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Tongue Problems

Date: Sat, 16 Mar 1996 16:30:07 -0500
From: Peter Hobbs
Subject: Compilation of "Tongue Problems" Responses LONG

Here are the replies to the request for exercises for "Tongue Problems"
(see below) that I posted on March 14. Because this seems to be a topic
of interest on both Choralist *and* Vocalist, I am posting all the replies.

Hope this isn't overdoing it. (I'm sure you will tell me, if so.)

>My singing teacher asked that I post a request for exercises and techniques
>that she could use to teach students how to relax their tongue and keep it
>from interfering with proper vocal production. She has found that the
>tongue may be held too far back in the mouth, or may be kept too rigid, or
>it may close off the breath, etc. Exercises that would specifically address
>the problem of "how to relax the tongue" are what she seeks.
>Peter Hobbs
>Assistant Administrator
>Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto

Replies follow:
From: "Susan Zemlin" Blaine High

Your teacher would probably enjoy going to a workshop this summer
called "TheVoiceCare Network Impact Course". For information contact
Dr. Axel Theimer at: atheimer(a) or visit their www site at

The course deals with several solutions to vocal issues such as tongue
placement. I found it extremely valuable!
From: fleming(a) Cindy Fleming-Wood

When you sing, the back of your tongue should be down (relaxed so that
you can see your uvula.) The best two exercises I know are the following:
First exercise:
1. Stand in front of a mirror to sing.
2. Open your mouth and put your index finger on the tip of your tongue
and push your tongue into your mouth with your finger.
3. Now, use your tongue to force your finger back out of your mouth.
Note: You should see the back (or base of the tongue go down when you
do this.)
4. With the base of the tongue down, sing a descending scale. This will
sound odd to you at first, but not to the listener. You should very quickly
then be able to lower your tongue yourself.

The second excercise:
Take your right thumb and find the point in your jaw where your jawbone
makes a 90 degree bend (just below your ear). Find the corresponding
point on your left jawbone with that thumb. Place your thumbs behind the
bends in your jawbones.
When you sing, drop your jaw down. If you are doing it properly, your
thumbs will move away from your neck. (Point, when the jaw is properly
opened, the tongue cannot rise up in the back of the throat. If you jut your
jaw forward when you sing, you tongue will ALWAYs go up and close
your throat.) If the thumbs do not move, you are jutting your jaw forward.
From: claffair(a) (Steven Michael Utzig)
Northwestern College of Chiropractic, Bloomington, MN

A couple of exercise that I have found helpful:
1. Relax the jaw first. Tension in the jaw, it seems, will automatically
make the tongue tense. Massage the muscles around TM joint and up into
the temples; gently cup the jaw in the palms of your hands (fingers at the
TM joints, heels meeting at the chin) and gently move the jaw up and
down with the palms of your hands; grasp the chin with your fingers and
gently work the jaw up and down, slowly at first then speeding up.
2. Massage the tongue muscles under the chin with the flat part of your
3. Sigh with an [m] hum and/or an [a] with the tip tongue gently resting
on the lower lip. The tongue will stick maybe a centimeter or two at the
most. The tongue needs to stay as relaxed and passive as possible and
wide as possible. Resting the tongue on the chin also provides a reference
point for people - they may think that their tongue is forward.when, in fact,
it is quite far back and tense.
4. Vocalize by trilling/rolling the tongue
5. Vocalize with a [ja] syllable easily moving the tongue to articulate the
[j] sound - most people will also want to move their jaw at first.
6. Vocalize moving from a [i] to [e] to [a] on the same pitch (on that's
quite comfortable for the singers) asking the singers not to move their
tongues from the first forward [i] position. Move through the vowels very
slowly. This will help to break up the idea that to form an [a] soound that
one needs to pull the tongue down and back and will also help the
alignment of the vowels.

Just a few thought. Let me know what else you find out.
From: desta(a) (Dean M. Estabrook)

Try some vocalises, e.g., 123454321 on Ah, in a low to medium part of the
register, with the tongue lolling out over the lower lip....super relaxed.
Also, before singing at all, stick your tongue out as far as you can 50
From: RRuss604(a)

My voice professor at Cal State U, Bakersfield, CA, Peggy Sears, had us
do the following to relax the tongue:

1. Keep your tongue touching your lower lip while singing.
2. Practice singing with you tongue hanging over your bottom teeth.
3. Practice singing with your head laid on the floor or table. While in this
bent over position, press your jaw against the surface with a hand. This
relaxes the entire lower jaw area. Note: this is often called "drool
From: GS320116(a)WVNVAXA.WVNET.EDU Keith Haan Glenville
State College, Glenville, West Virginia

Smart teacher. I do a number of variations on scale tones 123454321 and
54321, singing down the scale on thee, thah, thee, thah, thee; lilly repeated
on each pitch. One of particular benefit seems to be ah-ee on each
descending pitch sustaining ah at the bottom or each separate syllable on
each pitch as ah, ee, ah, ee, ah with the tongue doing the moving and NOT
the jaw for each of these exercises.

After 30 years in this business, I'm convinced most vocal problems relate
to the tongue: not being down, flat and forward; raised and tense in the
back. Good luck. I'm looking forward to a compilation of ideas.
From: Lisa Caldwell
Voice instructor, Georgia Southern Univ.
Conductor, Ogeechee Choral Society, Statesboro, GA

Will you please e-mail me the compilation of exercises, it is an area that I
am very interested in as well.

I might be able to help with a few exercises. The object of most of them is
to learn to feel the sensations of phonating without tongue tension--what
do we rely on instead---the breath!!

1) sing while sticking the tongue way out of the mouth--no vowels, but it
can eliminate the usage of the tongue during phonation, sing exercises, or
actual literature.
2) sing while rapidly sticking the tongue in and out of the mouth as a snake
might. The theory is, if its moving, it cannot be tense.
3) (this one I love--) while singing, place thumb under your own chin, this
is a check for tongue tension. If you feel downward pressure, or bumps
and clicks especially when changing notes or at passaggio or at any
.difficult passage, (or always) you must find a way to sing without this exercises, just sing without that downward pressure...It is
frustrating, but this works about as well as anything I know. I learned it
from David Greedy at Luther College, and spent 4 years of undergrad
lessons with my thumb under my chin....It is a great reminder. There
might be some slight pulsation when vowels change, after all, the tongue is
responsible for most of that....but absolutely no pressure or tension.

Singing without tongue tension feels disconnected at first, but that soon
.changes when you learn to rely on the breath. The connection of breath is
a far more pleasurable sensation, and will unlock parts of the voice that
you never dreamed you would have.
From: DFK4401(a) Margaret Kvamme

I had a voice teacher (a former Stanford faculty person) who fixed my
problem tongue by having me actually hold my tongue out of my mouth
while singing.

Not a great way to prevent the spread of colds and flu, but it was very
helpful in my vocal technique.
From: PTcoul(a) Peter T. Coulianos L.M.T.

Your posting caught my eye since tongue tension is one of the things I
specialize in as a neuromuscular massage therapist (and singer).

First of all let me congratulate you and your singing teacher for tackling a
subject that no one really wants to deal with. All singing teachers will tell
you that tongue tension is undesirable but few teachers actually know how
to deal with it in a practical way.

By quick way of background...I have been singing for about 30
years(started as a choirboy) and while I still sing professionally, my main
profession is working with singers (and others) with chronic pain and
tension in the TMJ (jaw), along with all the muscles of the head and neck.
(They ALL get "involved" in singing). My clients include many world
class singers at the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera, as well
as international artists who seek me out when they come to New York. I
do both manual therapy as well as teach patients exercises for their jaws
and tongues to keep them out of trouble and so that their singing is as free
as possible.

So.... in my opinion, focusing on the tongue without focusing on the jaw is
practically impossible. You probably notice in your own singing if there is
tightness in the tongue there is also tightness in the jaw, and vice
versa...and it all stems from holding back the breath!

However, your question from your teacher was specifically the tongue, so
lets just deal with that for now, and if, in the future you wish to go into
further discussions about the jaw, etc. please feel free to write back.

The tongue should be thought of as a muscle like other muscles. It
contracts and relaxes to perform its functions, i.e. swallowing &
pronouncing words. If it gets overworked, or improperly worked, it gets
tired, just like our hands do from poor piano (or typing!!) technique. When
our hands get tired, we stop and shake them out, and stretch them.

To loosen the tongue, stick it way out (stretch) and wiggle it from side
toside. You can make up variations of that like singing part of a song
while wiggling the tongue (stuck out past the teeth), then singing the song
with sloppy diction while wiggling the tongue. (You may find at first,
especially in those with particularly tight tongue and jaw muscles that they
may not be able to move the tongue independently of the jaw at first. Try
then moving both the tongue and the jaw side to side, then, just the jaw,
then just the tongue).

Another excellent relaxer for the tongue is to take a tissue (or paper towel),
fold it a couple of times long way, and wrap around the tip of the tongue.
Then proceed to sing (either all vowels or sloppy diction). Only do this for
about 1 minute or so. The tongue will get quite tired at first. Or,just wiggle
the tongue back and forth while breathing out a few times. Then and the

One more and then I'll leave you to try these and let me know if this is all
along the lines of what your teacher is looking for:
Sing a song with the TIP of the tongue flickering quickly back and forth on
the middle of the upper lip. The best way to describe it is to pretend you're
playing a mandolin, and your tongue is the plectrum. In order to keep the
sound going on the mandolin you have to repeat the plucking rapidly. You
keep the sound (and air) going as long as the tongue is moving. When the
tongue stops the sound (air) stops and vice versa. (I hope that description
was clear enough!)

Well, I hope this is a help for you. I think it's a good starting point. I will
be very curious to know how both you and your singing teacher respond to
these exercises. There's so much more to talk about, but first things first!

I also teach these techniques in private or workshop setting. So if your
teacher is interested in the possibility of something along those lines, we
can discuss it. Then we could incorporate the rest of the techniques for
jaw, neck, diaphragm, self massage of specific head & neck muscles, etc.
From: OhSuzan419(a) Susan Hoffman The Woodlands, TX

Peter: This is the difficulty that plagues me in my own singing, so what
ever you get, I would most appreciate your sharing it with me, privately or
posted to the list.

My own favorite exercise is to "purr like a cat," but on pitch, sliding up
and down the scale, with the "ah" space in the jaw. It brings the air
forward to the teeth, and it helps me get the words onto the tip of the
tongue instead of hung up in the back of the oral pharynx. The trick is then
to transfer these sensations into the text and song at hand.
From: Howard Austin
The tongue pulling back and up, blocking the space and interfering with
resonance and diction and generally inhibiting optimum singing results is
not uncommon.

An effective approach:

Extend the tongue reaching for the chin or hold it in that position with
your fingers (with moist napkin) but DON'T pull.

On 1-2-3-2-1 of the scale, Sing 'aah' 'aah' .. Easy, comfortable range to
start, like C-D-E-D-C - - - -

Then sing the same 'aah' 'aah' w/tongue resting flat, in the mouth, tip
touching the back of the lower teeth.

Then sing "on and on" WITH THE TONGUE IN THAT SAME
From: Kathleen Treole

I have been reading a bit on tongue tension on the list lately, and thought
I'd share.

The reason so many speakers & singers have difficulty with tongue tension
is because of the protective mechanism of the larynx. The first and
primary function of the larynx is to act as the protector of the airway. The
tongue and epiglottis move posteriorly to protect the glottis (i.e. opening to
the airway, the trachea). The ventricular folds (false folds) medialize over
the true vocal folds to protect the airway, as well. Therefore, I believe
tongue tension is simply the body's protecive mechanism in action. I think
it is difficult to break the habit because you are re-training your laryngeal

That's what I have theorized and thought it might be interesting to you
folks; back to the dissertation!
From: midivox(a) (Timothy Kelly)
Sub: Re: tongue tension, taco tongue.

Tongue tension is the ultimate voice killer muscle wise. First thereƆs
the hidden tension that can occur and build up by simply keeping the teeth
together for most of the day, which cramps up the tongue behind the
closed teeth all day.
Next is the way many speakers and singers are always pulling the tongue
up and back towards the roof of the mouth, blocking the throat, and
trapping the sound inside the throat.
Any good vocal teacher teaches that the tip of the tongue is forward and
the back of the tongue is down, out of the sounds way.
Sticking the tongue out and wriggling it around is a good way to shake
some of the tension out of it. Resting the tip on top of your front teeth or
even on top of your lower lips while reading or watching tv, lets the
tongue and other vocal muscles unwind by just hanging.
Stand in front of a mirror with a small flashlight. Can you curl, curve
your tongue like a taco? If you have a nice taco tongue all the way back
down your tongue, so you can see your throat clearly, the sound can
bounce around freely in all your bodys resonant chambers and then slide
out your tonge without being trapped in your throat.
If the back of your tongue is high and tight, you lose a lot of overtones,
range, and carrying power.
One way to just to take 90 days and train it down. Use a fingertip to hold
the tongue down, or a rectangular piece of candy, a tongue depresser, a q
tip, dont use a lot of force to hold it down, just a light touch to guide it
down. Use something the tongue can naturally wrap around. And
something that physically gives you feedback as too how tight your tongue
really is.
If you have a lot of tongue and throat tension, it will feel like your
tongue is bucking like a wild horse or an earthquake. But a minute here
and there, and the tongue will stay out of the sounds way over time.
Going from a no taco tongue to a taco tongue will increase your range
and carrying power a lot. You'll get an extra octave of useable musical
tones at least, plus get a lot more sound with less effort.

on March 27, 2007 10:00pm
I agree with putting your thumb under your jaw to feel if there is any tension in the tongue. You will almost certainly feel tension if there is any. The next step is to learn how to gently lower your larynx with the breath, and not lower the base of your tongue as well.

I always used to push down the larynx with the base of my tongue never realising that the two can work independently of each other.

Your tongue should stay in a relaxed position, not high, but not low either. If you use sufficiently constat breath, your larynx will lower, and your tonque will stay relaxed. This is very difficult to maintain at first on all vowels and consonants but with practice, it will get easier, and is very satisfying.

on November 9, 2007 10:00pm
This is my biggest problem! Tongue Tension.

In the past year, I have worked very hard on getting volume. But, I have been getting little knots on the left side of my tongue muscles under my chin. I know it's at least partly caused by inadequate breath support.
But I also feel like my tongue muscles get really stiff when it's that time of the month for me. I don't know what to do to offset that. But these posts are really good!