Watch Your Tongue: The Secret to Better Singing
Don't Like The Way You Sound When You Sing? Check Your Tongue
Most of us pay little attention to our tongue, (unless we bite it), except for brushing it now and then, or to taste 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.
Your tongue is 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. The worst position for the tongue is to pull it up and back in the throat.
The tongue can either be an asset or a liability to the singer. Therefore, complete attention must be given to the tongue.
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.
The Human Tongue
Tension - The Biggest Enemy To The Singer
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?
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, 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
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?
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.Helpful 7
The back of my tongue rises up while singing higher notes which makes me unable to sing. How do I put it down ?
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.
My husband was taught by his teacher to cup his tongue while singing. Is this correct?
Rarely, but perhaps in his case, it may be needed for a particular vowel. I would avoid this.
I wake up with a raspy voice early in the morning. I sing tenor. Any remedy to this?
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...
© 2011 Audrey Hunt