Q&A - Lifting Soft Palate and Closing Off the Nose
After the discussion about my last post I realized that the question that was asked in the initial email had something to do with the way I reacted. Plus it is a question that I’m sure others probably have as well. So that is the Q&A for today, in context with the rest of the email that I already posted. My reply here picks up after what is shown in my previous post.
A recent technical difficulty I have been having lies with issues of raising the soft palate. I have heard that this makes the palate rigid which aids resonance.
Furthermore, I was once instructed by a teacher who showed me a diction book with images which claimed that for English, vowels should be pronounced with the nasal passages closed, unless pronouncing a nasal vowel.
My difficulty lies with the proponents of your assertion that all airways including the naso-pharynx should be open for natural singing resonance.
I cannot seem to “lift” my soft palate without closing my nose.
Do you have any advice to help with this dilemma?
Also, I could not find on your page anywhere examples of or testimonials from students of yours. Would you be kind enough to send the names of some people who have studied with you so that I may evaluate the application of your techniques by listening to recordings?
…Now, if you can accept these points I’ve made, I can give you some things to think about for your soft palate.
The main thing I tell people regarding the soft palate is it is part of the system. It isn’t something that exists in isolation. The reality is we can’t really do anything with the soft palate. So to try to do so just creates interference.
The main thing we can do that includes the soft palate, along with the rest of the throat, is to feel a stretch. This is similar to the stretch we might feel when we are laughing. It is a stretch of the inner skin of the air-way, and includes the soft palate.
The big thing is don’t try to lift your soft palate. That is a common opinion but misguided. It is usually a problem to try to work with parts of the instrument in isolation. We need to develop a productive condition of the whole instrument. Think of how the body feels in vital emotional states such as joy, enthusiasm, celebration, etc. These states put the body into a productive condition.
The place where modern pedagogy drops the ball regarding the soft palate (which I almost never talk about, and never direct people to do anything with. Which doesn’t mean nothing happens with it. We just don’t do anything deliberately) is they don’t recognize the connection between the facial muscles and the soft palate. The lift in the face that happens in a pleasant, happy expression is critical to the so-called lifting of the palate.
But the real purpose of all this is to open the post-nasal resonator of the naso-pharynx. When that space behind the nose is opened we feel a stretch that includes a stretch of the soft palate. The change in the resonance is significant. As is the ease of the functioning of the voice.
Regarding your question about nasality in English. The confusion stems from a lack of understanding. Not only for you but for most of the diction specialists and many voice teachers, for that matter.
The open nasal passages that I talk about is for the purpose of avoiding nasality. I wrote a whole article on this, so I won’t repeat that here. The main point being, if the voice is functioning completely you can’t not have resonance in the naso-pharynx and nasal passages. When that resonance is missing the tone sounds lacking in some way, depending on the circumstances.
At the same time, you can’t try to have this resonance if you haven’t created the conditions in which it results naturally. When people do try to make it, because they have been told that it should be there, they end up sounding nasal. Proper resonance should NEVER SOUND NASAL.
I want to be clear about that. That is where diction teachers don’t have a deep enough understanding to give accurate information. And why that direction you read is confusing. Just because there is resonance in the post-nasal area, it doesn’t mean it sounds nasal. Again, it should never sound nasal. And it is the post-nasal area, not the nose. Resonance in the nose sounds nasal.
So it is correct that in English the vowels should not sound nasal. But that has nothing to do with having open nasal passages and openness above the soft-palate. The largest resonating space we have at our disposal is the space behind the nose at the top of the pharynx. If we cut that off we severely limit the freedom and expansion of our tone.
You don’t have to close off the nasal passages to avoid sounding nasal. That is the bottom-line answer. In fact nasality is more an issue of a constricted throat than an open nasal passage. That is why it is important to have the whole pharynx/air-way open and unconstricted. So the resonance doesn’t get trapped in any one part. That is what nasality is. The resonance getting trapped in the nose instead of freely reverberating throughout the whole vocal tract.
I hope this helps you move forward with your singing. Good luck.