Rebecca Sherburn - voice expert

Vocal Articulation, part 2

Learn how to deal with the tongue and jaw

In this second video of a two-part series on "vocal articulation," Dr. Sherburn approaches the tongue and the jaw, and how they affect the vocal sound a great deal.

Released on May 1, 2019

Share this page!
Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I am Dr. Rebecca Sherburn the director of vocal studies at Chapman University in Southern California. This video is a part of a series presented by Virtual Sheet Music called "How the Voice Works". Today's topic a continuation of "articulation."

In the previous video we worked on the soft palate and the lips, and now we come to the tongue and jaw. The tongue is a bunch of muscles although it seems like just one. It is fixed in the back where is has most of its power. Look how big it is on this model, it's huge.

It is important that we develop an awareness of the back of the tongue because it is on top of the larynx, where the vocal folds are.

In this position it can exert pressure down onto the vocal folds and that makes a "Kermit the frog sound":

Errrr - definitely not what we want!

In addition to pressing down, the tongue can also retract or pull back like it does when we swallow. This will happen when singing higher pitches or for running out of breath. If the tongue is retracted in the mouth, articulation becomes difficult.
So here are 4 exercises to help free the tongue and calm down its tendency to pull back and/or press down in the back.


First of all, as you sing watch your tongue in a mirror, it needs to be behind the bottom-front teeth. If it pulls back touch with the tip of a coffee straw to remind the tongue that it needs to stay right there, behind the bottom front teeth. If that doesn't work you can sing with the tongue slightly out of the mouth to get it used to a forward position. Like this... not all the way out, just slightly out.

Second - The Lions Breath - this is a yoga pose, modified for our use. Stick the tongue out as far as possible stretching it as you exhale... then let it sit behind the lower teeth as you inhale and then sing, you may want to try that a few times to stretch the back of the tongue.

Third - With the tip behind the bottom teeth, roll the middle of the tongue forward, trying to touch the sides of the center of the tongue to the upper teeth or the lips, and then sing normally. This can be difficult so give yourself some time to try to figure out this motion.

lla, lla, lla.ahhhhh
lla, lla, lla.ahhhhh
lla, lla, lla.ahhhhh

Fourth - Sing with the tip up on hard palate, behind the upper teeth, as if to say "l"... "lllll", then sing the same exercise while it rests behind the lower front teeth. Like this:

lll, ah
lll, ah
lll, ah

Other interesting ways to deal with tongue and jaw tension include straw phonation.
When you sing through straws, only a small amount of air can go through them. This lessens the air pressure and helps the tongue and jaw relax. We have done this before so this time let's add a cup of water. We are going to blow bubbles while singing into the straws and then sing trying to maintain the same feeling.


How fun is that! It's actually kind of difficult. But very good for us.

Finally, here are some ideas to loosen the muscles of the jaw, which will also affect the tongue. The first idea is to manually massage the muscles. There are three places where we can find them:

1. Along jaw bone, right here on the model. Just run in little gentle circles, and then the other way and keep breathing. Be sure to do both sides. Both directions.

2. Under jaw behind the ear, right here on the model. So you pull down the underside of the jaw, keep breathing as you massage, be sure to do both sides.

3. The last set are actually not visible on the model, they are approached in the inside of the mouth, so wash your hands really, really well, or put on a latex glove. You take your little finger between the upper teeth and the check in the inside, and pull slightly up and away from your teeth.

Ouch... ouch... I find these muscles are sore on me most of the time. Of course, do both sides. I won't demonstrate that now.

If you do manual jaw massage, then sing a little and see if the jaw feels less active or less attached to your singing, that's how we want it to seem. Like if it is not a part of your singing.

A less invasive method to release the muscles of the jaw is to place your hands on the jaw and keep it still as you sing.

La La La La La La La La La

or just a finger on the chin can do this too...

La La La La La La La La La

Tongue moving without the jaw moving.

And finally, the jaw is actually at rest when it is closed, so gently chewing or moving the jaw can help relax it. You can try up and down:

Ya, ya, ya, ya, ah ah ah ah

or side to side, this is a little harder:

lll lll lll lll... ah ah ah ah

So, it is my hope that you can use these exercises to relax the articulators singing on vowels alone, then add in the text. As always, I am happy to hear from you, and thanks for joining me.

Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye!
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Questions? Problems? Contact Us.
Norton Shopping Guarantee Seal