We've done a number of soft palate exercises now with the Basic and Intermediate Warm-up Series now, so it's now time to work on seeing whether you can independently lift your soft palate without doing other exercises to get it going. If you want to review those exercises first, you can check them out here.
It's really important to remember to relax your jaw and tongue first, so that you are starting from a fairly neutral starting place. So let your jaw drop, and take a moment to just let your tongue rest, still and quiet on the bottom of your mouth. The top surface of your tongue should be level with the top of your lower teeth if you have a mirror handy.
Turn your attention to your soft palate. If you can't immediately feel it, take a second to make the shape of the "ng" sound at the end of a word like "song" (IPA [ŋ]). The back of your tongue should touch the soft palate. Touch and release that part of your mouth with the back of your tongue a few times to get the feeling. If you're in a private place where you can make a gross sound without feeling too self-conscious, trying a snoring in-breath. Snoring will put the back of your tongue on the soft palate, and you will make noise through the part where your soft palate meets the back of your nasal passages (aka the naso-pharynx or the velar port). Now that you have a sensory awareness of that part of your anatomy, we can move on to trying to lift the soft palate.
By this point in the work we've done, you should have a pretty good idea where your soft palate is. Lifting the palate without too much effort in other areas is the real challenge. We want to lift the soft palate to close off the nasal passages and breath in through the mouth exclusively. To do this, we're going to sip the air through a narrowed lip closure, as if you are sipping on a fat slurpee straw, or one of those bubble-tea straws that allow you to slurp up the tapioca bubbles. Sipping in this way forces you to lift your soft palate in order to NOT breathe through your nose. Experiment by doing the following:
- Close your mouth and breath through your nose
- Close one nostril to increase the sensation of nose breathing
- see if you can feel the air at the back of your nose, going over the top of your soft palate and down your throat (a very delicate sensation).
- Now, open your lips as if you were going to breathe through your lips, but keep your one nostril closed to check that no air is going through your nose
- alternate mouth and nose breathing, trying to notice the lift of your soft palate.
Some people find that sipping the air creates too much sensation at the lip area, so they are distracted from the delicate action of the soft palate. Remember the image of feeling "coolness" on the back of your throat, and now open your lips a bit wider so that there is less resistance to drawing in the air. Finally, relax your lips altogether and see if you can sense your soft palate floating at the top, rather than collapsing down.
With this awareness, try now to relax your jaw and tongue and to lift your soft palate up. Visualize it like the roof of a big tent rising up, as if the circus has come to town and they're raising the big top! Another great image is to remember those parachute games most young people played as children. Imagine your soft palate like a parachute, floating way up and back. It should feel like there is a lot of space in the back of your mouth for sound to resonate in.
The last part of this step is to add sound to the action. Breathe in and visualize the soft palate floating up, and then sigh out on any vowel. Usually we start on "ah" or "uh" (IPA [ɑ] or [ʌ]̃). More closed vowel sounds, like "ee" or "oo" (IPA [i] or [u]̃) are more challenging. Try some glissing up on pitch, thinking LIFT! with your soft palate, and once that becomes comfortable, explore sliding back down on pitch. The problem is that often people relax their soft palate as they slide down, collapsing it along with the pitch and their vocal energy.
Next Step: Lip Advancing, Rounding, Spreading