So at my first lesson, Madame asked me to make my uvula move up and down.
That’s this bit:
I was like…say what?!
But actually, that’s what happens when you raise your soft palate in order to create resonant space for singing. And now I’m going to have to get a tiny bit technical.
So, behind your upper front teeth is the alveolar ridge, then behind that is the hard palate, and then all the way in the back is the soft palate. When you raise the soft palate, it creates a dome, or a column, or whatever your particular brand of imagery is.
Now, I could have sworn I knew how to raise the soft palate. A yawning breath will do it for me, and I also feel it in my ears (often when I’m singing really well, with my soft palate well and truly raised, I’m wiggling my ears at the same time). But nobody had ever asked me to make my uvula move up and down.
The problem for me is that when my palate goes up, my tongue arches up with it. I’m not sure where that comes from, but I think it might be left over from the speech therapy I had in ninth grade, after my braces came off. I had a little lisp, because my teeth had moved but my tongue was still going to the same place to create the “s” sound–so the speech therapist trained me to always connect the tip of my tongue to the alveolar ridge (right behind my front top teeth). As I’m typing this, that is where my tongue is. When Madame showed me how to raise my soft palate, she actually lowered her tongue, and there was kind of a dent in the middle of it. I’ve never been one of those people who could, you know, make a four-leaf clover with my tongue or anything, so I was thinking, how on earth do I intend my tongue?
And I still don’t know, but just now I spent a solid ten minutes in front of my mirror, taking in surprised breaths to raise my soft palate, and trying to get my uvula to move up and down. And all of a sudden, it worked. My uvula was moving, my tongue was lowered and concave (of course, I have to stick my tongue basically out of my mouth to make that happen, but progress is a slow business), and you would not believe the height I can get back there.
All I have to say is, holy cow. That’s awesome. It feels like a super power.
Earth! Wind! Fire! Water! Heart! SOFT PALATE!
P.S. Go ahead and try to imagine this entry in French. That’s what my lessons are like.