Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Mapping the Lips

CCM Bannder no dates

LipsI frequently encounter students who have no control over their lips. These are students that are otherwise able to respond to what I ask of them. For instance, I will ask them to smile and I am lucky if I get a few millimeters of change. When I hand the student a mirror and ask them to watch their mouth, they immediately notice the disconnect. Many of these students were taught to maintain a rounded lip position and seem to have lost the ability to move beyond their default. While some teachers may advocate a stable lip position, there are many other pedagogues that believe this can be detrimental to the singing voice.

James C. McKinney, author of “The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults” says “the lips must avoid rigid position; they should not be pulled back, pushed forward, or rendered almost immobile, but should be free to move at all times” (McKinney, p. 113). To illustrate the potential negative side effects of a rigid lip position, he offers the following mapping exercise (McKinney, p. 132-133):

  1. Pull your lips back into a forced smile and sing the vowel [a]; it is difficult to keep the sound from sounding hard and too bright. Pull your lips back hard again and notice the tension it creates in the region of the soft palate; you may feel a tightness around the larynx, too.
  2. Now pull your lips in over your teeth until your mouth is almost closed; notice how it muffles and darkens the sound, and also changes the vowel.
  3. Now protrude the lips forcibly until the front teeth are uncovered and you feel tension in the back of your throat and around the base of your tongue. Try to sing the [a] vowel; notice how tense it feels and how brilliant it sounds. Uncovering the teeth tends to encourage the high partials, and “trumpeting” the lips tends to lock the resonance system into a tight sound of considerable brilliance but little beauty or flexibility.
  4. While singing in this protruded lip position, relax your lips and open your jaw freely. Observe the almost startling contrast in tone quality and ease of production.

I find that when I introduce my students to the extremes, they gain a better understanding of their instrument and find it easier to explore new ideas. The exercises above can also be used as a form of negative practice to help students separate old habits from a new approach.

Do you have other ways to address tension or lack of flexibility in the lips? If you do, please share them in the comment section below. If you are not already following the blog, you can sign-up on the bottom right of this page to receive an email each time there is a new post. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on social media. As always, thank you for reading and have a great week of teaching!


6 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Mapping the Lips

  1. Margaret
    September 18, 2017

    Please add me to email list. Thanks!


  2. Maria M Damore
    September 21, 2017

    Hi Matt, I often find that when I encourage students to exaggerate using their lips while articulating during singing it improves their overall core sound. What might be the reason for this?

    Maria Damore


  3. Debra
    September 24, 2017

    Thanks for this! Please add me to your email list.


  4. Jennifer
    September 27, 2017

    Please add me to your email list! Thank you!


  5. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: How to allow placement to reveal itself (pt. 2) | Matt Edwards

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This entry was posted on September 18, 2017 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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