Does Smiling Make You Sing Better?

See how to use the orbicularis oculi muscles

Singing and smiling
 Cultura RM Exclusive/Kris Ubach and Quim Roser/Getty Images 

Your voice is unique. The quality of your voice is unmatched by any other person, and yet you can still improve your unique tonal quality. One simple way to improve timbre is to learn what it means to smile when you sing and practice doing it.

Smiling Causes Cheekbones to Rise Which Is Good for Singing

When you smile spontaneously, your cheeks go up and the corners of your lips lift and stretch vertically. When the cheeks rise, it creates a bigger space within the mouth that helps your singing voice resonate. Smiling with the cheeks and the mouth is referred to as a “Duchenne smile,” while using just the lips is sometimes called a “botox smile,” which appears insincere.

Smiling May Also Cause Lips to Go up and out Which Is Bad for Singing

When the corners of your lips go up and out, your sound brightens. Most believe that brightening the tone by spreading the lips is undesirable. The result tends towards a brash tone lacking in warmth. When thinking of a brighter tone, a trumpet may come to mind, while a warmer tone quality is produced by reed instruments, such as the oboe. A bass has a warmer sound than a tenor, as well as an alto versus a soprano. When asked to sing with a smile, the act is referring to lifting the cheeks as in a “Duchenne smile” and not to spread the mouth, as one might think. Brightening the tone could be done by learning how to ‘point’ the voice or sing into the mask.

Try to "Smile With Your Eyes" Instead of Your Mouth

You may have heard a choir director or voice teacher ask you to smile with your eyes while you sing. This request does not refer to an expression of the eyes, such as a sparkle, happy eyes, or any other kind of emotion communicated through the eyes. There are two muscles used when smiling: the zygomatic major muscle, which raises the corners of the mouth, and the orbicularis oculi muscle, which raises the cheeks and forms wrinkles around the eyes leading to crow’s feet. Sometimes, especially when someone is faking a smile, people smile with just their zygomatic major muscle. Great singing occurs when just the opposite occurs--when only the orbicularis oculi muscle is used to smile or lift the cheeks.

Use a Mirror to Lift Cheeks and Round Lips Simultaneously

Look in the mirror and smile, making sure your cheeks lift as you do so. Now round out the lips, while maintaining lifted cheeks and sing a five note scale. Watch your cheeks and make sure they maintain their lifted position throughout. After you have mastered a five note scale, move on to longer ones. Singing while you smile is a tool to help people engage their orbicularis oculi muscle which lifts the cheeks. If the idea does not work for you, then you may move on to another posture or placement concept. You should simply think of lifting your cheeks. You may have heard others refer to the “Zoolander Expression,” or ask their students to squint in order to feel the movement of the cheeks at the same time.

How Lifting Cheekbones Improves Voice

When mastering smiling with your cheeks and singing, your tone has a lovely light quality to it. A brighter timbre helps the voice project into a room and improves the understandability of words. Some choral teachers may ask members to smile while they sing when they are flat. Brighter tones do raise the pitch slightly but are not a permanent fix to pitch problems. When a voice is too bright it may sound harsh or brash. Combine lifting of the cheeks with opening the back of the throat as in a yawn or when smelling a rose to achieve a balance between warm and bright tone qualities. Another aspect of a warmer tone is long, slightly trumpeted lips. Some teachers may ask a student to lower their top lip over their teeth to create a warmer tone, but the practice often creates a muffled sound.