Cause, and Elimination of Nasality
I’m certain you’ve heard really thin, nasally voices that grated on your nerves. Maybe you didn’t know exactly what is was but knew that you didn’t like the voice and that it was abrasive. An example of a very nasal voice would be Lois in the animated series Family Guy. Obviously it’s done there to distinguish her character, and often times animated voice-over characters have voices that don’t reflect normal sounding voices, like Sponge Bob, for instance.
Well, that nasally sound is pretty universally recognized, by speech therapists and singing instructors (and probably you!), as an undesirable (maybe even insufferable) timbre. A voice that has a small amount of it can be fine, even nice as a particular style, but, for the most part, it’s unacceptable and should be eliminated.
The good news is that the cause of unintended, excessive is known, and it’s relatively easy to eradicate. It occurs when the soft palate (velum) is lowered, which opens up the velopharyngeal port while singing nonnasal sounds.
Let me break that down in more understandable terms. Your soft palate is the soft, fleshy part in the back of the roof of your mouth. If you follow the roof of your mouth with your tongue, you can feel it. And when you say the word “hanger” you can feel your soft palate lower and meet the back part of the body of your tongue.
Notice what happens in the middle of the word “hanger”. In the first part of the word, the “hey” sound, the airflow is almost exclusively coming out of your mouth. A small amount of air may be unintentionally coming out of your mouth. Then during the /ng/ part of the word, if you hang on that for a few seconds, allowing the air and sound continue to flow, the air switches from coming out of your mouth, entering another port, the velopharyngeal port, and comes out of your nose. It switches back to almost exclusively coming out of your mouth once you finish the word on the /er/ sound.
So, in order to eliminate nasality, the velopharyngeal port must remain closed, particularly when singing nonnasals. The port will, and needs to, temporarily open during nasal, such as the /ng/ sound. The sound and air must continue to flow during nasals, of course, but the opening should be quick and closed immediately upon returning to a vowel sound.
Of course the soft palate is a major culprit of nasality, too, along with the opening of the velopharyngeal port, and we’ll talk more about that and some exercises that will help to eliminate the nasality in the next post.
Hope that’s helpful!