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Exhalation for Singing: Trilling

A lip trill is an itchy exercise, but it’s great for feeling the movement of the exhalation. The vibrations of your lips may make your nose itch after a few minutes. No problem — scratch your nose and keep going. What’s a lip trill? Ever see a horse blowing air through his lips? The horse’s lips flap in the breeze.

This exercise may seem silly, but it’s a great test of your exhaling endurance: Take a breath, and send the breath between your lips and let them vibrate. If your lips don’t vibrate like Mr. Ed’s, it’s probably because they’re too tight.

Loosen your lips and just let them hang free as you blow air between them this time. If your lips are tight, place a finger at the corners of your mouth and gently push the corners toward your nose as you do the lip trill.

  1. Practice trilling your lips.

  2. When you have the lip trill moving easily, start counting silently.

  3. Sustain the lip trill for four counts; inhale slowly for four counts and repeat the cycle.

    Make sure that you take a good breath before you begin. As you count to four, notice what moves in your body as you exhale. Try not to collapse your chest as you exhale; let your lower body do the work.

  4. Sustain the lip trill for four counts again, but this time, inhale for two counts and repeat the cycle.

  5. Sustain the lip trill for longer periods of time as your endurance improves.

    Lip trill for six counts and inhale for two counts. When you can easily do the lip trill several times in a row, increase the number by two counts (lip trill for eight counts, inhale for two counts, and so on). The object of the exercise isn’t to count to 50, but to work the endurance of the breath and make sure that the body is working properly as you exhale.

  6. As your skill increases, vary the lip trill count.

    Notice how your body changes on a two-count trill compared to an eight-count trill. It adjusts by moving more slowly on the eight counts. This variation happens in songs — you have short phrases followed by long phrases, and you have to adjust your breath control for the phrase.

When the lip trill is a piece of cake for you, add a tune: Lip trill a song. You can easily lip trill “Happy Birthday.” Let each note connect to the other without a pause and without pushing your tongue against your teeth for each note. In other words, make it legato (smooth and connected).

To practice more lip trills, check out the following illustration.

  1. Sing through the lip trill pattern in the illustration below.

  2. Sing through the again, this time, try a tongue trill.

    Many people find that they can make good sounds with a tongue trill. The tongue trill works like the lip trill. Leave your tongue loose in your mouth and blow air between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. Make sure that your tongue is released or this won’t work. As the air moves over the tongue, the tip of the tongue raises and vibrates against the roof of your mouth.

  3. Sing through the pattern again, alternating between doing the tongue trill and singing on the given notes.

    You can easily go right from the tongue trill to a vowel. For example, sing the first two notes on the tongue trill and the last two notes on ah. Make a smooth transition from the tongue trill to the ah. See whether your airflow remains the same.

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