Practice Strategies: The Non-Aspirate Whisper & Lip Synching

When I was a teen-ager there were pop-centered television shows where people put on lyp-synching acts. People would dress up in elaborate costumes and create choreographed routines to perform while they moved their lips in synchronization with pre-recorded songs. It was fascinating and fun to watch on TV, and also very fun to play around with among friends and family in the living room. As a singer, I've discovered that this same action can be applied for music that I'm preparing to sing in performance. I've shared this exercise in the voice studio, and students report that they also enjoy it as a practice strategy.

I am often reminded that for each new song text we must prepare, we are asking the articulators to learn what is essentially a choreographed dance routine. In the same way a dancer practices certain movements in succession until they become succinctly expressive, the muscles of the tongue, lips, jaw and soft palate are engaged in "learning" to create succinct movements for accurate, and ultimately artistic articulation. If we do our job fully, we will gain the ability to articulate with flexibility that provides optimal resonance capabilities. Of course this is one element to achieving a balanced instrument, but one that can make a major difference in the ability to achieve a powerful performance.

So how do we work on the text so that the rigidity of the tongue becomes more flexible? Or so that the extra effort of the jaw subsides? One way is to use the non-aspirate whisper or "lip-synch".

Steps for Non-Aspirate Whisper or Lip-Synching in the Practice Room

  1. Write out the text: It is useful to write the text out on a piece of paper to isolate the text from musical notation. Complete an IPA transcription and a word-for-word translation. If the text is in your first language, it is still very useful to write a summary of the meaning of the text. You may choose to write in different colors to show personal meaning in your words.

  2. Sit or stand in a comfortable position where you may easily see the words you have written out. Place the paper on a music stand or book that allows you to maintain balanced alignment.

  3. Speak the words without using your voice or "Lip-Synch" the text! Be careful not to whisper, because this is tiring for the voice. You may feel that air is moving, but be sure you are absolutely quiet as you form the words in your mouth.

  4. Add a mirror: Use a standing mirror or a smaller hand held mirror to watch yourself as you form the words. What do you see? Is there excess tension anywhere in the formation of the words? Notice the lips, jaw, tongue. Which words, syllables, consonants or vowels feel or look harder?

  5. Make a list of the sounds that are unclear or harder, and practice moving through them more slowly to discover on your own how these sounds are made. Be sure to bring this list to your teacher so that you can work on clarifying them together. Then you can go back and employ this strategy again with improved understanding.

  6. Once the movements of the words look and feel easier and lighter, go ahead and sing your text. What do you notice? Does the text feel easier to produce? Do you feel you know the words better?

This strategy may be additionally benefical for the following reasons:

  • For kinesthetic practice: improves kinesthetic memorization of a text.

  • For vocal rest: A practice strategy that allows you to rest your voice.

  • For auditory practice: Can you hear the melody and accompaniment as you lip-synch the text? Allows a break from auditory self-assessment because we are not singing.

  • For expression: Watch in the mirror, and as you lip-synch, employ the imagination and encourage expression in the face. Add gesture.

May, 29, 2019 Dr. Ivy Walz, DMA