Release Tongue Tension While Singing

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Hello my singing, blogging, reading audience! Today we will be digging into the wonderful world of tongue tension! Tongue tension effects about 90% of the singers that I work with.  The incredible break throughs that happen when tongue tension is disengaged will blow. your. mind. 

I’m going to take ya’ll to church real quick. In James 3:5 it says “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” It later on describes the tongue as being like the rudder of a ship, being able to steer and direct a massive vessel despite its small size.  In other words, even though our tongue is small, it can make or break us! This has never been more true than for the vocalist. 

What is tongue tension?

Tongue tension is any tightening, pulling, and/ or unnecessary engaging of the tongue while singing or speaking.  Why is this a problem? Well the biggest reason is the fact that the tongue is connected to the larynx– aka, YOUR VOICE BOX! If the tongue is tense and freaking out, then your voice is tense and freaking out. This can be identified in many different ways.  I typically can tell when a singer has tongue tension by the way they pull their tongue back while sustaining a note as opposed to letting it rest gently on the bottom of their mouth.  

How do we correct tongue tension?

The best way to disengage tongue tension is by stretching that sucker out! Now before you start googling “yoga tongue stretches,” lets walk through the different ways to do this.  The ultimate way to disengage tongue tension, even when intended for speech, is by stretching the tongue while vocalizing.  Lets go through some of the most effective vocal exercises that relax our clacker.

  1. Pulling the tongue out of the mouth– Using a tissue, you can gently pull your tongue out of your mouth and then do your vocal scales.  One thing I notice singers do is sometimes just hold the tip of their tongue outside their mouth.  For most of us, this does not provide enough of a stretch.  Being gentle and conscious of the force you’re using, its best to pull your tongue out and down the chin.  
  2. Doing the “tongue curl”– this is a little more complicated.  My friend Jenny Wolfe taught me this trick and it has been super effective with my clients.  Basically you put the tip of your tongue behind your bottom teeth, drop your jaw, and then push the bulk of your tongue out of your mouth, creating a type of “tongue curl.” 
  3. “MUM” with the tongue covering the bottom lip– This is the easiest of the 3 tongue tension exercises.  When creating an “M,” the lips have to come together, stopping the air flow at the lips.  All you do here, is stick your tongue out and down, covering your bottom lip.  Then pronounce “mum” form this position and wah-lah! You are on a one-way-track to a tongue tension-less life!

After vocalizing through your range on an “UH” vowel in these different positions, you will likely be blown away by the way you are able to get through your bridges and access your mix voice.  This is one of my favorite exercises to use with my clients because of the powerful results that they render.  

Remember, the tongue is a powerful tool! It can build us up and it can tear us down. Making sure we don’t have tongue tension is crucial for any singer.  In my next blog I am going to discuss how to use that sucker to speak and sing CLEARLY.  Be excited y’all 🙂

Jacob Burton

Jacob Burton

Jacob Burton is a highly rated professional vocal coach located in Nashville, Tennessee. He offers instruction via both online and in studio, and specializes in singing with proper technique, increasing the vocal range, vocal therapy, and especially the "mix" technique.