The root of the tongue

Learning how to sing better means knowing about your voice, and all the elements that can affect your sound. The tongue can be a major player in sound production. It can help you make beautiful sounding tones, or it can cause your voice lots of grief.

The root of the tongue starts in the same area as the vocal cords in your throat. Most untrained singers don’t even realize the tongue is causing problems with their singing. Usually this creates a tightened or strained sound, and sometime it causes a nasal sounding singing voice. What is happening is the tongue is actually backing up and “covering” the vocal cords, instead of coming forward, staying relaxed, and allowing the throat to be open.

You can check this by singing your favorite chorus with your tongue lying out over your bottom teeth and lower lip. You don’t have to force it out, because again you would be creating tension in the tongue. Is your jaw and tongue relaxed enough so that your entire throat feels free? Now sing your chorus.

It is difficult to pronounce words this way, but the purpose of this exercise is to notice the open throat and tongue release.

This is a great way for rock singers and singers who are learning to belt to get in touch with the physical effort necessary in their body for optimum breath support for their mixed voice. Notice you may need to decrease your volume to maintain the balance of cord closure to allow the voice to mix in the upper register.

If your sound is breathy, then that is a key indicator that your vocal cords and breath support can be engaged better with proper coordinations. You have taken the tongue out of the equation so you can focus on your “cry” to get cord closure.

Do this everyday with the tongue out and experience an open throat with good vocal closure. Use sounds like “uh-uh” (as in “us”) and sing up and down through your register break. Don’t force your sound. Your voice will eventually start to become less breathy and you will start to hear and feel the edges of your cords touching. This is a great way to get in touch with “vocal fry” too.

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The big mouth

So why do all your American Idol favorites sing with huge mouths?

Answer: Because the big mouth is directly related to the freedom associated with making sounds found in contemporary styles such as rock, pop, gospel, jazz, musical theatre, country, and even opera!

The ability to get great cord closure (to sing high notes with thin and stretched cords), and resonate in the oropharynx (back of the throat and out through the mouth), is what we are talking about here. This means the soft palate is high enough (which it needs to be), and the jaw and tongue are relaxed enough (which they need to be), and the throat is open enough (which it needs to be), to allow the sound to project off the uvula and soft palate area. This creates great oral resonance (oral twang). With the right amount of breath support, this sensation is very freeing and very BUZZY. You will feel the buzzy vibrations on your upper teeth, the hard palate, in the nose, and even out the top of your head! But be careful. Make sure you are not just making head resonance. It needs to come out the front of your mouth! This is mixed voice (middle voice) in high gear, and the safest way to belt out your notes! This is what gives great singers the illusion that they are singing in the chest voice, when in fact, they are mixing like crazy (split resonance).

This is not easy to do, and it’s not as simple as described above. The actual critical playing card is your ability to control and manage your breathing.

Give it try. What do you think? Allow the voice to come out the mouth with the freedom of resonance in the head. Stick three fingers between your teeth to keep your jaw and tongue from gripping. I know it’s hard to form the consonants in your words…so just sing the vowels. If you can perfect this to a sound you like, you are well on your way!

Vowels

A great deal of singing better is dependent on your ability to form vowels which involves the entire throat, the soft palate, the tongue, and the mouth all the way out to the lips.

Your efforts in perfecting your vowel formation can make dramatic advances towards your goal to become a better singer.

There are tons of tiny muscles pulling and pushing simultaneously as you form your words. Your strict attention to detail in this area will engage these muscles, eventually allowing you to raise the soft palate higher, move the tongue with ease, keep the throat open, etc.

The oo vowel (as in “boot”) ┬áis especially helpful to allow the up and down changes in resonance. In other words, it helps you access your head voice. Work with oo everyday, and continually try to elongate and narrow the vowel even more. Relax your jaw and lift your soft palate as much as you can…..think of the beginning of a yawn and raise your eyebrows, and you will be well on your way. Again, exaggerate these movements to engage muscles that you don’t regularly use.

Another important vowel is ee (as in “beet”). Careful that you don’t squeeze this and make it thin and reedy. Instead, start with oo and keep that elongated open feeling in the back of your throat. Now, simply change the vowel to ee without changing the position of your jaw. Let the back of your mouth, tongue and soft palate do the work. Think of the ee as a horizontal line at the back of your throat. Be careful not to close the throat. This can be very challenging for some singers, but it’s very important work.

Any questions? Please let me know.