Using French Vowels

Weekly Teaching Tip – April 11, 2011

One of the most difficult sensations for singers to feel is the feeling of a “split resonance”, or basically a “mix”. Most techniques don’t teach or even understand this concept. As a result, most vocal techniques encourage the singer to sing entirely “under” the hard palate (Chest voice), or “behind” the palate (head voice). What sets mix apart is the knowledge and understanding that we want and can get both sensations simultaneously. That way we get the best of both worlds; the natural sound and power of the chest voice, and the beauty and range of the head voice! However, because singers have never been introduced to this concept it is a very difficult one to understand and to feel, but it is essential in their vocal development that they “get it”.

I have found that one of the quickest and easiest ways to help singers experience this “split resonance” is to use French vowels. The French have what are known as the “nasals” or nasal sounds or voyelles nasales francaises. The vowels most commonly associated with this are “oh” and “ah”. However, when the french say them the sound moves up behind the soft palate towards the nasal passageways. I have found that if the student can imitate this “French oh, or French Ah” they can get the feeling of releasing behind the soft palate without letting go of the chest or the sound “in the mouth”. Once they are comfortable with this “split resonance” all they need to do to get rid of any excess nasality in the tone is to drop the jaw. The resonation slides back more fully into the mouth without totally losing the sensation behind the soft palate.

Another way to experience this is to use the “ng” from the word “hung”. Again, the resonation is pushed behind the soft palate without losing the feeling “in the mouth”. Once the student has felt this you can move to an “nn” which brings the sound more in the mouth and less in the nasal spaces. You can then move on to vowels and sounds they will normally use in whatever language they are singing in without losing the feeling of the “split resonance”. If they “fall out” of their mix, you can always briefly re-visit the French nasal to remind them we need to keep a mix and not let the sound simply “fall out” of  the mouth in full chest or get stuck totally behind the palate in the head voice.

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