Chad Runyon is an award-winning vocal performer, conductor, and instructor.

Posted September 11th, 2013
Filed under Essays

The Lip Trill

The lip trill is a great tool for getting the body and breath to do a number of things related to singing, without having to think about them.  A lip trill is a focused, hummed sound, produced while the lips trill, flap or flutter.  Make sure your lip trill is not breathy, but produces a focused tone.  Also, make sure the neck and face remain free without excess tension.  The tongue is relaxed.

A lip trill requires consistent airflow.  It also, requires very smooth or molto legato singing, almost to the point of blurring or sliding from note to note.  When changing notes, avoid double tonging, like a brass player would do to achieve pitch clarity.  A singer’s pitch center comes from length of time on the pitch, rather than hitting or pointing out each pitch.

Practice exercises for producing a lip trill:

1)   Inhale and sigh-hum on your exhale.  Now inhale, plug your nose and sigh-hum with the same amount of air passing between your lips.  Air can no longer escape from your nose because it’s plugged.  If air simply escapes without a lip flutter, it could be that your lips are too loose or too tight.

2)   Wet your lips and pout your lower lip.  Sigh-hum across relaxed lips.  Plug your nose if air is escaping there.  Think exhale, not blow.  Air should gently flow over your pouty lower lip.

3)   Place your flat fingers on either side of your mouth –your facial cheeks– to pooch the lips forward and nudge them into a somewhat vertical position. Loose and vertical might look like Lucille Ball when she gets caught doing something she knows Ricky won’t like and blurts out, “eeeeiiiiiwwww”.   In this position, move your lips together and exhale through your lips.

4)   Say “brrrrrrr” like it’s really cold outside.  You can also try “drrrrrrr”.  Do this while blowing out, purposely puffing out your cheeks.  It’s the puffy cheeks that may help you with just enough tension to make sure the lips flutter.

5)   Your lips are the entire orbicularis oris muscle (all the way around your mouth), not just the lipstick part of your lips.  The lips should be loose, not wide and tight like a flute player’s embouchure.

Once you are able to produce a lip trill, practice exercises on a lip trill followed by words or various vowels.  You will find your breath is more consistently managed.  Similarly, practice a long, challenging phrase on lip trill.  Do this, and then sing the text.  Frequently, the body learns a more efficient use of air and the phrase becomes easier with breath to spare!  Try practicing an entire piece on lip trill, and then go back and sing the text.

Some singers find it difficult to produce a lip trill altogether.  Fear not!  Some of the benefits derived from a lip trill can also be achieved using a rolled “r” or other voice consonants like a sustained “v”, “th” or “z”.

Give it a try!