Is Yawning When Singing a Healthy Technique?
One of the very first instructions I received almost 20 years ago when I first started singing was to “yawn” when I sang. It wasn’t just one singing teacher either, there were about three different coaches I went to, along with a CD course I purchased a little later that gave the very broad instruction to “yawn when singing”. If you want to sing better, simply YAWN when singing – this instruction really did little to help my singing, and in fact, lead to extra strain and tension that occurred when I tried to yawn either before or yawn when singing. I remember my disappointment when I went to a new singing teacher, and bought subsequent courses and MOST of them revealed the secret to great singing as… you guessed it, YAWN WHEN SINGING. It was infuriating! Worst of all, none of my teachers could really explain to my why and how this was meant to help me sing better, other than that it was an instruction they themselves had been given, and it simply ‘worked’ for them. I’m here to share with you why this instruction often doesn’t work for many singers like you and I, and more importantly – to explain exactly WHY and HOW this technique is intended to help your singing, along with showing you the right way to sing that doesn’t require you to yawn and strain when you sing.
What does Yawning When Singing really do?
One of the most important anatomical elements of your singing voice is the soft palate – the soft, fleshy flap that separates your mouth from your nasal passage at the back of the throat, allowing you to toggle airflow through either your nose or mouth. Now, when you sing a vowel sound correctly, the soft palate actually raises up and alters the shape and size of the vocal tract itself to allow efficient resonance, and ultimately allow you to sing higher notes without straining. This is the essence of the general instruction of “yawning when singing” – my old singing coaches were simply trying to get me to raise the soft palate and access the three main resonators of the voice; the pharyngeal, nasal and oral resonators instead of pushing the sound from my throat.
How Do You Sing With The Soft Palate?
Funnily enough, you already know how to use the soft palate without realising. When you sneeze or cough, the soft palate actually closes the airway into the nose, and you guessed it, you also raise the soft palate when you yawn. A much more simply way to become aware of the process of raising the soft palate is to take five short breaths through the nose using the diaphragm (so, not from the top of your chest, but from your mid section around the lower ribs), then immediately exhale through the mouth. Can you feel the “door” opening and closing at the back of the head that allows airflow through the nose when you breathe in, but then closes when you exhale through the mouth? Congratulations, you just demystified the concept of “yawning when singing”. The secret to effective use of the soft palate is to learn how to raise the soft palate while retaining the same closure you achieve when you yawn, or when you use this simple breathing exercise. One of the most important concepts in singing is resonant space and the concept of vowel modification.
What is Vowel Modification
When you sing speech sounds, like the word “HARD” in your native accent, the soft palate stays in a neutral position. Now, as we ascend towards the first break period, if you force your voice to keep this speech pronunciation – you guessed it, the soft palate stays down in the neutral position, and you’ll experience strain and tension while your voice breaks and flips up into falsetto instead of staying strong and connected through the mix register. Now, if we allow this word to very subtly move towards a slight “HOARD” sound in the back of the head (in the same spot when you felt the “door to the nose” in the breathing exercise), you’ll notice that the vowel itself opens up into the back of the head and your vocal break disappears, and you stay in full voice. Pretty cool, right? Higher in your range this slight modification of the sound would then move slightly towards “HEARD/HOOD” and then “WHO’d” as you navigate the blend of resonance from chest voice towards your head register.
Learning how to modify your vowels properly will show you exactly what my old singing teachers failed to explain to me many years ago – the soft palate really is one of the most important keys to unlocking your true singing voice and singing higher notes without straining.
A great place to get started with Open Throat Singing using the soft palate to allow resonant space in the high range is the exclusive mixed voice singing lesson which will show you the initial stages of connecting chest and head voice to create a blend of resonance through the middle of your voice. Wouldn’t you love to have one long and connected note that stays in full voice from your lowest pitch to your highest note? Learning to use the soft palate properly is the first step to unlocking your full potential as a singer.
If you have any questions about the soft palate or learning how to sing, feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.