Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Tongue Tips for Singing and Speaking - Updated 2020

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The tongue can get us in trouble, in more ways than one. Its base or root muscle is attached to the top of the larynx and if that muscle gets tight, it can cause vocal strain, limited range, obstruction of the throat channel (limiting resonance) and can cause over- or under- articulation (too much or too little clarity of pronunciation).

My favorite tongue fix:

Training the tongue is a paradox, however, because sometimes too much attention to it causes it to tense just trying to do the right thing. I'm not a fan of strenuous tongue stretching and exercising before singing. My favorite method of dealing with the tongue is to use it with intention to communicate something. The tongue should articulate a message so that the intended ear can understand not only the words, but the meaning behind the words. A tight tongue will create sounds that don't communicate what you usually intend, so this is a holistic approach can work wonders to get the tongue out of the back of the throat.

However, sometimes an ingrained habit will necessitate other approaches. So here are... 

More tongue tips:

1. Do stretches for the neck and shoulders. 
  • It's amazing how gentle neck circles, head-to-the-side stretches and shoulder rolls can free up the jaw, which then frees up the tongue. 
  • Never over-stretch; if in doubt, consult a doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist for stretches best for you.
  • Get a shoulder/neck/head massage. This is especially beneficial before stage or studio performance.
2. Let the tongue just ride along with the relaxed, circular chewing movement of the jaw. 

3. Use the tip and front sides of the tongue to articulate lyrics, not the base.
  • When you articulate from the back or base of the tongue, that muscle contracts and bunches up. Because it's attached, it pulls the larynx up, restricting its movement and narrowing the voice channel in the back of the mouth.
  • To articulate words or lyrics, the tip of the tongue should stay at or near the front teeth. Yes, certain vowels and pitches need different tongue involvement but the point is to operate the tongue in the front and keep the back of the tongue relaxed, not bunching or bulking up.
4.  Do NOT overzealously over-flatten the tongue because this will cause tension in the back of the throat. The correct way to lower the tongue for certain pitches and vowels is just to allow the beginning of a yawn.. not the end of the yawn. (People tend to yawn in my lessons a lot!)

5. Try to add more vertical space to all your vowels, even ee's and ooh's.

6. Try to create consonants in the front of your mouth, or your incisors, not your molars.

7.Some people worry their tongue is too large. I have never run into that being a problem, as long as the person activates the tongue more frontally and keeps the jaw flexibly open.

8. Tongue tanglers are terrific and very practical tongue exercises. Unless your tongue assumes the right position it can't articulate clearly, so the intention to clearly articulate self-corrects tight tongue positions. Try saying these phrases three or four times in a row:
  • "eleven benevolent elephants", 
  • "red leather, yellow leather", 
  • "good blood, bad blood", 
  • "tim the thin tinsmith", 
  • Mallory's hourly salary", 
  • "the sixth sheik's sixth sheep's sick"
  • "rebel rubber welders" 
9. Do vocal exercises properly. Keep flexibility in your jaw at all times, and don't do them faster than you can without tensing your tongue or jaw! 
  • Try putting two fingers firmly up under your chin, pressing into the tongue base there. Purposefully intend/suggest that this area relax as you sing or talk. Expect the tongue muscle to obey and you'll be amazed at how it does!
  • Try putting your knuckle between your molars and saying or singing something. The lowered jaw helps your tongue base relax. Your voice will sound richer and freer. Then take your knuckle out and try vocalizing like it's still there.
  • Check out this vocal lesson I videotaped with a student on relaxing jaw tension, which relaxes tongue tension:

Want more help?

If you'd like a personal lesson with me to help you with tongue tension or anything else, just hit me up at the contact link on my website. I'd love to work with you!

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  • At March 19, 2012 at 9:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    my tongue is short and i have an overbite. my tongue does not reach the bac k of my front teeth very easily,it hits the roof of my mouth. What is this called and is there hope for me to get better.

  • At March 20, 2012 at 4:09 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hi Anonymous... not sure what this is called. I'm afraid this is outside my experience. The only thing I can offer you is that if you are tensing your tongue trying to get it to work, it will sabotage your voice. Just relax it and see if that helps. Put two fingers underneath your chin, feel for the root of your tongue and don't tense there when you use your voice. Good luck!

  • At March 20, 2014 at 6:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi...i was hoping you could tell me a little more about opening the back of my throat because whenever i sing i feel like theres no space at the back and i consciously drop my jaw to get a more open sound...is this right ?

  • At March 20, 2014 at 7:26 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hi Anonymous... Yes, you should be relaxing and dropping your jaw as you sing, but there is also the matter of the 'ceiling' of your vocal tract. If the soft palate is not lifting, you can drop your jaw all day long and you'll still feel tight back there, with too much nasality in the sound. Also there is a rear factor... The 'open throat' opens up, down and back. This has to do with the tongue, jaw, soft palate, upper nasal pharynx, and neck vertebrae. Power, Path and Performance training creates that three way stretch habit by the 'pulling voice instead of pushing voice' that is central to this method. I encourage you to look into it.

  • At March 19, 2020 at 11:37 AM , Blogger Ruth Iminza said...

    I will try it bc I tense up whenever I speak

  • At September 7, 2022 at 10:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Regarding step 4, one thing I noticed that actually works for me is thinking about lifting the back of the tongue slightly. But that almost seems to conflict what step 3. However, I haven't found it to be a problem for me. So far so good. Thoughts?

  • At September 18, 2022 at 3:16 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Well, I'd have to see you do that (lift the back of your tongue slightly) and hear the results. It sounds a bit problematic for your very best singing... but it may be that you're just relaxing it in the yawn sensation. But as with everything, it's the results that count. If you're not feeling or sounding tight, you're ok.


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