Stretching the Soft Palate

So far, in the three Voice Warm-up Series (basic, intermediate, advanced), we have looked at the soft palate 3 times, once in each series. Hopefully you can use those warm-up steps (basic, intermediate, advanced) to learn about the soft palate. Here, we want to quickly get the soft palate energized, and articulating.

In English, there are 3 consonant sounds made with the soft palate: two stop-plosives (see the lips step for more on this kind of sound), /k/ and /g/, and a "nasal" consonant, /ŋ/. In other languages, there are many other consonant sounds made with the soft palate, or "velum" (from whence they get their name, velar consonants). For example, there is the sound in German words like "ach", represented in the IPA as [x]. This voiceless fricative sound is made with the back of the tongue against the soft palate, and is also heard in many Yiddish load words to English, such as "chutzpah."

To begin, let's sensitize the soft palate with a series of /x/ sounds. Try a bunch of triplet rhythms: [xxx-xxx-xxx-x], and repeat. Swallow after you've done this, as it often releases mucous from the back of the soft palate.

Swallowing contracts some of the soft palate muscles, and stretches others. Yawning is its opposite. To wake up the soft palate, we're going to alternate the two actions. Start with a modified yawn by relaxing your jaw, and leaving your tongue tip behind your lower front teeth, and engage in a voiceless yawn. Then, close your mouth and swallow. Repeat this 3 or 4 times.

Our last step is to wake up the soft palate with a little drill of those English sounds. The pattern of sounds is [kʌɡʌ ŋʌɡʌ], or "kuh-guh nguh-guh". Repeat that in clusters of 4, slowly trying to go faster. (If you find the sequence "nguh-guh" difficult, you could try this reversal: "kung-uh gung-uh" [kʌŋʌ ɡʌŋʌ].


Next: Separating the Actions of the Jaw and Tongue

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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