Darnelle was preparing a repertoire to audition for agency function band work; she had a strong belt and fairly good intonation.
Her Essex accent was coupled with a strong nasal twang in speech and this quality was pervading her song work, reducing the potential for dynamic and mood that any function singer will definitely need; this in turn was affecting her motivation negatively.
Darnelle could hear the limitations caused by this tendency and she disliked her demo recordings intensely. Friends and family members had also commented…‘you sound like you have a cold’… or ‘you’re singing through your nose!’
There are various exercises that all singers can attempt if they want to get their nasal quality under control. After an initial session it was apparent that Darnelle had little awareness of the back of her tongue and her soft palate; on top of this her lower jaw was quite set. The exercises I selected were a mixture of fun and more focused techniques – Darnelle was a clearly a bubbly and fun loving person so I felt I could be quite adventurous with her.
A Tongue / Palate Exercise That Works
I worked a tongue and palate exercise with Darnelle that involved alternating a high and low tongue with the sound ‘ngah’; we also looked a light jaw massage.
This helped immensely with the gentle tones at the start of one or two ballads but as soon as Darnelle hit the heights of feeling or range, her nasality returned.
We discussed how Darnelle was associating ‘letting go’ with ‘holding on’.
We talked about times in our lives when we are liberated and vocally free or adventurous and we settled for exploration of baby talk (by the baby!)
We watched a couple of videos of babies chatting (easy to find on YouTube) and noted the common aspects such as roaming eyes, neck and head movement and very free tongue and lips. See these amusing examples!
Darnelle was game for playing the part and she ‘baby talked’ her way through some songs along with backing track; after about 15 minutes she was hitting some wonderful tones and free upper range notes with ease.
Using That Exercise Independently
The task was transferring this newfound freedom to shape lyrics and work to time.
Over a couple of sessions we moved between the baby shapes and the actual songs, playing randomly whenever tension crept in.
These exercises are not once-for-all solutions. The art to getting this area right is to constantly try out new material and to know when to pause and play the game when that old sound re-appears.
The results have been amazing! Darnelle has added some very demanding material to her repertoire and has approached the learning of dozens of songs with much more energy and diligence.
As we age, even into adolescence, we develop tensions and inhibitions that can inhabit every aspect of our expression. The successful singer needs to find release and if ‘going back in time’ is what it takes to achieve this, then it’s a worthwhile journey!
I would add that many singers with notable nasal quality have made hugely successful careers, Cilla Black, Barbara Streisand and Aretha Franklin to name a few. This really is about personal taste!