The fancy term for this next post on singing loudly is called vocal placement. However, being the literalist that I am, I try to be a little more specific.
Most folks do not know how to raise their soft palate. Unfortunately, it is indispensable in order to sing loudly. The soft palate is what gives the opera singer the edge in out-singing a pop stylist. Incidentally, the soft palate also makes possible the ability to sing higher. If you do not raise your soft palate when you sing, you will not be able to transition into the higher part of your possible range. You won’t be able to sing as high. Controlling the soft palate is crazy important. Here’s an interesting composite of different vocal styles: This performance always makes me smile. I love that high note Pavarotti sings (“AHHHHHLLLLL for one”).
Where the Soft Palate Is Located
The first thing I teach my singers is where to find the soft palate. I tell them to stick their tongue to the roof of their mouth. “See how the roof of your mouth is hard?” I ask them. “That is called your hard palate. . .because it’s hard.”
Then, I tell my singers to move their tongue to the top-back of their mouth to where it gets soft and squishy. “The soft and squishy part is called the soft palate. . .because it’s soft.”
Demonstrate the Difference in Sound
I then show the singers the difference between singing a note with a lowered soft palate and a raised soft palate. Lowered soft palate singing sounds very nasal and twangy. Raised soft palate singing sounds very spacious and warm.*
How to Raise the Soft Palate
Teaching singers to raise their soft palate is very easy. Tell them to yawn. When a singer yawns, they automatically raise their soft palate. They get the feeling of space in the back of the mouth.
Tell the singers you want 25% of a yawn. That generally gets you a balanced sound (i.e. one that’s not too swallowed or too nasal). For a training exercise, I use a five note descending scale on the “Ah” vowel starting on the fifth scale degree (sol) and going down to the first (do). For fun, I will sometimes have them switch between minor scales and major scales. I progressively restart the scale a half-step higher until my singers get toward the top of their range.
It is imperative that singers learn how to raise and lower their soft palate at will. Their ability to sing high and loud depends on it. There is a second important part of placement wherein a singer needs to learn to “focus” the sound toward the mask of the face. That is a more advanced concept that I teach later. It is more important for singers to learn how to raise the soft palate first.
*Certain singing styles require a higher soft palate than others. Performing opera necessitates a very high soft palate. Country singers use a much lower soft palate. Jazz singers are somewhere in between. Regardless, one still needs to control the soft palate in order to be versatile.