the note again.

Hypo: Honk !

Me: Sounds the same, doesn't it? So, can you tell me how you can be singing in your nose if you can plug it up and make exactly the same awful sound?

Hypo: Nope, But that's what my choir teacher said.

Me: OK Hypo, Today, you are going to learn two , THREE things. One, Your choir teacher is either full of shit, lazy or both. Two, If you want to get a good grade, you'll keep that to yourself and pretend to listen to what he has to say. Three, before you walk out that door, your going to learn how to sing "Aaah" instead of "Honk!"

What is mistakenly described as singing nasal is actually singing without the benefit of the resonance available in the sinus and nasal cavities. The first thing to be determined is if there is a physical abnormality that would cause this condition. Does the singer have a deviated septum? Has the nose been broken? If not, then it becomes a matter of mechanics, placement and resonance. Using the proper mechanics will place, or focus the voice in a way that optimum resonance can be achieved.

There are two ways to illustrate the resonance of the facial cavities. First, I have the student hum a musical exercise or melody. This proves to the student that there is a substantial amount of sound produced which does not come out of the mouth. Then I use the sound "ng" as in the word "sing". I have "Hypo" sing the word sing and sustain the final ng, or perhaps sing the word "singaah". From a mechanical standpoint, the sound "ng" is produced by closing the back of the mouth. The base of the tongue raises to meet the descending uvula which is the tip of the soft palate. This valve-like closure causes all of the sound to be focused up the back of the throat and into the cavities of the face, including the nasal sinus cavities. I call it "humming with an open mouth". Opening the ng sound to the aah sound will train the mechanism to maintain the same resonance for the open vowel as that accomplished by closing the back of the mouth.

Pete's rule number two states that "It's always simpler than it seems." The remedy for what is mistakenly called nasality proves that rule. It really is just that simple, but like everything worth doing, it takes repetition and lots of practice. Come see me and I'll prove it.


Michael C said...

One of the best tutorials on singing that I've read. You really killed the debate between "sing through your nose" and singing "nasally". Well done.

All Tomorrows said...

Utterly impressed! I don't know many people told me that I should use my 'chest voice' rather than my 'head voice', but it's on fact this that mails my problem. Unfortunately, I've found out that I have very tight airways in my nose, so let's see how to cope with that until I can sound like my hero (that being Greg Lake, of all people)...

Anonymous said...

This was exactly what I've been looking for. Excellent article; thanks a million!

singing courses said...

Nasal singing is somewhat the problems of most singers! Some don't know the difference at all.

Anonymous said...

You make some good points. But in my experience, most students who have a nasal tone when they sing will find that their tone changes dramatically when they plug/unplug their nose while singing a vowel. In fact, I have never worked with or described a tone as nasal when this was not the case. I use this tool frequently in helping students get the sound out of their nose--with the exception of nasal consonants, which as you accurately pointed out, can only be phonated through the nose.

Eric Renfert said...

Always thought that my voice was just flat like that because of my deviated septum. I've had surgery recommended for chronic sinusitis, but tried your technique, and wow did it make a world of difference, even though really I can only get one side of my face to resonate right, due to the septum.