Have you ever been singing and suddenly realized your tongue hurt? Felt a tinge or soreness? Sometimes, that means your jaw is tight, often, it means that your tongue is tense. It’s a muscle, it’s natural for that to happen. However, it’s not something you can ignore. When you’re doing an exercise, you want to make sure you have correct form in order to get the most out of it. Same concept with singing. However, in singing, you don’t want to keep working the muscles to the point of pain. You want to avoid that altogether. Tongue tension is not something that is necessarily discussed in other professions, so I am going to ask you to do some very odd but effective exercises in this article to help you open your tone and your voice! Bare with me…
I want you to take a moment and think about what Kermit the Frog sounds like.
When you imitate him yourself, what do you do? Pull your tongue to the back of your mouth, right? That is a prime example of swallowed tone and tongue tension. “But Erin, that’s now how I sing.” Sure – this is an extreme example but, if you’re reading this article, I imagine you’re in need of a tune up. Pick a song, one of your favorites to sing. Go stand in front of the mirror and watch yourself sing it. Not only that, but also pay attention to where your tongue is when you do. The biggest problem with tongue tension is that you don’t realize it’s happening until you’re already in pain, which can lead to bigger problems down the road. The first step to fixing tongue tension while singing is simply acknowledging it.
Erin’s exercises to help with tongue tension:
So, say you are like Kermit and you have a swallowed tone. How do you fix it? There are a few different ways, all of which lead to retraining your tongue’s muscle memory. Find a wooden chopstick or something similar and clean. Now, hold it on your chin right under your lip where the little indent is (on most people.) Here’s where you may feel a little silly but, again, bare with me.
Stick out your tongue so it covers the chopstick, to the best of your ability (not all tongues are the same size!) and sing a simple scale on an “ah.” Repeat this a few times. Notice how your tongue wants to move? We want it to stay over the chopstick! Only do this a few times because eventually, your tongue does get tired and we don’t want to work it to the point of pain!
The second exercise you can do is rewrite the lyrics to whatever song you’re singing, phonetically. So, instead of “the brown cow jumps over the lazy fox,” write “the brAHn CAH jUHmps OHvEHR the LAYzy fAHx” It’s very odd to look at however, when you change your vowels in the lyrics to more open ones, you start to retrain your tongue to sing them that way. It’s basically over enunciating every word. A prime example of what this sounds like is Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek.
Tongue tension is a very common issue in singers, especially when they first start out. The easiest way to avoid tongue tension while singing is to retrain your tongue to be flat, and not move around to the point of pain. Once you start to do these exercises regularly, your tongue starts to retrain itself to be more relaxed and more flat. Therefore, opening your tone and improving your overall vocal quality!