If you want to know how to improve your singing, there's one exercise in particular you must know.
Watch the video below to see it in action.
The tongue trill is one of those brilliant singing exercises that should be in the toolbox of every singer.
In over 25 years of coaching the voice, this exercise is in my top few. And it's often one of the very first I will teach a new client.
If a singer can do this exercise well, it's a great sign of excellent technique. As if your voice is riddled with bad technique, the exercise is hard to perform.
But some of the tips I give you in the video above and this article, will get you doing the tongue trill in no time!
Once you get it going, you should use the exercise every time you sing, both to warm up and continue to improve your singing.
Over time it will give you more freedom, access to all your vocal range, and help get the best sound out of your voice.
Now, it's important to understand that not everyone can do this exercise. It's simply not built into everyone, so if you're unable to do it, don't panic (there are other exercises we can go to instead).
But having said that, another reason a lot of people can't do it is because they are carrying a lot of tension in their swallowing muscles when they attempt the tongue trill.
In this case, bad technique is the culprit. Correct your technique, and you'll be able to get your tongue trill going!
If you can curl your tongue, but can't do the tongue trill, bad habits are probably the culprit. In this case, use some of the tips below to see if you can overcome these habits.
If you can't curl your tongue you probably won't be able to tongue trill (Although there have been a few cases where I've seen singers develop the ability despite not being able to curl their tongues.)
The tongue trill is kind of like rolling your "R's" on a scale. To get the idea it's best to watch the video up the top of this page.
Once you've got the hang of it, here are some tips to make sure you are doing the exercise correctly and effectively.
If you place your thumb under your jaw you will feel when your swallowing muscles are tightening up.
This is one of the most important things we need to avoid both with this exercise, and singing in general.
Holding your thumb here will give you awareness and help you "let go" if this is a problem for you. (Patience is key - if you've had this habit for a while, it will simply take practice to release these muscles)
Try and start each passage with your sound above your lips. This will give you correct placement for both the exercise and singing. It will also help you keep your sound from getting stuck in your throat (which will engage your swallowing muscles).
When you're going up to your higher notes, picture in your mind that you're singing down into the note, instead of "reaching" for it.
The vast majority of singers make their lives very difficult by the very thought that high notes are difficult! Because of this they anticipate the high note. They brace themselves for it. And then reach for it as it reaching for the stars.
This puts virtually everything out of place and can result in a very sore throat.
Instead by thinking you're singing down into the note, it keeps everything in place and makes high notes seem just as easy as any other note.
Try it, you'll probably be both surprised and thrilled!
Now you've got the basics of the exercise down, you're ready to practice with it.
You can do this both on scales, as well as pulling out a song you like and tongue trilling on the melody.
It's quite exciting using the latter, as when you go to sing the song normally, everything feels in place and easy.
Doing this will give you a sense of just how valuable this little exercise can be.
So good luck with your tongue trills. Use it long term and I promise you're singing will see significant improvement.