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June 8, 2013

The Lip Trill Doodle

When I was in college and learning Russian, I spent hours in the language lab. Later, with a cup of coffee, I wrote words and sentences down, again and again, in great lists that took up pages of paper. I needed to physicalize words in order to learn them. Hearing them wasn’t enough. Pronouncing them wasn’t enough. Just seeing them on flashcards wasn’t enough. I needed to feel the words move through my arm and hand, out of me, into graphite, for them to become real, for my mind to hold onto them. 

When I tell people that I studied Russian, and actually worked as a translator/bi-lingual human for a while in my 20’s, they often say, “Russian is so hard, you must be so smart!” 

Maybe. I may be really smart. But I learned Russian because I worked hard at it, because I loved it. I found a way for it to move through my body. I got it out of my head.

This might have been my first step toward discovering that drawing and singing at the same time can be really helpful. This is sort of like the ball-playing exercise, only with a pencil line in place of the ball. Draw a swoop on a piece of paper. Whoop the swoop: make the sound “whooooooop,” following the direction of the line you drew. Try drawing another swoop, maybe a little differently. Whoop the swoop. If you’re feeling self-conscious, a hum works just as well: “mmm” or “nnn” or a lip trill. Let the sound be flowing and continuous, maybe a little schmaltzy. 

This is not about singing the right pitch at the right time. Rather, sing to the end of the line. Take a breath as you draw another one. 

And then, try drawing and humming at the same time. Imagine your voice is powering the pen. Let yourself be surprised by what you hear and what you draw. If the line on the paper goes up and your voice goes down, that’s just fine. The point is to make a picture of your voice and to make a song of your picture.

The point is to let the breath flow through you and away from you without regard for right or wrong. 

In fancy, music-teacher language, this is called graphical notation – representing a musical idea on paper without using traditional music notation. I like to think of it as vocal finger-painting. When I assign it as homework, I call it a Lip Trill Doodle. 

It can be a useful way to get your voice out of your head. If you try it, tell me what you found. 

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