The Tongue

Over the summer I worked with singers at two different summer opera programs in Germany. It was wonderful to see the immediate change in the voice as students became more and more balanced and directed in their bodies. Even small changes in their understanding and use were audible. The work was very exciting and fulfilling.

One component of vocal production is the use of the tongue. It influences the entire body and applies to all of us whether we are singing or not. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body. If it is tight, narrow, and pulling down it is not only sitting on the larynx and vocal cords, but it is pulling the head down on your neck, restricting free breathing and actively pulling the entire body in a downward direction.

Allowing the tongue to be soft, wide, and free in the mouth takes enormous pressure off the head and neck, breathing mechanism, and thus the entire body.

To find the best use of your tongue in everyday activities, touch the rounded tip of your tongue to the bottom of your lower teeth as in Alexander’s procedure the “whispered ah”. Then let the back of your tongue drift up to touch the roof of your mouth. It is best if you can let the tongue touch the soft palate behind the back of the hard palate. This way, you can sense the back edge of the hard palate. Make sure the tongue is coming up to your head and not your head coming down to meet the tongue. At the same time let the tongue be wide so the sides of the back of the tongue touch the back of your upper teeth.

Stay easy in your jaw by keeping a small space between the upper and lower back teeth. This will help with the articulation of the tongue and jaw. They can move independently of each other and often it takes practice as to how to do this.

If you are doing this correctly you are closing off your mouth to the air and are now breathing only through your nose.

Now, keeping that seal between your soft palate and the tongue, continue breathing. Let your larynx and throat soften and hang from this point of contact. Monitor yourself so you can breathe in and out without tightening or pulling the tongue down. Your throat can also stay easy while you breathe. Pay special attention to the moments when you change direction of the breath – from the inhale to the exhale and from the exhale to the inhale. In other words there is no sucking in of the air and no pushing it out. (As you play with this you will find a natural suspension during the turn-around of the air.)

As you continue to play with this idea and then speak or sing (releasing your tongue from the contact with the soft palate and not pushing the tongue down), you will have extended the tube or column of air you are using up behind the back of the mouth. It may feel like you are closing your throat or that your tongue is too big for your mouth. That is okay. Stay with it and see what happens.

This will give you an efficient use of your air, bring you up the front of your body, give you support for your sound, and give you a lighter sense in your body while giving you more grounding.

Other good times to notice when you might be pulling your tongue down are when you:

  • go up stairs

  • stand up from sitting

  • start to speak

Tip: If you have trouble finding the back of your hard palate run the tip or your tongue back along the roof of your mouth toward the back of your teeth. The end of the hard palate is the moment your tongue goes up toward the top of your head. Look in a mirror if you need more help locating the hard palate.

This is a big topic so more to come. Stay tuned……..