Humming and Puppy Whimpers, Part 2– Let Your Voice Hum Like a Top!
It’s now Part 2 of our discussion on the use of humming (and related exercises) to find your best, most natural and free vocal resonance for singing and speaking. Have you ever heard the expression “hum like a top”? If you’re old enough to remember a childhood without computer games, where we actually played outside all day until Mom had to call our name throughout the neighborhood to find us, you know that when a top spins perfectly, it makes a humming noise. It’s the perfect metaphor for your singing voice, too. When our voice “spins” or vibrates (resonates) perfectly, it will feel and sound clear as a bell, and you’ll be able to sing comfortably and dynamically throughout your natural range.
In Part 1, we explored several exercises to achieve this free resonance, which forms the very core of our singing tone. But why is humming so important? What good habits and vocal reflexes do we program into our bodies and voices when we hum? Singing a song involves many simultaneous activities of the body and mind, and with the notable exception of using only “mmm” instead of words, humming is no different. However, I’ve narrowed down four major aspects of singing technique that are easier to feel when humming:
1. A “Clean” Onset. The onset is the moment that the vocal cords come together to vibrate a pitch. When that happens, you should feel as if the sound starts right up in the front of your face, not in your throat! That’s because the resonating air moves from the cords through your throat and then into your head, and that’s where your first sensation of the voice should be. There should be no scoop, slide or push up into the sound from the throat. The moment your lips come together to hum, you’ll feel the buzz in front right away. Where exactly? That leads us to our second benefit of humming.
2. Natural Placement. This is a biggie! You don’t have to “place”
your voice anywhere. Singers get into all kinds of trouble by trying to
push the voice up higher, or down lower. You should “allow” your
voice out, not push it around. With a good breath and a relaxed, open
throat, your humming will find exactly the right spot in your head to
resonate any pitch. You’ll feel lowest notes around the lips, medium
range notes around the nose, and high notes from the eyes up. And,
once your technique settles in, your voice will always go to the same
spot to vibrate the same pitch. You’ll be able to anticipate exactly
where to feel each note you sing. Fantastic!
3. Improved Focus. Just like focusing a camera or binoculars, the
singing voice needs to be focused as well. You need to mentally
“aim” or “gather” your voice from the center of the face, as if you
are shooting an arrow at a bullseye on a target. Humming on an
“mmm” or “nnn” automatically pulls the voice into the center of
the face, because these are nasal consonants that generate a lot
of buzz around the nose and lips. Focus is critical to a healthy
tone, and much of what we perceive as power in a voice comes
from how well it is focused. Singing with focus saves you from
wasting your precious breath, and minimizes wear and tear on
the vocal cords.
4. Better Vocal Flow. Many beginning (and even intermediate)
singers often restrict the flow of their air, resulting in very little
projection of their sound. Telling singers “project, project!”
only makes them tense up and push. They may be holding
back out of fear, habit, or simply lack of technique. Humming
provides a gentle way to learn to “flow and grow”, as I call it.
The singer can find their focus and placement easily with the hum,
and then gently allow more air to flow through, feeling the voice
rolling forward and increasing in sound without forcing.
See why I am a huge fan of humming? It’s a great training tool, and also a great therapy tool if you are tired, sick or have abused your voice. It is
precise, and yet gentle. If you want your voice to hum like a top, try
the exercises from Part 1— you’ll start to see results immediately!