In singing there are few things that give so many problems as root tongue tension. It will stop your beautiful tone from coming out, lock up your jaw, close your throat, engage the swallowing muscles, create imbalance in the breath support due to the added resistance that the back of the tongue is creating and make it impossible to articulate the vowels correctly.
What does root tongue tension feel like?
There are many different levels of this, from just very mild to feeling like someone is strangling you! You will feel like there is discomfort at the back of your tongue by the tonsils. If you do a lot of singing you may really feel this lock up. Your articulators will then try to compensate for it and create more tension.
If you place your thumb under your jaw then move it back to the soft bit just behind it, this is the underside of your tongue, gently press your thumb in here. Now take in a silent breath, it should stay soft or go a little softer, now slide up and down through your range on any vowel that is comfortable for you. It is very common for students to feel that as they slide higher that the tongue starts to push against the thumb, this is a sign that root tongue tension is starting to kick in. If this goes unchecked then the throat will lock up.
You can only increase your range correctly and sustainably if you do it without incorrect tension, and root tongue tension is an incorrect tension.
What does root tongue tension sound like?
You will notice that the sound is muffled, sounding like someone has something in their mouth and is trying to sing around it…well they are – the tongue!
What can I do to get rid of root tongue tension?
1) Slowly stick your tongue out then bring it back it; do this several times.
2) Say the word glug a lot as this will work the front and back of the tongue.
3) Start to use the NG sound in your daily vocal warm up routine as this lifts the back of the tongue out of the throat.
4) Stick your tongue out and leave it resting on your bottom lip. Then say the vowel ER as in the word urn. Now do your slides on this.
5) Go through the vowels with your thumb in the soft part just behind your chin, this should stay soft on all the vowels, ee is often a hard one, so take your time, start with the 5 main vowels EE as in he, EH as in hen, AH as in far, OH as in hot and OO as in who.
6) Stick your tongue out and move it from one side of your mouth to the other, so that it moves like a metronome arm. Do this daily and especially before singing to help release that tension.
I often find that just making my students aware of the movement of the back of the tongue helps the most, so focus your mind at the back of your tongue by your tonsils, and say the vowel oo – make it hooty sounding – as in the word who, now stick your tongue out and say er as in ern, now alternate between these two vowels, oo er oo er oo er. Say er like you mean it, like you really have seen something that makes you say it. While you are doing this stay focused on the back of your tongue and notice it move, back on the oo and forward on the ER you must work to keep the vowels forward and out of the throat, this will then help your voice to project naturally, but that’s another blog! 🙂
Now you know what root tongue tension feels and sounds like, also what to do to deal with it. I hope that you found this helpful, if you have any questions then please get in touch as I would love to hear from you.