Tension-busting trills are a fun and safe way to help your students warm up and build efficient breath control.
What is a ‘trill’ in vocal coaching?
A trill is an action that creates a secondary vibration (the first being the vibration of the vocal folds) and partially blocks the exit of airflow. Trills belong to the semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) family. Three popular trills used in vocal coaching are:
1. Lip trills (aka lip bubbles or lip rolls)
Lip trills are ‘bilabial’ with both lips bubbling together, resisting some of the airflow and vibrations that are granted passage. Teachers often instruct singers to lift the corners of the mouth with their fingers to create some slack and reduce unnecessary pressure in the area.
2. Tongue trills (aka rolled ‘rr’)
Like the rolling ‘r’s’ of the Spanish language, these trills are formed by the tongue vibrating against the roof of the mouth.
3. Tongue raspberries (aka rude)
In the past, your parents probably scolded you for blowing raspberries at your siblings, but now you have an excuse! The tongue is directed out of the mouth and vibrates with the lips, causing an air occlusion. Teachers often guide singers to gently bite the middle of the tongue (and to face the other way: spit, much!)
The tongue raspberry is a favourite of vocal coach Rachel Lynes, founder of the Sing Space and the Vocal Gym.
We caught up with Rachel to chat about ‘Finding the Fundamental Truths of Singing’, of which the tongue raspberry is a feature.
Rachel says: “With the tongue out, you’ve got this incredibly free larynx because of the equilibrium of pressures. Because you’ve created the closure with your tongue and lips you’ve got the subglottal pressure beneath the glottis.
“But you’ve also created this lovely backpressure, so the larynx is suspended, almost cushioned between the pressures.”
Five reasons to use trills
1 For warming up
A staple feature of many vocal warm-up routines, trills help prepare the voice for singing.
2 For fatigue or injury
In her YouTube series Running Commentary, Dr Jenevora Williams compares sports science and SOVTs.
“We know [in sports science] that stretch and massage will reduce inflammation, and it will also reduce the likelihood of scar tissue forming. We can do very gentle slides from the very bottom to the very top of our range on a semi-occluded vocal tract… and that has been shown to reduce inflammation more effectively than just resting the voice.”
3 For releasing articulator tension
Lip trills tend to release tension in the lips and jaw, and tongue trills and raspberries can help release tongue and jaw tensions. If lip trills are successful but tongue-focused trills are problematic, assess the tongue for unhelpful behaviour and check in with the abdominal support system.
4 For airflow management
Trills can help determine the management of the airstream and the ability to share the airflow with the secondary vibration. If too little air is provided, then the vibration is likely to cease. On the other hand, too much air blasted at a trill can create something erratic and short-lived.
Vocal pedagogue Janice Chapman writes: “The rolled ‘r’ itself places an insistent demand on airflow and support. For example, singers with a locked abdominal wall often find it impossible to maintain even and steady vibration of the tongue due to poor breath support and reduced airflow.” (Singing and Teaching Singing, 3rd Edition.)
5 For unpressing press
The relationship between flow and pressure is inverse: more flow means less pressure, and less flow means more pressure. If there is an excessive build-up of subglottic pressure, the sound is likely to be perceived as pressed. In this scenario, we could call upon trills to increase airflow and thus reduce pressure and press.
Share how you use ‘trills’ in your voice studio on the BAST Trainers Facebook group.
Chris Johnson: https://www.chrisjohnsonvocalcoach.com/
Singing and Teaching Singing by Janice L Chapman (3rd Edition). Keep an eye out for our book review coming soon!