We're talking velum here...wait, what did you think...?
If you’ve ever laughed with a mouthful of water, you know that what goes in your mouth can come out your nose. So why doesn’t this happen every time we eat or drink? The answer is the velum, which also just happens to play an important role in singing and speaking.
The velum is the soft palate. To the right, you can see a selection of Resound members' vela - it's the tissue at the back of the throat and it moves up and down.
A high velum closes off the nose from the mouth and stops food and drink from going up the nose when we swallow. When it’s low, the velum allows us to breathe with our mouths closed. When it comes to singing and speaking, the velum stabilises the voice and acts as an amplifier, like a taut sail at the back of the throat that the sound waves can bounce against before they leave the mouth. (Fun tidbit - in Latin, velum translates as 'sail', 'veil' or 'curtain').
From my own experience as a soloist, I know that having control of my velum can help me to sing louder and higher with minimal effort in the throat. How amazing if a whole group of singers could learn to do this together!
We’re using Estill Voice Training to learn about the velum. The main problem we faced initially in our rehearsal was that it’s hard to detect the velum at all. Unlike the tongue it's not easy to feel, but there are still ways to gain a sense of it. If you snore, for example, can you feel something flutter at the back of your throat? Another way to feel the velum is to prepare to say the word 'pie,' stop on the 'p' sound and then release it into your nose. (NB this is one of Ann-Marie Speed’s exercises). Did you feel something move at the back of your throat? That's your velum!
Once we got a sense of our velum through these exercises (and also by having a look at each other's...) we went to the 'velum gym,' moving it from low to high both suddenly and gradually and listening carefully to the different sounds we made:
Low velum: -ng -m, all the breath and sound come through the nose;
Mid velum: nasalised, like the french 'bon,' breath and sound come through both the nose and the mouth; and
High velum: 'clear tone' - all the breath and sound come through the mouth. The sound is stronger.
Everyone found it challenging to do the mid-position at first. Moving from High to Mid to Low without skipping the Mid position was also challenging for the group on their first try. But we’re practising and will crack this soon with vela in tact!
Here’s Resound member Andre in an intense velum session whilst getting ready for a night out!
Resound is a Brighton-based voice group with vocal development high on the agenda. As their MD I’m using Estill Voice training this term to see if we can learn to adapt our sound to all the different genres of music we tackle in a project called Vocal Chameleons.