Singers, the Mirror is Your Best Friend

About two months ago, I was singing some warmup scales, and my voice just STOPPED WORKING.

The higher I got, the more I felt stuck.

I took a moment, reset, and tried again.

Same weird thing!

Even worse, this second time through, I could feel my throat compensating, trying to push the notes up rather than feel them float out easily, effortlessly.

Crap, I thought. What the heck is going on?

Trying not to get too hard on myself, I took an inventory of my body and how I was feeling.

Breathing? (I took a deep breath and did a quick hiss exercise, counting to 45 seconds.)

Check.

No tension in my lower back? (I draped over in rag doll pose, and let my body hang.)

Check.

Tongue relaxed? (I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue. Then I flicked my tongue back and forth like a snake tasting the air.)

Check.

Third time’s the charm…

I did the scale again.

NOPE.

What the f(*&$%(*???

Then, luckily, I remembered a tidbit from a voice lesson I had about 8 years ago with a brilliant singer named Victoria Clark (A Light in the Piazza actress extraordinaire!).

During our first session, Vicki gave me a handheld mirror and instructed me to hold it in front of my face as I sang.

“This is your instrument,” she said, as I sang long extended AHs up and down the scale. “Get to know how it looks. And find any places that might be blocked.”

At the time, it was so weird to get an up-close look at my mouth, lips, teeth, tongue, soft palate, and big ol' face. And all while trying to sing. Mostly I had never studied a VISUAL IMAGE of myself while I was singing.

But it was brilliant. I could see, first hand, what my “instrument” really looked like.

When we sing, the sound resonates (or “echoes”) in our faces. That’s where we feel and perceive the sound, and where tiny adjustments can have a huge impact on your singing (or, conversely, can create blockages).

Flash forward to two months ago, during my mini singing meltdown — thank goodness I remembered my first lesson with Vicki.

Immediately, I relocated from my kitchen (where I usually practice my singing) into my bathroom, where I flipped on the bright vanity lights.

I peered at my face, then attempted to sing the scale again.

BINGO!

It was so subtle, but I could see it, clear as day.

For whatever reason, the right side of my face was ever-so-slightly drooping. And when I opened my mouth wider to check out what was going on inside, I realized that the right side of my soft palate (and only the right side) wasn’t fully raised!

How crazy is that?

So subtle, but enough of a difference to compromise my ability to resonate on higher pitches.

I was surprised for a moment, but then it made sense. When I’m tense, or working hard at my computer, I tend to clamp my jaw, particularly on the right side. And if I’m particularly swamped, this starts to be my “neutral” face position. This lopsidedness greatly compromises my singing, because my resonant space (literally, my face) clamps down and create shapes that are not optimal for singing.

So what did I do?

Everything I had in my singer’s toolkit, designed to stretch out my face and raise my soft palate, including:

  • Several “Lion’s Yawns” (yawn while sticking out your tongue) and jaw stretches
  • Using my fingers to gently massage my jaw and cheekbones
  • Doing a K-INHALE exercise repeatedly (where you say "K" and then inhale in a quick, surprised manner), expanding my soft palate and releasing UP

….and gradually, I could feel (and SEE!) the changes happening.

My right side slowly perked back up….and guess what?

No more pushing. No more straining. I was able to resonate on those higher pitches, clear as a bell, without any strain.

I’m relaying this anecdote to you because I want you to remember: the mirror is your best friend!

You don’t have to obsess over studying yourself every time you sing, but you can absolutely use the mirror to explore your instrument and troubleshoot when you feel blocked.

A mirror can be an amazing tool for figuring out (1) where tension creeps in during your singing, especially in terms of your jaw or soft palate, (2) where you might have unevenness in your face and mouth (in terms of right vs. left sides).

I hope this tip empowers you not to stress out when you feel tense while singing, but instead to methodically figure out what might be causing the tension, blockage, or struggle.

If you enjoyed this tip, or have an anecdote to share with me about your own singing-mirror detective work, be sure to leave me a comment!

Until next time....

xo Fel

AUTHOR

Felicia Ricci

All stories by: Felicia Ricci
46 comments
  • Omkar
    REPLY

    I feels awkward at first but then it really helped...
    There were times when I feel the same as u described.. I am trying out various exercises that you have put in your various videos and they are a big help.
    Thanks fel....????

    • Hannah
      REPLY

      I loved this! I like that you share with us struggles even YOU have and how to deal with them. One question... How do you know/how can you tell if your soft palate is raised?

    • Movethedog
      REPLY

      Thanks for sharing this one Fel!!! And oh how I laugh at the thought of you -and now us examining our soft palette ( right and left side) in the mirror !!! So funny but we all relate to what you're talking about !!

  • Sofia
    REPLY

    Thank you so much, I will definitely try this out! Yesterday I were at a youth concert and I tried to really look at the singers faces to see what they did to shape sound and how they tackled riffs and high notes and all kind of stuff. Now with this mirror knowledge, I can apply this to myself! Thank you Fel!! 😀

      • Randy Morgan
        REPLY

        Thanks for all the tips...not just this one, but the YouTube posts as well. They've help a ton...especially the monkey one. (Wont lie, I felt dumb doing it at first...but it totally works) I wish I would've been able to sign up for your vocal training, but after dropping almost $2,000 on building a room in my garage to play guitar and sing in...I am strapped. Ha. I very much look forward to your next class sign up. Cheers.

  • nirmal
    REPLY

    All your tips are helpful, Fel! You are a STAR! I am working (happily) through your belting course - and my singing is getting better and better plus I enjoy it more and more!. I am very grateful for all
    your tips and I love seeing your beautiful big ol' face on my computer screen!!!!!

  • Ken Block
    REPLY

    Yes! Even an old pro like me can benefit big time from this post. I needed this reminder. I had a big "oh yeah" moment reading through this Post. Thanks again old friend.

    Ken Block
    (Sister Hazel)

  • Estrela Angelica
    REPLY

    Agreed. It's so true! I used to look myself at the mirror since I was a " singing teen " because I like to see myself doing the playback and seem to be the singer. So, little by little, I realised how important was to have a mirror and sing looking my face at it. I wasn't and still am not so smart or what: it was just a chance I simply took and experienced naturally. I liked to see my expressions and my lips moving. Even now I can't sing without looking myself at a little mirror I have put in every "singing " room of my house:) a big hug from Italy!

  • Sydney
    REPLY

    For many of the same reasons, that's why a dance studio has mirrors all over the place. Gives the dancer the ability to see where the body is in space and if it's responding appropriately as required. And if not, shows you exactly where the problem is in order to take actions to correct. The mirror never lies. As an old childhood friend used to say, "Mirror, mirror on the wall..." Fel, thanks for reminding me about this, oh, so essential tool.

  • Joseph Peter B. Arguelles
    REPLY

    Ms.fel thank you for the wonderful tip I finally realized what is wrong when I sing because that is also my problem I cant reach the highnotes and im struggling to hit those notes and I cant go through, I dont know why!, and that tip of yours made me realized that im blocking the way you know what I mean and Im thankful that in your hands Im able to fix that false chord im able to remember some of your tips I've watched on youtube especially k inhale tip of yours hahaha and the baby talk hahaha that is what circling in my mind right now im so thankful that ive watched you on youtube and I appreciate as your follower thank you ms fel your so great especially when you sing defying gravity you sound just like lea salonga and im so proud that im in the hands of a great voice finder. 🙂

  • Christina McNulty
    REPLY

    I am SOOOOOOOOOO glad you shared this!!!!!!
    This weekend I am supposed to sing accapella at a wedding
    And the bride wants two different songs sung during the reception. The one song "Bridge over troubled water" I don't seem to have as much trouble with but the other one she wants "you'll never walk alone" every time I try to sing that song I feel blocked. It may even be psychological. But I will certainly keep this in mind today when I practice it and give this little tip a try. Thanks again.

  • Paul
    REPLY

    Wow! Another great tip. You have opened many doors for me. Thank you so much. I will keep tis in mind especially when I feel like "What the heck is going on".

  • IL
    REPLY

    Thanks Fel for the tip, I received your email about "why mirrors are so important for singers" that's really helpful for me to stretching out my face to unblocked my mask resonance for strenghten my head voice. And that really helpful to for relaxing my jaw, because when I'm singing in my middle or high notes in chest voice I always have tension in my jaw.

    THANKS A LOT FOR THE TIP !!! 🙂
    (Sorry, I was so excited)

  • Matias
    REPLY

    This was so helpful and such and eye-opener you know! there's been many times when my voice just won't work the way I'd like it to so this wonderful tip it's definitely going to help me locate the issue.

    Thank you so much Fel,
    you're literally my queen!

  • Noreen
    REPLY

    Thank you so much for this very informative information. I'm really enjoying all the videos you put up. Thank you for keeping the music alive.
    Love and Blessings from Ireland. Noreen x

  • Susan
    REPLY

    I have dentures which makes this whole upper pallet even more changing, and I too will clamp my jaws and not even know it! And also feel the tightness I know Im not suppose to feel in my throat, and if I keep at it I will definitely get a sore throat.
    Thank you for your article as I tend to rush even my warm ups, a real big boo boo!

  • Debby Miller
    REPLY

    New to your videos/blog and enjoying your teaching style. This particular blog was very helpful, because I grit my teeth when I'm stressed. Thinking of my image in a mirror (after working all day) made me realize that I need to conscientiously RELAX each part of my face and throat. Then actually seeing the facial changes it made surprised me. Now I know what to watch for. THANKS!!!

  • Janae
    REPLY

    How do I know If I'm warmed up enough?
    I can't afford to pay for lessons rn but I'm looking for a job applying everywhere. I'm so desperate I practice 7 hours a day I hope that's not hurting my vocals ???? Any advise would be greatly appreciated thanks Fel
    I also love your tips and your YouTube is stupendous

  • Robert Brennan
    REPLY

    Thanks so much for the tip! I cant pay for lessons either right now, so when i hear from you, it is so great. Your tips keep me going and give me and my voice hope. Thanks so much for your real world advise that helps so much. I'm looking forward to the day when i can take one of your lessons from beginning to end and i know it will take my voice where i want it to go.
    Thanks again!

  • Donna
    REPLY

    Ack! I hate hearing myself lately (thyroid issues) went from opera to bullfrog, looking at myself? Buggers woman....yes of course i will practice, my daughter is in musical production n finally got me used to hearing my own voice (ack again)! Great singing to ya! xx

  • Kadiy
    REPLY

    Fel you are right, I also found that always stretching and keeping jaw down helps to keep right singing position. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

  • Monique Richert
    REPLY

    Thank you so much Fell, You just telepathy with me, i had the same problem, I stoped and checked my EMAils and then I found this, so cool, i wend to the mirror and there it was, after some Relaxation exercises i could practice again without any tens, so cool, love from Hungary, Monique

  • Pinkey
    REPLY

    That very thing happens to me quite frequently! I'm a soprano and I know I can hit the note, but have no idea what to do. I'll try the mirror, but I really don't know what to look for. I sing a lot, but I don't have much training.

    PJ

  • Jay
    REPLY

    Hey Fel! Just got your email about the perks of using the mirror to explore your instrument and I have to say, I really do agree. I usually get blockages all the time and sometimes when I go into my bathroom and sing in front of the mirror, it actually helps. Just wish there was a way I could find my true voice sooner though. I keep thinking there's just something i'm not doing right.

  • Tommy Redding
    REPLY

    I was just told I have a paralized vocal cord on the right side. They are talking surgery if their therapydoesn't work, is there any type of exescise that you might suggest? I have come a long way and don't want to give up now... Tommy

  • Kelvin Robertson
    REPLY

    Mirror mirror on the wall
    Make me lean and make me tall
    Make my eyes see in the night
    And may my voice sound clear and bright
    May it resonate throughout the room
    And may I sing my notes in tune
    Mirror may I make the sounds you hear
    Be a pleasure to the ear

  • Dena
    REPLY

    Thank you so much for publishing this, Fel! I've had some trouble with singing and even some pain lately since a really bad car accident where I hit my head. All my face bones got messed up. I think these tips will help a lot!

  • Sushant
    REPLY

    Hey Fel ! This is Sushant your huge fan. You are the best teacher i had ever met . Your exercuses always help me alot...especially this unique mirror one it has wider my range and as well as removed all my breathing problem i was having. Thanks for being such a marvellous teacher..

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