Loosing the tongue
Détente de la langue

© Tim Schmidt 1999

[Re: TECH: tongue]

One of the things that most helped me in dealing with tongue tension was first of all remembering that the tongue has absolutely nothing to do with basic phonation. It doesn't produce the sound, it just helps to shape/articulate the sound produced by the vocal cords. Starting from that point, you want to make sure that you can make basic sound without the tongue getting involved. Once you can do that, then start figuring out how to shape the mouth/tongue/throat to achieve the tone you want.

Poke your index finger into the skin under your chin (behind the portion of bone that makes up the bottom of the chin, but in front of the stiffer cartilages that make up the inner column of the throat) and wiggle your tongue. The movement you feel above your finger is the muscular movement of the tongue. Obviously not all of the tongue, since there are various muscle group components in the tongue, but as soon as large portions of the tongue start changing shape and shifting around, you will feel the muscle contract (become harder) and move.

Next step: with your finger still poking up to feel for tongue movement, bring the tip of your tongue forward until it's just touching the back of your bottom teeth. Keeping the tip there, work to find the most relaxed position for the tongue as a whole (i.e. the point where the muscle you're feeling with the index finger is the softest/mushiest/least contracted).
Now start with some soft, breathy, pitched "sighs" in your lower-middle range (or whatever range is generally easiest for you). Can you make basic sound, without worrying about tone quality or pitch accuracy, while keeping the tongue in that relaxed and "mushy" state? If it's moving, then your tongue is trying to get involved with pitch production, and adding muscle that doesn't need to be involved.

Keep working with the sighs until you can do it without the tongue getting involved at all. I find that most of my students achieve this mosty easily with an [a] vowel. Once you can do that, then try making the sound on specific pitches, still not worrying about tone quality, just overall relaxation. Next, start adding in the space you need for good tone. If it starts involving the tongue, try to find it another way.

Finally, start trying other vowels. Try starting on an [a] and gradually let the vowel "slide" towards becoming another vowel. Eventually you can get to the point where you can move the tongue just enough to get clear vowels but not enough that the whole tongue starts to get rigid: Only the parts of the tongue that absolutely need to be involved are working...the rest stays relaxed out of the way.

When this starts to get natural enough to really use it while you're singing, there will definitely be motion felt as the tongue engages to produce various consonants, but once those motions are done, it should go back to those relaxed vowel positions. Working through all this can be frustrating at times, but it does work!

Just my 2-cents' worth!

Tim Schmidt

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