One of the funniest memories I have of my first choir experience was learning how to hum in a choir. I thought it was a little ridiculous as a 4th grader because I thought I already knew how to hum, since I was doing it all the time.
However, your casual humming while you work a-la Snow White (for those of us who prefer it over whistling) is in fact, completely different from humming as an actual singer. See, my beloved chorus teacher had us open our mouths as wide as we could, and then close our lips while keeping our mouths open, likening the appearance to a monkey.
Obviously, we all thought that was hilarious, and various noises and movements ensued. Once she calmed us back down, she explained that this was how you hummed in a group setting like a chorus or a choir, so everyone could hear you. After that, every single “humming experience” I had, I did with a monkey face. Why? So everyone could hear me. It worked.
So, why do we make the monkey face? Why is there a right or wrong way to hum, and what are they? This article will explore all of that, and much more!
How to Hum: The Basics
To begin with the basics, I want to recreate my initial humming experience with you. Hum a little tune, any tune will do. Now, hum the same tune but this time, open your mouth as wide as you can and then close your lips together (make the monkey face!) Now that you’ve done that, hum the same tune but this time, close your teeth (don’t clench – we don’t want jaw tension!)
Did you notice how when you made the monkey face versus closing your teeth, not only did the sound change but, as did the volume? If you’re not sure, go ahead and record yourself doing it. You can simply record the sound on your phone or computer. See if you can hear the difference or repeat the exercise now that you know what you’re listening for!
How Vocalization Works When You Hum
When you vocalize, you are creating soundwaves that vibrate not only the air around them but as they spread, other objects, including our eardrums (which is how we hear things!)
So, when we hum with our jaw closed, we can feel our teeth vibrate. When we hum with the monkey face, we can feel the back of our lips vibrating. Think of your mouth like an obstacle course that your voice has to make its way through. The more obstacles your voice has to get through in order to be heard, the quieter it will sound. Or, you can think of your voice like a superhero trying to bust through walls. The less walls it has to bust through (your teeth, poor tongue placement, etc), the easier it can get to its final destination (someone else’s ears!)
Humming Can Be an Excellent Learning Tool
Humming can also be an excellent tool. You can use it to test out and practice your placement. As vocalists, we want to make sure our voices are being placed forward, or in the front of our mouths and not being swallowed. Or, it can be used as a low-impact and easy warmup. If you’re in a hurry, not feeling 100%, or not wanting to do a full-volume warmup, humming can warm up your voice without over-exerting it.
“So, do we now all have to walk around humming and making monkey faces, Erin?” That one’s up to you, friend! There is a happy medium between the monkey face and the clenched jaw. Once you figure out what that feels like for you, you’re good to go! Use humming to your advantage to check in with your vocal health, to warm up, or just to make your day a little brighter!
- Robert Krampf – The Happy Scientist https://thehappyscientist.com/content/feeling-sound-waves