A nasal sounding voice is a common complaint of singers.

In this episode, John discusses what is (and isn’t) a nasal voice and gives some simple methods for making your voice sound richer and more natural.


IVTOM Conference

Episode Transcript

Episode 117 – Nasal Sounding Voice

Hey there, this is John Henny welcome back to another edition of the intelligent vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. Alright, here we are in September 2019 and in a couple of weeks I will be lecturing at the international voice teachers of mixed conference in Denver. If you are going to be in Denver. What are the dates? I think it’s the 21st, 22nd, it’s in the 20’s I should have it in front of me. But if you’re going to be in the Denver area, you can get tickets you don’t have to be a member of IVTOM, although it’s a great organization, there’s going to be a lot of fantastic lecturers there. Professor Ken Bozeman, who I’ve referenced often in this podcast will be there. Mary Sanders Barton will be there who teaches a belt as well as classical singing. 

She does a concept called cross training, which is really fascinating and it’s just going to be a great time with fellow intelligent voice teachers and I’d love to meet you. I will put a link in the show notes. That’s johnhenny.com/117 for episode 117 and I will link to the information for the conference there. Anyway, it’s going to be a great time. All right, today I want to talk about a very common question I get. A lot of times when I do public masterclasses I will start off by asking the audience, if I could wave a magic wand and fix something in your voice, what would it be and a very common answer is nasality my voice sounds nasal and people seem to think they just have a nasal sounding voice or they’re really stuck trying to undo this nasality they’re confused by it. It’s actually pretty simple. It’s not a complex problem to fix. You just have to have awareness of what is causing it. The why is it happening Again, I always reference my three questions. This is why I’m really big on people getting at least some rudimentary knowledge of voice science because the three questions are What is happening? In this case, the what is nasality? The question is why is it happening? And the why is the deep question, the science question. The more you can get to the absolute why and a clear why, it gives you the third question, which is how, how do I fix it? And that will give you the tools to go in your practice session or when you’re working on a song, you’ll know what to do because you will have a really concise why. 

If you’re interested in that, you can always go to my website, johnhenny.com and click on courses. I have my new science of singing 2.0 course. Not to do a long commercial, but this really is, it’s kind of my flagship voice science course. I made it for singers, not just voice teachers. So it’s pretty easy to understand, but it will give you the why’s. You can just go to my website and in the menu, just click on courses and you’ll see it there. I’ve recently reduced the price quite a bit and added some 2.0 lessons. So I’m very proud of this course. Okay, back to nasality. So what is causing a nasality? Well, first let’s define it. A lot of times when people think that their voice is nasal, it’s actually not. Being having true nasality means that you are driving the sound, into your nose and you will feel, you can do a nasal consonant sound like aaaahh. That’s a nasal sound.

The English language doesn’t have a lot of nasal sounds as opposed to a French where you know, they’ll say sham pong. And that little ah, ah, please if you’re French don’t come after me for my accent. But that nasal sound is part of the language. But in other languages we don’t quite have those sounds as often. And even in English, if you’re going to sing the word hung, you’re not going to sing hung. You’re going to sing huuung. You’re going to stay off of that NG sound usually because the nasal sound isn’t quite so good. But a lot of times people are just singing with a larynx. That’s a little too high sound that the sound is more here. It’s just thinning down and then tone being turning nasal to get it into my nasal cavity, I actually have to raise the back of the tongue to the soft palate. 

And what I’m doing is I’m beginning to block off the sound waves traveling from the throat to the mouth and out to the listener, they’re being diverted into the nose hence the ooh, the nasal sound. Now you will sometimes hear people talking about getting more nasal resonance into a vocal sound or singing with more nasal resonance. Your nasal cavity is not really an efficient resonator sound does get up there and it does bounce and you do get some sensation. But the nostrils are rather small. They’re not really a good radiator. It’s not an efficient resonator so that you’re not, it’s really not much of the finished sound of a non nasal sound unless you’re specifically trying to sound nasal. So how do we, why do people get nasal and how do we fix it? Well, actually sounding nasal can be an effective exercise because when we are singing full finish sounds from our lower register through our transition to our upper register, it takes quite a bit of balance. 

It takes a vocal balance. There’s a lot of energy that needs to be filtered through the vowel and in the proper way. And we can start shouting and cracking and all of these things. So when we do it on a nasal sound, it’s much easier. And you can even try this. If you try and do a glide to your upper from your lower to your higher register and you got aaah and you’re getting a crack, do it on the uumm sound, the NG sound mmmm and it should smooth out, should be easier and then what you can do is you actually start dropping the tongue from the soft palate bit by bit and getting some of those French sounds aaaahhh and that’s going to be easier than if all aah, which is going to tend to want to either strain or flip. And so you can utilize those nasal sounds to start finding your way through that vocal transition that mix area or passaggio if you want to use the fancy term, basically that break area where we feel like the voices either going to jam up and start screaming or we’ve got to let go and let it flip. But really good singers are able to mix through there. Hence, international voice teachers have mix, but they’re able to mix through there so that you don’t lose the quality of their vocal sound as they go through those registers. So getting a nasal sound can help, but when we no longer want a nasal sound, we need to deconstruct how we get a nasal sound. 

A nasal sound is the tongue up against the soft palate on view. Actually put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. That’s your hard palate. You drag it back and you’ll feel it gets soft. That’s your soft palate. So the back of your tongue meets the soft palate oh, there’s your nasal sound. What we need to do is to separate those. The soft palate needs to rise and the tongue needs to drop. So what I’ll often have people do to have an awareness of that is just say uumaah, uumaah and feel the tongue snap away from the soft palate. And then you can even do guh, guh, guh and that hard G ug, ug, ug, what we’re doing is we’ve got that tongue jam up there and then we got guh, and then you’ll feel it drop. You need the tongue in this position and another way I’ll have them have awareness is to pant a bit like a dog ha, ha, ha. That’s the back of the tongue up the larynx is high. And then to take a deep, almost surprised breath haaa and then everything drops. And so I’ll tell people, take a deep breath, feel the back of your tongue drop, and then have them sing. 

You may be hanging on to a nasal sound without realizing it, because as I spoke a moment ago, it makes it easier that little aaaahhhhh can make that transition easier, even though I just flipped there. But that transition can be easier in the nasal sound. And so people will hang on to little unfinished sounds. Another common one is voice teachers will do that really bratty. Some will call a a pharyngeal sound ney, ney, ney and they’ll hang on to that bratty sound thinking it’s a finished sound because that makes everything a little easier. You’re kind of reducing the resonances and energies that you need to balance. So you need to start having an awareness of the back of your tongue and also the position of your larynx. Now you don’t, your larynx, there is no one position that your larynx needs to be in. Okay And that’s bump there in the middle of your neck. You’ll feel the bump go up and down when you’re swallowing that your Adam’s Apple or your thyroid cartilage and that houses your vocal folds. 

Well this whole apparatus when you swallow will move up and then you can’t breathe when you’re swallowing because the body doesn’t want food going down the windpipe. So it’s got this thing called the epiglottis that looks like a shoe horn closes over, stops the food and drink from going down into your lungs. But if we’re getting an unintentionally high larynx, it can start to kick in that swallowing condition a bit and people are beginning to close everything off and then they start to squeeze or it just makes everything just a little too thin. I will I’ve said this before, but the voice teacher concept I love to use is SpongeBob and Patrick. Hey SpongeBob. Hey Patrick. So the high larynx is SpongeBob and then the low larynx is Patrick. They’re both exaggerated. But when you’re singing on a finished tone, if you’re getting that thin sound or that nasal sound, you gotta be a little less SpongeBob and a little more Patrick that ha, ha, ha and then when you first do that, it may be a little bit tricky or you may have to get in there and do some vowel tuning and some balancing. The larynx may fight you and want to rise with the pitch even though you don’t want it to. What you want to do in that case is really pay attention to the vowel. A vowel I really love, or a vowel consonant combination is ba as in ba or my American pronunciation of ba, ba, ba and a lot of times people will think they’re saying the ba and they start to have ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba and it starts to come up. The vowel starts to shallow out and go to ba. So you gotta keep it a ba, ba. That’s a good way to begin to train that larynx to stay stable or at least under your control. 

Again, you can play with laryngeal height for color. You want a little more brightness, a little more thinner poppier sounds, you go a little more SpongeBob, you little one, little more depth richness. You go a little more Patrick and you can play with that position. There’s no one position your larynx needs to be in and it doesn’t need to not move. I remember years and years ago, I thought my larynx can’t move and I drove myself crazy because certain vowel sounds are going to have a slightly higher larynx than other vowel sounds. But we want the movement to be under our control and then be aware of the back of that tongue. If it’s really gaining more in that kind of nasal sound, the back of that tongue, take that deep breath, feel it drop ha, ha. Yeah, take that surprise breath, feel the back of that tongue drop. 

You have four mechanisms to control resonance and to control your vocal color. And that is your lips, whether they’re wider or more rounded and smaller. Your jaw, how much you’re dropping or not dropping the jaw, your larynx, how much it moves up and down, and then your tongue. Your tongue actually has a pretty profound effect on the voice and the movement of the tongue and that the back hump of that tongue. We really want to watch it. We don’t want that raise too much. Especially on certain vowels and if it’s habit is just staying up, then you’re going to start to get that more nasal tone. 

So a shorter podcast today. But hopefully that is some information that you can begin to utilize right away. Again, it’s not that hard. It’s really just having an awareness and if you’re nasal in your speaking voice, it’s the same thing. I mean if you’re kind of talking and your voice tends to feel like that, you just got haa think a little more Patrick, a little more depth, a little more richness back of the tongue drops. You’ll feel the larynx drop haa. It’s no good on a yawn. Cause if we overdo it, if we pushed the larynx down too much, we’re going to start to go into that very dull exaggerated, truly Patrick sound, which we don’t want. 

Hey, if you want more information about me, more vocal tips go to johnhenny.com. Be sure to get on my email list. I always let people know when new podcasts are out and also you get first dibs on any of my courses or special projects and discounts. I have discounts that only my email list gets. Also my next book, the tentative title is still voice teacher influencer and it’s going to talk about how voice teachers can grow their influence, grow their studio so that they can create passive income and not just work with the people in their own town, but really start to have a voice in the vocal community and really reach out and help others. That book is going to be coming out, but I’m going to be looking for test readers and I’m only going to be accepting test readers from my email list. So if you think you would like to read that book before anyone else and for free just in exchange for some feedback catching any typos and just make sure the ideas make sense. Again, go to johnhenny.com you’ll see boxes there to sign up for my email list. I also have my free straw warm up course. Just click on courses up there in the menu and until next time to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.