Audrey Hunt, author of "Anyone Can Sing," explains how we make sound.
Don't Like the Way You Sound When You Sing? Check Your Tongue
Unless we bite it, most of us pay little attention to our tongue, except for brushing it now and then or tasting a bite of food (sweet, sour, bitter, and salty). However, for singers, the tongue plays a major role in producing a consistent, well-focused tone. For one thing, we would not be able to speak or sing (articulate) without our tongue.
Your tongue is the channel for sound and much bigger than it appears to be. It goes a long way back into the throat, and its muscles are joined to the voice box. The tongue should not go too far forward or too far back as it will constrict throat space. The best position for the tongue is lying relaxed on the floor of the mouth with the tip resting against the back of the teeth. This is the "home" position for a relaxed tongue. The worst position is to pull it up and back in the throat.
The tongue can either be an asset or a liability to the singer, so give it your full attention. When we begin to understand the function of the tongue as it relates to both singing and speaking, we have better control over this muscle and therefore our singing.
Did you know that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body? Actually, the tongue is not one muscle as you might think: It consists of eight muscles. For those singers who are looking for a better singing sound, I recommend you look first to the tongue.
Wrong Tongue Positions for Singing
If you've never paid attention to your tongue when you sing it's high time you do. Tongue placement has everything to do with how you sound when you sing. Even a quick adjustment to the way you use your tongue can give you a much better sound instantly.
Avoid the following tongue positions at all cost:
- Don't allow your tongue to be pulled back and rolled up away from the lower teeth (the incisors). This prevents clarity to the tone and will muffle your sound.
- If your tongue twists during singing an extensive dis-balance in the complete vocal system occurs. You'll need a lot of patience to try and find the cause of this and correct it to regain a tension balance while singing.
- A wobbling tongue is sometimes used to sing a fake vibrato. Not a good habit to use. Vibrato comes naturally to those using correct vocal technique.
- Avoid the long-term stiffening of the tongue. Vocal problems are sure to follow. The tongue must be relaxed along with the jaw for releasing a tone with beautification.
- The back of the tongue must stand high and free from the throat, ready for any movement.
- The tongue lies flattest in the lower tones because the larynx then is in a very horizontal position, and out of its way
I always recommend practicing tongue exercises in front of a mirror. With the exception of making vowel and consonant sounds keep your tongue completely relaxed.I also recommend yawning to relax the tongue and to keep it positioned in a neutral place. Yawning helps you make your tongue lie flat in the back and make space for resonance in your pharynx which is an important resonator. Just make sure to keep your tongue behind your bottom front teeth when you yawn.
The Human Tongue
Tension: The Biggest Enemy to the Singer
The tongue is a channel for the sound and any nervous tension will resort in distortion as you're singing. For emotion to be expressed freely through the voice, the tongue must be relaxed. One of the main goals of the singer is to sing legato (smooth and connected). If there is tension in the tongue, there will be tension in the tone (production of sound). This is the biggest reason for wanting to relieve tension.
Another reason for releasing tongue tension is to allow the tone to flow freely. If the tongue is in the wrong position it actually blocks the tone causing the sound to be swallowed. When that occurs, you can actually hear the tension coming from the back of the throat. Hence, all tension must be dealt with through specific exercises which I will share with you.
Depending on the singer or speaker and the amount of tension being carried, the following exercises must be included in your warm-up session before you start singing.
Say Goodbye to Tension in 5 Minutes
I'm a real tough cookie with my vocal and acting students. Absolutely not one note is allowed to be sung or one script or monologue read until all tension is addressed. What good is it to have perfect breath control, diction, a great range, controlled vibrato and a beautiful tone if its' only going to be killed by Mr. Tension?
Read More From Spinditty
While I have little or no control with what artists do at home, I can certainly instill the habit of stress-reduction exercises in my studio. And I do!
This is a good 5-10 minute tension - relief group of exercises I highly recommend:
- First, locate the tense areas in the back of the neck and give yourself a brief self-massage ( or better yet get a hand from someone else.) Make sure to include the base of the skull.
- Sitting or standing - Squeeze the shoulders tightly as you raise them up toward the head...hold for the count of 5 then let then drop and relax. Repeat several times.
- Do a couple of neck rolls, slowly, to the left, then to the right. If you experience dizziness, you are going too fast.
- Laying down on the floor, or a firm surface like a mattress or sofa, bend the knees so the feet are flat on the floor. Arms are resting on the floor with palms up. Close your eyes and take several deep breathes from the diaphragmatic area. Inhale deeply and quickly, filling the lungs and belly with air - exhale very very slow using a hissing sound like a flat tire.
- Drink a big glass of room temperature water (ice or cold will restrict the vocal cords.)
Now we will move on to tension release exercises for the jaw, face and tongue. These three areas absolutely must be void of any tension.
Shoulder and Neck Relaxation Exercise
Gymnastics for the Lips, Tongue and Jaw
The following exercises only take 3-5 minutes and do a world of good. You may feel really silly doing these exercises and you may choose to go through them when no one else is around. But remember when you are at a live performance, backstage, these very exercises are most likely taking place as you take your seat in the audience section.
- The Lips - You have most likely giggled at the adorable baby making the sound of an airplane. You are now that adorable baby. Inhale to get a full breath and imitate that airplane by making the sound of " brrrrrrrrrrrr " using the lips. Make it last as long as possible. This is a magnificent warm up for the lips. The lips form the words.
- The Tongue - Take a deep breath and trill the tongue, holding the trill as long as you can. Repeat several times. Then trill from a low to a high sound, as if you were singing a scale. Try to hold the trill throughout the scale ascending and descending. The correct position for the tongue is to rest on the floor of the mouth with the tip touching the lower front teeth.
- The Jaw - With the lips slightly apart, simulate a gentle and subtle chewing motion. Next, with the lips closed, hum a few pitches while moving the jaw up and down in a gentle chewing motion. The key here is to be sure you use a very gentle and relaxed motion.
Years of bad habits, including bad posture may require more, but gentler exercise. Never force any of the above exercises. When singing, stay within a comfortable, easy range. Singing too high and/or too loud and aggressive will only cause more tension. You may even experience some vocal damage. Do not force your voice in any way.
If you, as an actor, are required to scream, only do so by using extra breath pressure (from the belly) and correct vocal placement. Otherwise, you risk vocal abuse and perhaps even long term damage such as vocal nodes (nodules).
Tension, Oh Tension: Where Art Thou?
Why am I addressing tension to all you singers, speakers and actors?
We all have tension in our bodies. And it' a good thing we do, otherwise we would fall down each time we take a step. So, a certain amount of tension is needed. But we also carry tension in areas that interfere with and restrict the vocal tone.
If we scream too much, we can feel the effects of Mr.Tension in our throats. ( Never scream or yell if you are a singer or professional speaker or actor.) Each time we scream it's like scraping your vocal cords with the tips of your fingers, nails and all.
The area that carries the most tension is the neck, including the shoulders. The jaw and tongue areas are just as guilty and tension absolutely must be released for the singer to avoid vocal problems and sound their best..
We get so used to carrying tension in these areas, we are not even aware that tension exists. It isn't until we release all that tension that we realize how bad it really is.
One very good, natural way to reduce tension is to laugh. So I've taken the liberty of sharing with you some amusing quotes.
My Best Tongue Quotes
- The tongue is, at the same time, the best part of man and his worst; with good government, none is more useful, and without it, none is more mischievous. ~ Anacharsis
- Since I cannot govern my own tongue, though within my own teeth, how can I hope to govern the tongue of others? ~ Benjamin Franklin
- When we advance a little into life, we find that the tongue of man creates nearly all the mischief of the world. ~ Edwin Paxton Hood
- All parts of the human body get tired eventually - except the tongue. ~ Konrad Adenauer
- I hope my tongue in prune juice smothers, If I belittle dogs and mothers. ~ Ogden Nash
- In nine times out of ten, the slanderous tongue belongs to a disappointed person. ~ George Bancroft
- It is a sign that your reputation is small and sinking if your own tongue must praise you. ~ Matthew Hale
- Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage. ~ Publilius Syrus
- Meditation is the tongue of the soul and the language of our spirit. ~ Jeremy Taylor
- Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue. ~ Adam Clarke
- The pen is the tongue of the mind. ~ Horace
- We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less. ~ Diogenes
The main takeaway from today's lesson is this:
- If the tongue is not relaxed you are holding too much tension in it. This means there will be tension in your singing tone. Not a good sound.
- There are easy exercises provided for you here. Do them daily to relax your tongue. If you have trouble with trilling your tongue this indicates you are holding too much tension. Keep practicing until trilling is easy. Put plenty of air behind the trill. Think of a planes' propeller. It needs enough gas to get going.
- Even professional recording stars practice these same exercises continuously.
- Your entire body is your vocal instrument. It must be cared for and all tension in the face and neck-shoulder area need to be released before you sing.
- To create a great sound, your tongue must be relaxed. The tongue is a huge muscle, and if it holds tension or is bunched up in the back, it actually blocks the tone, or squeezes the tone, resulting in a tight sound.
- To avoid a "throaty" sound keep the tongue in a flat position as it rests against the floor of the mouth. With the tongue in this position, you can then "yawn-open" the throat to produce a free unconstricted sound.
Sing for yourself and have fun. Less tension occurs when we enjoy our singing. Give up being self-critical and judgemental. Your voice, like you, is one-of-a-kind and unique. Value that uniqueness.
Sing With Joy ~
Singing Is Your Birthright
Questions & Answers
Question: I wake up with a raspy voice early in the morning. I sing tenor. Any remedy to this?
Answer: Speaking or singing with a raspy voice makes the vocal cords, red and swollen. This is usually a result of not enough air. Without a cushion of air, the vocal cords rub together aggressively which can cause damage to the voice. I advise plenty of rest for the vocal cords along with soothing the voice with warm herbal tea and other hot drinks. Avoid caffeinated tea or coffee when healing your vocal cords. The caffeine in the tea will dehydrate your body and could worsen the hoarseness of your voice. Also, add 1 pinch of salt to a mug full of warm water. Take a mouthful of the water, and gargle it in the back of your throat for about 30 seconds. Gargling with salt water will help moisten and soothe your throat, and help your voice sound less hoarse.
Once you recover, I highly recommend using diaphragmatic breathing when you sing and speak. This is the key to preventing vocal abuse, along with avoiding vocal strain during singing. Here's how to breathe diaphragmatically. https://spinditty.com/learning/TheMiracleofBreathi...
Question: The back of my tongue rises up while singing higher notes which makes me unable to sing. How do I put it down ?
Answer: If you place your thumb under your jaw then move it back to the soft bit just behind it, this is the underside of your tongue, gently press your thumb in here. Now take in a silent breath, it should stay soft or go a little softer, now slide up and down through your range on any vowel that is comfortable for you. It is very common for students to feel that as they slide higher that the tongue starts to
push against the thumb, this is a sign that root tongue tension is starting to kick in. If this goes unchecked then the throat will lock up.
1. Slowly stick your tongue out then bring it back it; do this several times.
2. Say the word "glug" a lot as this will work the front and back of the tongue.
Question: My husband was taught by his teacher to cup his tongue while singing. Is this correct?
Answer: Rarely, but perhaps in his case, it may be needed for a particular vowel. I would avoid this.
Question: My voice sounds good like every other day when singing and on the in-between days sounds deeper and not very good. I’m a girl. Why is my voice inconsistent?
Answer: Unless you study with a good vocal teacher, your voice will be inconsistent. And even then, the voice needs a good warm up every time you sing.
© 2011 Audrey Hunt
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on April 07, 2020:
Alcohol is drying to the throat which can interfere with your singing. Your vocal cords need moisture to prevent vocal abuse. Hydrate your throat with plenty of room temperature water and skip the alcohol!
John Froilan on January 10, 2020:
Does alcohol will affect singing voice if you're drinking often?
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on March 01, 2019:
Thank you for liking my article about the importance of the tongue in singing. I hope to see you again.
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on March 01, 2019:
I'm in the same ballpark as you. Age doesn't have to be a factor when it comes to singing. Look at Tony Bennett! You just keep on singing and thanks for referring your son to my articles.
Sing with joy!
Cliff Harper on August 15, 2018:
Athough I'm 81 I still sing at my bluegrass sessions so your advise is still read and enjoyed, my son, who sings in a rock band,(loudly) will become reader of your site also.
david dorenfeld on April 16, 2018:
Thanks so much for this great article, definitely applies to me!
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on April 18, 2016:
Thanks for your remarks. How lovely of you to read my hub. I invite you to seek more expertise on singing by visiting my other articles.
David on April 16, 2016:
The base of the tongue needs to be strengthened to provide for cleaner articulation....well, if you are crooning or singing softly just go with the industry motto used here, "relax the tongue", but it only takes a little analysis that for classical singing the tongue must be compressed....it's common though to pretend to be an expert in vocal matters and repeat the nonsense of a relaxed tongue.
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on October 15, 2014:
I'm proud of you and the persistence you display.
With an attitude like yours, anything is possible including developing a very nice vocal sound!
John Adams from Austin, TX on September 14, 2014:
Email sent. I'm working on wrapping my head (and myself) around the hub you mentioned. I give up too easily most of the time -- not on this, though. It's finally made me just mad enough to keep at it.
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on August 31, 2014:
Singing is sustained speech. In order to sustain one word to the other without 'breaking' the sound we must support each word that we sing with our breath (air.) When we lose our air (support), we lose our ability to sing. Singing 'rides' on air. Air is a cushion for sound.
Yes, to sing softer is to sing gentle. This is just about the hardest thing for a singer to do. When you practice this skill, it is normal to lose the tone in the beginning. A good tip to help you is to sing the vowel 'Ee' when practicing. Some singers can sustain the 'Ee' sound for a long time without the tone breaking. With most, it takes consistent practice.
Please send me an email and I will help you further. Also, I just published a hub that may help you to avoid singing from the back of your throat. Please try not to get discouraged. There is a way to overcome most singing problems. Hang in their Deaver. Thanks - Audrey
John Adams from Austin, TX on July 30, 2014:
Ack! Ma'am, when you say "use more breath support", you're going over my head. I've read and heard that, and I don't have any idea what it really means. I know about abdominal breathing, but I still feel the exhale and sound all at the back of my throat. Well, I do unless I tense up pretty much my whole core. I don't think that can be right, can it? But it does seem to give me more duration on a breath if nothing else.
By softer, do you mean less volume or more gently? I think more gently, as in a lighter tone, but I'm not sure. If I use any less volume, I won't be able to hear myself.
Every time I think I'm making progress, I'll sing along with something -- usually not the radio because it's nearly all way too high for me --- is everybody else a tenor?? -- and feel fine. No over-reaching my range, no screamo, just singing, and not too loudly. Then about 20-30 minutes later, the muscle ache is there. It's getting downright discouraging.
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on March 10, 2014:
Hi DeaverTex - Those areas shouldn't get sore at all. Have you tried 1. using more breath support
2. sing, using a softer tone 3. warm-up gently.
I'm here to help so keep in touch and let m know how it's going. ~ Audrey
John Adams from Austin, TX on March 04, 2014:
I'm finding your hubs rather a long time after they're published, but that's OK! I know that I've got a lot of tension going on, because I get sore throat muscles right on either side of the top of my larynx when I try to sing more than a few seconds. It lasts about a day, usually. I'm hoping that these warm[ups will help me shed the tension, because even though I have a solo-quality voice (I should sing so low that nobody else can hear) I'd like to be able to yodel along with the radio occasionally. At least when nobody else is in the car!
Just in general, thanks for being here!
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on September 06, 2013:
infolfika - Than you for coming by and for liking my tips on using the tongue. I hope to see you soon.
Fika Thiana from Bandung - Indonesia on September 05, 2013:
I am so glad i can read your tips here. i will try your tips some of them for the next.
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 21, 2011:
I remember taking a vocal class (technique) in college. I enjoyed it and the exercises sound familiar. Rated up.
rwelton from Sacramento CA on September 19, 2011:
I never appreciated my tongue so much as when I had the pleasure of a lot of radiation to my mouth and my tongue swelled quite a bit and all the taste buds burned away...couldn't speak or eat...since I speak for a living and am the chef for the family...Was extremely grateful for the return of a properly functioning tongue, so I could go back to work and most of the taste buds (all are back now,except the chocolate buds..ha)...most people only realize they have a tongue when they bite it... Thanks.
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on September 17, 2011:
Movie Master - Good morning ...la,la,la,la, la. People may ask you not to sing, but God smiles upon you and thanks you for your song.
And the cracking that you hear is mostly just "gases" being released from the bones. So, continue onward ( and remember to keep singing ) Thank you, dear lady!
acaetnna - Here you are...I have missed your beautiful face. Your contributions to my hubs are something I truly look forward to.Perhaps it's the love I continue to feel from you. And your exquisite poetry can't be equalled. I will think about your encouraging comments all through the day, receiving inspiration to continue the 30 day hub challenge. Love and hugs - vocalcoach
WillStarr - One of these days, I will chat with you on " skype" and prove to you that your singing voice is as much a part of you as your speaking voice.
Your dear mothers words will be replace with " Wow, Audrey...I have an ear for music and "my rudder" is in perfect working order." So, Will, my dear hub brother, just leave it to me :) Move over, Pavarotti !!!!
WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on September 16, 2011:
Maybe that's the problem. My mother always said I had no ear for music, but maybe I actually have no tongue for it!
acaetnna from Guildford on September 16, 2011:
Such a truly informative and brilliant hub. I simply loved your answer to Hyphenbird's comment. Stunning, thank you for sharing your expertise.
Movie Master from United Kingdom on September 16, 2011:
Hi Audrey, people ask me not to sing...
I've done the tension release excercises, a bit of cracking going on, but generally feeling good!
Another excellent hub!
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on September 16, 2011:
dahoglund - Good. Sounds wonderful and good luck!
hello, hello - Singing is a joy to the person. That is all that is important. God smiles when you sing, regardless of what you sound like. Bless you, my friend.
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on September 16, 2011:
vinaya - The same exercises that work for singers also work for speakers. When you have time, read my hubs that are written for singers including the breath contol hubs. They will all give you information that relates to the speaking voice. Thanks for visiting!
Prasetio - I like seeing you here and to know you have read my hub. It is always an honor to see you. You offer such magnificent hubs. I always send people to your hubs. Thank you, my friend and God Bless you!
Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on September 16, 2011:
writer20 - I'm so pleased to find that my article has helped you. We just don't realize how much pressure we put on our tongue, teeth and jaw. Have a great day!
charlotte - Oh, thanks! And because you like the hubs on voice, today I will start 3 more - just for you!
always exploring - well, give me a couple of hours and I will have you singing at carnegie hall :) As for the cracking/popping in your neck - not to worry as this is caused by gases ( carbon dioxcide ). Keep stretching!
Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 16, 2011:
Even I sing only when nobody isabout but it was a very interesting lesson. Thank you.
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on September 16, 2011:
Well done, my friend. I love all your tips above. I should practice this every day. I believe your tips can improve my singing ability. You still my teacher. Thanks for share with us. VOTE UP UP!
Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on September 15, 2011:
I loved the Tongue Quotes and I'd love to tongue exercise. I'm not a singer but I want to make best use of my tongue as a good talker.
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on September 15, 2011:
Great Hub Audrey. Some people just can't sing and i'm one of them. Instead of being asked to sing, they beg me not to. I did all of the tension exercise and they really did relax the neck. ( The popping and cracking was a tad scary. ) LOL. Thank's for the info.........