That’s right. This exercise is usually over-shadowed by the age old lip trill when it comes to warming up. The lip trill is still a cracker in many ways, but the problems that can occur with a lip trill can be cleared up with a good old tongue raspberry. That’s why it’s my exercise of choice for warming up and working with tongue tension in singers. Read on and watch my video to discover what it can do for you and how to do it.
Lip trill vs tongue raspberry
Warming up is something hopefully all of us are doing before we sing (promise?). These two exercises usually fall into this category because they slow down the release of air from the mouth. This is helpful to us because that causes air pressure in the mouth and throat to raise slightly, and we gain a type of ‘air cushion’ between our vocal folds.
When we make sound our vocal folds vibrate and unavoidably collide against each other. If we voice for a long time, or sing loudly, the collision of our vocal folds inevitably fatigues them. Having the ability to create an ‘air cushion’ while we warm up is a clear advantage in avoiding fatigue which both lip trill and tongue raspberry can boast!
Don’t let tongue tension get you by using the lip trill
The bummer about the lip trill is that it leaves the tongue to it’s own devices during the exercise. For singers suffering with tongue tension (which is a HUUUGE amount of people) this is playing directly into its hands. During the lip trill, tongue tension will mess with your flexibility, make you go flat on high pitches, and create strain. They will also rear their ugly heads when singing songs but you can add fatigue, rough intonation and cloudy diction to that list. Humph.
If you notice the symptoms above in your singing, and even if you don’t, try switching to the tongue raspberry in your warm up. This exercise gives the tongue a relaxed job to do and could make an instant difference to your range and freedom. Having the tongue busy, hanging slightly out of the mouth, helps with these common singers problems:
- Tongue retraction is discouraged – tongues pulling to the back of the mouth through tension cause so many issues in the middle and upper range. We need space in the throat to boost and shape our sound, so it would be really helpful if the tongue wasn’t occupying that space!
- Larynx flexibility is encouraged – in the much higher ranges the larynx really needs the ability to move freely if we’re going to be successful up there. As the tongue and larynx are closely connected via the hyoid bone, the tongue often negatively influences the larynx position. If tongue retraction is present, the tongue may push the larynx down. This kills its ability to raise in the upper range for contemporary singing styles. We often sound a little dark and flat in this situation, and it happens commonly in a lip trill. A tongue buzz brings the tongue right to the front, leaving plenty of space behind it for the larynx to move into… IF it needs to.
The positive outcome from the facts above go a long way to releasing range and tension. The tongue raspberry, however, has another one up its sleeve. Airflow management.
Keep it consistent
In singing, the vocal folds are the primary vibration in the vocal tract and do the job of managing the airflow from the lungs. In a tongue buzz, the tongue is a secondary vibration. If you’re to keep this secondary vibration going consistently you have to do things differently. We will get a consistently slow and constant tongue buzz if we deliver our airflow in a calm and controlled manner. That then means that our tongue buzz will crash out if we use too much air to sing. It’ll also crash if we don’t use enough, or indeed don’t let enough air through by straining or squeezing our voices during the exercises. If the tongue tenses or pulls in the exercise, it will also be a wash out. We must concentrate on staying relaxed and in control.
How to do it
Well, there you have it. Exercise your voice, from bottom to top, with the tongue buzz as part of your daily warm-up. You can even use it a troubleshooter for tongue tension whenever you might be feeling it. To begin with, it’s worth exploring the exercise without going into the top 20% of your range initially. Combining it with a sobbed tone is a useful addition initially to gain some more freedom back there. The speed of the tongue vibrations will give you an indication of your airflow management (see video). It really helps to focus on them being slow and consistent.
Gradually, explore your upper voice even further. Use any scale you like too! One mini goal is to cross your break frequently using this exercise. Work your way up to an octave scale, then two! Or just siren up and down your range for a few minutes.
As with all of these recommendations, contact us if you have any problems or visit a qualified vocal coach to help you find the right spot! We also have a podcast all about tongue placement if you want to absorb more about this unruly mouth muscle!
Chris is also a writer for iSing Magazine, a founder/presenter of The Naked Vocalist podcast, a voting member of Pan American Vocology Association, and a teacher trainer/vocal coach with the Vocology In Practice network.
All that aside, he's a pure and true music fan with a penchant for Donny Hathaway and songs about heartbreak.