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What about a singer with a Lisp?

Dear Choralist,

Last week I asked for advice about a lisping soloist. Here are the
responses. Many thanks! Now we have some ideas to use, and some to
think about. Some of them seem to disagree with each other.

Allen Simon , Phil Micheal ,
Micki Gonzalez , Jim Feiszli
, and Alexa Doebele
all suggested getting to a speech
therapist, speech pathologist, or speech language pathologist.

Others offered individual cures:

Mark Gresham offered several suggestions:
> One possible process is that it's a matter of learning what it
>feels like NOT to lisp. This is slow, but can be practiced.
> Your quoted example indicates that he have no trouble with "d,"
>"l" (and "r" (?)), but has trouble with "z" coming out more like a
>"th" (voiced or unvoiced) and probably a similar problem with its
>unvoiced relative "s".
> The practice (physical threrapy, as it is a "retraining") will
>involve the placement of the tip of the tongue.
> To make a "th," the top of the tongue's tip comes in contact with
>the bottoms of the two front teeth, extending beyond them, then the
>tougue moves rapidly when making the sound.
> For a "d," "t," or flipped "r" sound, the tip of the tip comes in
>contact with the fleshy part of the mouth behind the base of the
>front teeth at a hard ridge where the shape of the mouth quickly
>turns upward towards the roof.
> The "s" and "z" sounds are made with the tip of the tongue at the
>back of the teeth, at their base, *near* the surface, allowing air
>to pass through, very close to but a little more forward than where
>the "t" and "d" are articulated.
> A word like "tsunami" may be a good test and practice for grasping
>the relationship between the "t" and "s" tongue positions
>(unvoiced), likewise a word like "lands" for the relationship
>between "d" and "z" (voiced).
> Regardless, it is going to be slow, because it is a matter of
>"untraining" speech/singing habits of a lifetime; hence I say it is
>as tough as "physical therapy" -- as it is indeed "speech therapy."
> I think it was when I was in the third grade they (the school and
>its speech therapist, that is) wanted to unwind some kind of speech
>aberrration they claimed I had. Exactly what it was I cannot
>rememeber, but it didn't take too long to unwind it at that age. I
>can remember that the other boy in the sessions could not say an
>unvoiced "th," saying "f" instead. ("free" instead of "three")
> IMHO: In these kinds of cases (including lisping) it's possible
>that the habits of articulation are a carry-over from beginning
>stages of learning to speak, when a family thinks "it's cute" (or
>"more childlike") for a child to substitute a "th" for an "s" or an
>"f" for a "th" and will talk back that way to a child instead of in
>a normal adult voice. (Think also of some voiceover techniques
>adults use for creating voices of "animated" characters that are
>portrayed on screen as infants or toddlers. "I tot I taw a
>puddytat" and more.)
> I think there are cases in which these speech manners are "learned
>early" because encouraged (i.e., they work for the child, making a
>toddler adorable, charming, funny, and well-loved, which gets
>attention and approval), then unfortunately they have to be unwound
>and unlearned at a later age. As you say, at 19 he's adorable,
>charming, funny and well-loved; probably has been all his life.
>It's just that now he doesn't need the manner speech to help do
>that; that self-awareness (since, as you say, he is very self-aware)
>can perhaps speed his unlearning, though it's still somewhat like
>learning to walk all over again with deliberation. It is a
>deliberate and repetitive process, though on the surface it seems
>physically and conceptually simple.

Sandra LaBarge-Neumann suggested:
>I've had one of my students substitute "z" whenever she had an "s" - it
>seemed to help a lot.

Denise Baccadutre advised:
>I have a mezzo with the same problem. My suggestion is to research
>and locate literature for him that has very few "s's"--my mezzo made
>NM All-State this year with "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind" by Roger
>Quilter --a possibility for your young man. Best of luck.

Lon Dehnert suggested:
>I had a singer lisp once when I was teaching high school and we had
>him protrude his tongue between his teeth just slightly before each
>'s'. It worked great for him. You might try it and see.

Pete Mickelson offered:

>Take a look at
>The idea behind HearFones is to get the sound from the audience back
>into your ears. Lisping, which is very high frequency turbulence
>in the area of the front teeth, is almost impossible for the speaker
>or singer to hear from their own ears.
>Low-frequency sounds, such as bass pitches, can refract around the
>head and be heard at least a little. In fact, low frequencies can
>pass through the person's head directly to their inner ear, too.
>But high frequencies, like soprano pitches and especially hissing
>and breathy sounds, do not. They aim like a flashlight beam at the
>audience (and director), but they're barely audible to the singer.

Thanks again and best wishes,

Nina Gilbert

| Nina Gilbert
| gilbertn(a)
| Director of Choral Activities, Lafayette College
| Easton, Pennsylvania 18042-1768
| phone 610-330-5677
| fax 610-330-5058
| -------------------------------------------------------------