Why I think lip trills are stupid

Oh, that's a provocative heading, isn't it? I could have written something like: "What would Manuel García think about a lip trill?" but that would have been a cop-out. Sometimes you just have to have the courage of your conviction, right? And my conviction is that lip trills are stupid. Why? I can think of several reasons, the most important being that a lip trill doesn't teach the singer anything about vowels. Nor does it teach the singer how to breathe. Let's take the latter point first. 

What happens when the singer performs a lip trill? Most often, the rib cage falls rapidly like a wheezy bag. And if it doesn't, that is because it is being held up artificially. Neither is desirable. This leads to my first point. 

The Old School was fanatical about 'pure' vowels based on Italian tonal values. When you obtain them, the rib cage is observed to refrain from wheezing or collapsing like a house of cards. Why? The ear leads the body to do everything to keep pure vowels going. 'Support' is a result, not a cause. 

There is also the matter of the lip trill occluding the wrong end of the vocal tract. In my last post, Mathilde Marchesi wrote about the student learning to 'close' the vocal folds after a few months of training. I take her to mean that the singer should speak as they sing. Does this mean with affected tone and diction? Nope. She simply means that the vocal folds should adduct (see: I can use scientific terms, my head isn't always in the 19th century). What can enable this? You are close to the mark when every vowel has the vibrancy of /i/ (which brings the folds together), the openness of /a/, and the roundness of /u/. A compound vowel, the result is heard at the level of the eyes, while the throat is heard as being 'open.'  

I think lip trills are a waste of time. They postpone the most necessary skill, which is to pay attention to your vowels. No, not your tone. Your vowels. In the end, whether you are amateur or professional, that's what you have to learn to do. 


D. Brian Lee said…
That is quite an assertive statement! I mostly agree. Cheers, Brian
Thanks for you comment, Brian. I could take on those little straw things too, applying the same thoughts, but then, that would be over-kill. My thought? If you need a little straw to take the stress off your vocal folds, you aren't making clear vowels in the first place. And if you are talking too long, well...a straw ain't gonna fix that. All best regards, Daniel
I should have also mentioned that lip trilling closes the jaw, which is not good for singing, since many beginners don't know how to open it in the first place.
Ariana said…
This is a great point: "The ear leads the body to do everything to keep pure vowels going. 'Support' is a result, not a cause. "

Somehow whenever I start searching for insight into my own vocal intuitions, I end up at this blog. So much really good stuff. Thanks!
Thank you for your comment and appreciation, Ariana!
Joy Grotenhuis said…
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for this post. I have always felt this was a bizarre warm up because it does nothing to focus the mind on what real breath management is about (directors seem to say its so good for "getting the breath moving"). Plus, it puts the vocal tract/larynx in a position I never use in actual singing, plus it strains my voice. I wonder if this warm-up is making its rounds through the choral world in particular where often pedagogically mediocre approaches are naively used. Thank you for this post...its gives me courage to express an opinion that I have long held.

Do you know any of the history behind this warm up? Where did/through whom did it take hold?

Thank you for your comment, Joy Grotenhuis. I first first heard of the lip trill when I was in graduate school in the 1980's, and believe its origins lie within the field of vocal rehabilitation.
Hi, Daniel!
What about tongue trills?
Thank you.
Thank you for your comment, Luís Lopes Cardos. Tongue trills are nothing more than a rolled "R," and as such, are a functional part of speech in Spanish, Italian, etc. I have met American's who can't do them! But if you are going to be a professional singer who had better master the motion.
Thanks for your answer.
All the best.