Admittedly, these tongue strategies might be No’s 1 and 2 of 507 because there are so many way in which you can stop that tongue from being a muscular annoyance in your singing. You don’t have to do them all mind! It’s more due to the fact that the singing world are extremely creative! Plus, the root cause of tension is different from one singer to the next. Trying stuff allows you to figure out the cause for yourself and find the exercises that works best. The audio is up there, but the video is down here.
VocalizeU – July 12-21 2019 – Los Angeles
First up, there’s an event for all of you artists in LA this year called VocalizeU. It’s an inspiration event that happens every summer, which we have also been honoured to have coached at for five years. The program is available via the website, but there isn’t much you don’t get to do:
- Songwriting training with grammy winners
- Dance and performance with top level pros
- Music business with high end lawyers and managers
- Nightly performances with professional feedback
- Private daily voice lessons
- Morning fitness class (this is seriously optional, haha)
- Much, much more
The one time we were giving the pro feedback during the nightly performances, we were on a panel with two Grammy winning songwriters; Wendy Parr and Dean Pitchford. These guys have sold MILLIONS of records. No idea why they asked us looooool. If you quote ‘NAKEDVOCALIST’ you’ll get $350 off the ticket price… whoop! Disclaimer: we’ll also get a small ‘thank you’ if you book a spot 🙂
On to the tongue…. And let’s start with BLAME
We always like this approach, and tongue tension issues can be pinned on someone else if you wish to avoid the responsibility. The first people to go and berate are your parents. Their geographical location and way of speaking will have given you part of your accent, and accents can be a scupper to singing. Your mates can also take a bit of stick, as they would’ve also influenced your speech growing up.
Just to be proper clear, the significance of accents on singing is that they create tongue movement patterns that may or may not be helpful to your singing. That means we might need to keep an eye on it.
Sometimes we’re holding on to sensations
Accents and styles aside, sometimes we’re attached to feelings. An interesting fact about people who are deaf or hard of hearing is that they tend to pull the tongue to the back of the mouth during speech. Because we can partly hear our voices through internal structures like the jaw, the backed up tongue deflects more sound energy into this bone and tissue. This increases the sense of our voices from the inside, and would help a partially deaf speaker to talk and hear themselves.
A similar thing can happen when a singer wants to feel like their voice is powerful and has depth. The frequencies that travel internally are mostly low frequencies, giving us the impression our voice sounds deeper than it might do to others. We might also feel like we’re even richer, even bigger, if we retract the tongue. Sadly, that is not the case. We usually sound more dulled, but it can explain why some singers habitually pull the tongue back.
You know what we’re saying right? Do a parody of an opera singer and you’ll see what we mean. The tongue could help you to create a sound that resembles the stylistic warmth of opera, but it’s definitely not the real deal of course; it’s some heavy tongue tension creating a mock up of Placido Domingo.
Truth is, most people need some level of tongue taming. It’s a busy little beast!
Why deal with the tongue?
For the clear communication aspect, for sure. If you’re required to do lots of styles and ranges, like a session singer or backing vocalist, a flexible tongue allows you do that well. In truth however, strong habitual contractions in the tongue can play havoc with efficiency and lead to muscle tension dysphonia. That can also lead to injury and a shorter career. In light of that, it’s definitely worth checking in on regularly and having ways to release any build up.
Mobility in diction (see video for demonstration)
This uses the fingers to keep the jaw loosely open, meaning we put most of the responsibility of saying these rapid fire syllables on the tongue. That means the tongue will start moving, and movement is a great way to release tension! Common syllable combo’s are DIGGA-DEE, GLAY-GLAH, LEE-YAH as they create lots of movement in the tongue and its parts. Wizzing that up and down your lower range on a five note scale might already start to release tension.
If the tongue slows and you can’t keep the diction for more than ten or fifteen seconds, then there’s probably some tension in the tongue. Much like the guitar or piano, if you want to play arpeggios quickly and easily, there’s an element of relaxation involved. Loose muscles respond quickly, and sometimes quick movements can ask muscles to become loose. That’s why you can use quicker diction speed as a way to release more tension in the tongue.
Negative practice really helps
Exercises are genuinely useless if they aren’t applied in the right way. One way that we can empower singers to be able to apply exercises well is by using negative practice. IE, practicing the problem first. In the video you’ll see Chris showing you the many suboptimal ways that this exercise could be done. By practicing these, you’ll be able to spot when problem tensions arrive and solve them quickly. Ultimately, this kind of approach means you can coach yourself eventually, which really should be every vocal coach’s eventual aim for their singers.
Exploring the minefield
As the video covers, you can perform these ‘tongue twister’ in a variety of weird ways. With a retracted tongue, too staccato and pushy, swallowed, nasal or almost spewed up! Practising those brings much more awareness to the whole exercise. It also brings lots more awareness to the muscle tenseness, and looseness of course, in structures like the tongue, jaw, throat and lips. That awareness is pure gold in the long run.
Go looking in other places
The lower to middle range that can be pushy or strained can really loosen up with this exercise. The break or passaggio might seem much smoother too. Occasionally, using this exercise in falsetto-type upper range highlights a training need. IE, the tongue gets all sluggish again in this different register. That means that that register won’t be as flexible, so it’s taking this diction strategy around different parts of your voice to check whether there’s reliance on tongue tension. If you, do might find your vocal breaks starts to reduce.
Avoid the super high stuff though… diction is another ball game up there!
There are loads of syllable combos you could choose for this, and it can get strategic when you’re deciding whether to use the tongue tip more than the tongue hump, for example. There’s even a lot of value in beatboxing activities, just to prove IT CAN be fun.
Tongue out for freedom
Awareness of movement and tension is a really helpful skill for everyone. BUUUT, sometimes we just need to feel the openness of a looser tongue straight away. It can be such a relief in times of strain. So, this is simple…
Put your tongue tip in-between the bottom lip and the bottom row of teeth. The glide from low to high on an EE (as in feet) vowel. See video for the proper delivery.
It can sometimes get tight because we fight it a bit. Keep going with it and gradually you’ll be able to find that relaxed, ‘not trying too hard’ state where there’s the sense of space in the back of the mouth and throat.
The EE vowel is particularly irritating to singers because the tongue can show such a lot of tension, cramping space back there. It also be create a very pressed or squeezed sound, which I’m sure lots of us can relate to! Instead, this exercise really opposes that problem and retrains us to live without relying on that unhelpful tongue tension.
You can even sing a melody with the tongue in this position to get used to intervals and push back against habits ingrained in songs.
Train other vowels
AH (as in father) vowels can be tricky as the tongue is back and down. That occasionally leads singers to sound muffled or even quite swallowed at times. Moving the tongue into an unnaturally high position, like an L for example, can throw those habits and show us a more spacious feeling.
See you for more tongue action soon!
I know that sentence sounds all kind of wrong, but that’s the tall and short of it. Depending on how you experience your voice, and the root cause of your tension, trying several things can help you narrow it down. So, WE WILL be back with more tips for you soon.
All the best
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