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Conference Morsel: The Yawn Space

(An excerpt from the interest session “From Birth to Death:  Vocal Pedagogy for a Lifetime of Singing,” presented by Deborah Mello during the 2014 ACDA Eastern Division Conference)
       Let’s talk about being able to access the singing space with very young singers.  Without using technical terms we can lead our youngest singers to learn how to sing with a naturally lifted soft palate by employing kinesthetic exercises, imagery and visual aids.  I encourage my choristers to yawn as a constant reminder of the “singer’s space”.  Yawning is contagious and is something we can do together in a vocal warm-up sequence.  The choristers are encouraged to yawn with their mouths closed as they focus on the way the back of their throats feel.  Ask your students to describe what they feel when they yawn with their mouths closed.  Some responses from the children are:  “like a huge cave”, “cathedral space”, “like a reverse megaphone” and “laughing through my eyes” among others.  Allowing the choristers an opportunity to feel the space allows them to access it when singing.  Also naming the action helps them to remember.  With my community children’s choir, we call it the yawn space.
       Connecting movement to the yawn space is also very helpful.  Ask your choristers to pretend to be a Ferris wheel, where they take one arm and swing it in a circle over their head, allowing their voice to “follow their arm.  With a partner, sitting or standing, move in a seesaw fashion while singing a song.
       Visual aids are also invaluable for use with young singers.  Some of my favorites are:  a Hoberman Ball (an expanding ball), tennis balls cut in half and decorated as a boy and a girl, and a Sing-A-Ma-Jig (Mattel baby toy) that shows beautiful vowel shapes.