Dealing With Tongue Tension

Weekly Teaching Tip – Nov. 2, 2015
by Earl Harville – Mentor Teacher

The tongue is often a source of unwanted tensions for singers. In fact, the majority of my students present with this issue to some extent nowadays. It is important to be aware of the engagement of the hyoid or digastric muscles at the base of the tongue, near the chin. Their activation sends the body towards swallowing function and makes phonation more labored.

I find that the simple awareness of their activity helps in loosening their grip. I direct students to place both thumbs under the chin and sing an ascending passage. If they feel pressure from the tongue pushing downward, those muscles are getting in the way of efficient tone production. I also encourage them to watch themselves in a mirror to monitor for any pulling backward of the tongue in your mouth.

Again,this excess movement is disruptive to good singing. WE DON’T WANT THAT!!!!!

I like to start my warmup time with some tongue stretches before I begin vocalizing.This routine I learned from Nate Waller, who was my speech pathologist when I was under treatment for a large polyp on my left vocal fold. It was a great way to release compensatory tension that I was dealing with and has since become a regular part of my daily regimen. I now encourage my clients to use them regularly as well.

Recommended tongue stretches:

1) Stick the tongue out of the mouth pointing upward. Hold for 3 to 4 seconds and release. Repeat 3 times.

2) Stick the tongue out pointing downward for 34 seconds then release. Repeat 3 times.

3) Stick the tongue out to the each side of the mouth for 3 repetitions, holding for 4 seconds each time.

4) With the tip of the tongue behind the lower front teeth, extend the body of the tongue forward and out .

Hold for 4 seconds. Repeat 4 times.

Make this a regular part of the vocal warmup process. You will be so very glad you did!!

There are a couple of favored vocal warmups that I use with my students that I also find useful in releasing the tongue in addition their job of establishing good adduction and air flow.

Vocal warmups:

1) Hum with tongue stretch. Allow the tongue to rest between closed lips as the students vocalizes on glissandi, 5 tone slides, 5 tone scale, octave arpeggio, or octave & a half scale. Descending octave arpeggios are useful as well, especially if the client is hyperfunctional and pulls chest quite a bit.

2) The ‘ng’ sound with a comfortably dropped jaw and the tip of the tongue remaining behind the lower front teeth, direct the student to vocalize on the same patterns listed above.

3) ‘Lagalaga’ I prefer using a 13531 or 54321 pattern with this exercise. The changing tongue positions needed for the ‘l’ and the ‘g’ as well as the ‘ah’ vowel encourage flexibility in the tongue.

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