Liberating The Tongue And Jaw by Earl
June 17, 2019
In recent months, I have been addressing the issue of an unholy alliance that exists in our
singing. The linking of two powerhouse forces. A dastardly duo that seeks to chip away at our vocal freedom. They are very stealthy, often escaping the student’s awareness. The culprits? The tongue and the jaw, of course.
These two sets of muscles are among the strongest in the body, which surprises many singers. The overtensing of just one of them alone can cause major trouble. When they are both ‘doing too much’ as the kids say, the vocal load is increased and fatigue kicks in quicker. I ask my clients to envision that it’s similar to the scenario of The Joker and The Penguin teaming up to defeat Batman. His situation becomes significantly more dire. Dramatic, huh?
A specific element of the issue that I have focused on with clients is the blurring of the roles of the jaw and tongue. A number of singers mistakingly use the former too much and overarticulate every note with the chewing muscles when producing their vowels. With many of them, the latter responds by tightening as well and the wasted muscle energy increases. The tone suffers as it is caught in the circle of hyperfunction.
I have been using an exercise that seeks to keep the jaw relaxed but static while the tongue does the job of forming the vowel. Once the singer experiences producing the pitches without the undue motion of the chewing the muscles, they report much easier phonation.
Here’s the process:
1. Students either place hands on their cheeks OR a fist on the chin. They will have a better
awareness of any excess jaw movement.
2. Using a five tone scale pattern, vocalize on either ‘yah’, ‘yay’, or ‘yeah’. One can use 1-
2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1, 5-4-3-2-1, or 1-3-5-3-1.
3. I ask the client to evaluate their load with the ‘Dial Of Difficulty’. ‘1’ is super easy , ‘5’
is vocal death. I also ask them to describe how this exercise felt different from what they
had phonated just a couple of minutes before.
I may follow up with the student vocalizing on the ‘ng’ sound again to solidify that new
jaw/tongue release. I could also use syllable ‘bing’, where they will feel movement of the lips but the jaw staying relaxed.