Teaching Tips for Singing Fundamentals: Part III Building Resonance

Building resonance is an important step in warming up your student.  In the sequence of the warm up, start with resonance building exercises after breathing exercises and before phonation.  If resonance exercises are not part of the daily vocal warm up, the student with resort to using “speaking resonances”, which are not as high and forward as when singing.  This can bring about problems when starting to sing repertoire for the day.

1.    Hum and chew: Start this exercise in the middle voice range.  Make sure the teeth are apart and the tone is directed up and over the vocal tract. Place the heel of the hand between the eyes to establish a target to the upper resonators.
2.    Follow with [u] on a sigh to ensure there is enough vocal tract space.
3.    [m-a, m-a, m-a, m-a, m-a] 5-1 on eighth notes.  This exercise starts to balance phonation between humming and voweling.  Make sure the student maintains the appogio position of the hum in the [a], and that the rib cage remains expanded.
4.    [vi-ve-va-ve-vi] on a single pitch: Allow the vowels to change with minimal tongue adjustments.  The [v] consonant brings the vowel forward while maintaining vocal tract space.  As the student progresses with this exercise, take away the consonants, but maintain the forward motion of the vowels.
5.    “Ogni uomo” + “ogni-ignudo” 5-1 on eighth notes:  This exercise employs a variety of resonance building consonants, including hum, “ng” and “n” in onion.  Nasal sounds in repetitive patterns help induce resonance balancing between consonants and vowels.
6.    Hung + [i]:  Slide “ng” 1-5, and [i] 5-1 step-wise.  This exercise can be extended to octaves.  Be sure the student maintains the lifted soft palate from the “ng” in the [i] vowel.

Employ 1-3 of these exercises in starting in the middle voice, then explore higher and lower registers.  Do not move on until the tone is on the breath and the vocal line is thoroughly connected.

About the Author

Sarah Luebke
Nebraska native Sarah Luebke completed her MM in vocal performance at the University of Kentucky, and her BM in vocal performance at St. Olaf College. Recently she has been seen performing the female lead, Jane McDowell, in "The Stephen Foster Story" and the ensemble of "Big River" with Stephen Foster Productions. Other performances include the soprano soloist of Bach's St. John Passion, La Fee ... [Read more]


  1. Michelle Payne

    Thanks! I am always looking for new warm ups to add to my repertoire!

  2. Craig Tompkins

    I’m not sure about directing the tone “up and over the vocal tract”! I always thought the tone originated in the larynx and was modified (resonated) in the vocal tract.

    What/where are the “upper resonators”?

    In #5 you remind the student to maintain the lifted soft palate from the “ng” in the vowel. Out here on the west coast of Canada, we lower the soft palate for the nasal (hummed) consonants (m, n, ng). When I use them in an exercise, I always insert a short voiced stop (b, d, g) between the nasal consonant and the vowel to prevent the nasality of the hum from colouring the vowel.


  3. Sarah Luebke

    Craig- You are correct in pointing out that the vocal tone is originated in the larynx and blooms in the primary resonator of the oral pharynx (the mouth). For a lot of my beginning and intermediate students, the idea of chiaro oscuro is a difficult term to explain and execute in their singing. When I am striving for space and brilliance in the tone, I talk about the tone moving up toward the soft palate and arching over toward the teeth, filling the entire resonator. This idea seems to get better balance results in the tone. When using closed vowels such as m, n, ng, a student is able to feel secondary vibrations in the mask (primarily from the sound bouncing in the sinuses and eye sockets). Though this is not a primary resonator, it does help the student feel the tone lift out of the throat and provides a workable “target” for the sound to move through and out of. You are also correct in pointing out that the m, n, ng are nasal vowels. The soft palate is slightly lowered so that the air and sound can escape through the back sinuses and nose, while the lips are closed. I have found that the ng consonant cluster is a great palate lifter, in that the tongue inherently connects to the soft palate and supports it. For students who allow the soft palate to drop after the ng in a hung + ah exercise, I add a g (hung + gah), which forces the tongue down and the palate up for the correct space in the Ah. Building resonance can be tricky for every teacher, and each student comes in with a variety of issues to trouble shoot. But it is a great thing to tailor proven exercises and modify them for the student to begin the trouble shoot their issues with resonance.