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Tips for the Tongue & Lips

Harness the power of your natural vocal percussion – urges Kim Chandler

Now for one of my all-time favourite technique topics – articulation!

A unique feature of vocalists is that we are the only musicians who combine music and text (lyrics).

Articulation is the power of the singer and why we are the focal points of bands.

The two main articulators are the tongue and the lips.

The Tongue: Small but Powerful

This important little part of the body is amazingly flexible and is incredibly strong for its size.

The tongue is critical in forming many consonants (e.g. ‘d’, ‘g’, ‘k’, ‘l’, ‘n’, ‘s’, ‘t’, ‘z’) and vowels (‘eh’ and ‘ee’).

I find that many singers I work with have two main tongue issues:

1. A “tide’s out” tongue – is a tongue that pulls back (retracts) into the mouth on vowels. To get the best acoustic result, the tongue tip should stay in touch with the bottom teeth for all vowels, i.e. a “tide’s in” position.

2. Tongue root tension (TRT) – a bunching of the muscles under the chin. When this is excessive it can create a “Kermit the Frog” edge to the sound. To alleviate this, do regular tongue stretches, such as poking out your tongue to full extension and holding for a 10-count (very attractive!).

Lip Service

The lips form the end of the vocal tract (tube) and therefore their shape can markedly affect the final sound that exits the mouth.

The lips help form consonants (e.g. ‘b’, ‘f’, ‘m’, ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘v’, ‘w’) and vowels (‘oh’ and ‘oo’).

Not only is it important that we understand what you’re singing about, but for contemporary singers there is also an important rhythmic purpose for making articulation crisp & precise.

Your articulators are the percussive element of your singing – enjoy them!

My Reactions To This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Tamara Kim – “What to do” (Original)

This is as good choice of style for you and you have a sweet, easy-to-listen to voice with a relaxed delivery. Do you sing in any of the many languages you speak? I do hope so! You might want to consider experimenting with singing with a slightly more relaxed larynx position (it’s quite high at the moment) as this will create a warmer tone. I’d also like to hear more light & shade and less scooping up to notes.

Brianna Jesme – “Secrets” (OneRepublic Cover)

You have a stylistically sophisticated voice, particularly your lovely vibrato, which is especially noteworthy because of your young age. It was also an interesting angle to do a cover of a male song like this with an Adele-like vocal delivery. On this point though, whilst it’s completely normal to emulate the artists we like, in order to make it as an artist in your own right, you’ll need to develop & nuture your ‘signature sound’.

-Kim Chandler

Kim Chandler is one of the UK’s top contemporary vocal coaches. She has a busy private studio in London and her clients include well-known artists, artists in development, professional singers and other vocal coaches. She is a director of the British Voice Association, and is the creator of the popular “Funky ‘n Fun” vocal training series.

Kim’s Voice Cross Trainer App is available now. It’s based on her popular “Funky ‘n Fun” vocal training series.

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  • MichaelScorpio216

    Kim, Its exciting to”HEAR” that your career is flourishing in the UK. Iam curious about your insights about the English accent. Ive been obsessed with playing with the British accent since a teenage and have done very well to duplicate the Proper articulation.Ive discovered the reason why so many muscians from across the pond are so successfull with their career has to do with the fact that you all have mastered the art-ticulation of the english language.The american version is bland and lacking substance. The grace and beauty comes effortlessly for you and is obvious that to speak is a great joy! A Brit can have a very fullfilling conversation with themselves and often love to hear themselves talk incessantly.At the same time I question whether I can compete with folks by the millions who posses this awesome gift! Any suggestions? One more question? How did Donna Summer learn how to capture so many variations of hush-tones and non-phonations? Whats her secrets.Do you think someday she will share how to establish such a wide range of textures with aspireing musicians before she too old to repeat her own work. She is in her late 70’s or early 80’s I believe. Virtually impossible to communicate with. Michael Scorpio

  • Kim Chandler

    Hi Michael. You certainly have some interesting questions :-) Unfortunately I don’t believe I can provide too much insight about the intricacies of the ‘British accent’ except to say that there are lots & lots of different ones. Seemingly each town/village in the UK has its own distinctive accent – the variation is staggering to an aussie such as myself (which has little regional variation in accent)! As for Donna Summer’s palette of vocal textures, I think she’s the only one who can reveal her secrets on that front…