Dec 13, 2016
One of the most important elements of healthy voice production is correct tongue release and usage. The primary function of the tongue is articulation. As vocalists, however, we often use the muscles of the tongue to accomplish tasks better left to other, bigger muscles. An easy test to see if your tongue is overworking when you sing is to monitor the movement of your tongue root (easily felt with your thumb below the chin) as you speak. If the tongue movement is greater when you are singing than when you are speaking, then the tongue is not just articulating but also doing other work.
Misplaced tension typically presents in the tongue when we are using the tongue to aid in breath management and/or tone production instead of articulation.
Tongue and jaw tend to work together, each presenting different difficulties in correction. Tension in the jaw is often visible, which makes it easier to recognize misplaced tension. However, you can’t fix jaw issues simply by looking at the jaw. You must support the skull properly with the skeletal structure beneath it. Only then can the jaw fully release. Read more about jaw release here.
Manually releasing the tongue with massage is a very effective but underused tool. This video of mine contains some useful tongue release maneuvers. Speaking and singing while manually releasing the tongue is a revelation for most vocalists, who are shocked by the amount of tongue tension they find present. Sometimes, simply bringing awareness to the tongue tension will help to alleviate it. Often, though, excessive tongue tension is related to what I call “Front Corridor Tension.” I use this term to refer to the tendency many singers have to be overly tense all along the front of the body:
If you are overworking throughout the “Front Corridor,” you will find it helpful to release all of these areas. It can be illuminating to work on more than one area at a time; for example, try manually releasing the tongue while lying on a ball to relase the rectus abdominus.
QUICK VISUAL: Imagine the root of the tongue extending all the way down to the bottom of the rectus abdominus (or even all the way down through the quadriceps), so that when you think of releasing the tongue, you are consciously releasing the whole “Front Corridor.”
Additionally, if you are overworking in the front of the body, you are quite likely to be underworking in the back of the body. If this is the case (that is, that you are engaging the tongue to aid in breath management), then you will only be able to keep the tongue released in so far as you are able to replace that errant tongue tension with correct breath support. Manually releasing the tongue will sometimes be enough to keep the tongue released as you phonate, but only if you are replacing the tongue tension with tension in other, more appropriate muscles.
To make this correction, I suggest a two-part approach:
You can learn more -- and watch me teach these exercises -- in my videos, particularly by subscribing to my “Monthly BodyWorkShop” or by purchasing Module 7 (“Going Deeper: Jaw and Tongue) in my Vocal “Boot Camp” series.