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It's All About the Tongue

Vocal coach Luke Steinhauer working with student on tongue control.

The tongue, a remarkable muscular organ situated in the oral cavity, serves as a multifunctional powerhouse central to several crucial human activities. Beyond its primary role in the experience of taste, the tongue plays an integral part in speech articulation, aiding in communication and expression. It is composed of intricate muscle fibers and equipped with taste buds. The tongue's intricate anatomy and diverse functions underscore its significance as a vital component of our daily experiences, connecting us to the world through taste and communication.

Because of the intricacy of the muscles, activity in the blade and tip of the tongue can be separated from activity in the dorsum and root. Tone quality and pharyngeal dimension are influenced by vowel production. The reason for this is that the front of the neck is the back of the tongue. The tongue forms the front wall of the throat and its position is crucial to voice quality control.

Good Diction = Moving your Tongue

The dynamic movement of the tongue is essential for achieving clear and precise diction. As a key player in speech production, the tongue maneuvers within the oral cavity, shaping sounds and consonants to form distinct words. Its nimble and flexible nature allows for the swift execution of intricate movements required for proper pronunciation. The precise coordination between the tongue and other articulatory organs enhances the clarity of speech, aiding in effective communication. By actively engaging the tongue in controlled and deliberate movements, you can refine your diction, ensuring that each word is enunciated distinctly and comprehensibly, thereby contributing to expressive communication.

Get the Tongue Out of the Way of the Larynx

The Tongue is connected to the Larynx. The Larynx needs to be free to vary to adapt quickly and adjust accordingly to whatever the vocal goal is. If the tongue is further back in your mouth it can influence the vertical mobility of the larynx; not allowing it to rise. Care must be taken in any singing voice quality to ensure that tongue position does not compromise the movement of the Larynx. Use Estill Voice Training exercises for establishing tongue independence from other structures. Move it forward in your mouth especially when trying to hit higher pitches. And most importantly, do not grip the root of the tongue.

Do you have Tongue root tension?

Tongue root tension refers to the degree of muscular tightness or contraction at the base of the tongue, particularly in the pharyngeal region. For some, tongue root tension may develop involuntarily. Often when vocalists feel nervous, they tend to grip the root of the tongue in order to feel connected to their voice production system. Tongue root tension is completely unnecessary and may be contributing to other tension in your jaw or throat. It also prevents the Larynx from rising which as already stated, makes it harder to extend your range. To be sure you're not gripping the root of your tongue, stick the tongue out of your mouth when practicing or move it around your mouth to relieve any unnecessary tension.

The intricate and versatile nature of the tongue underscores its undeniable significance in our daily experiences. From the nuanced coordination of its muscles influencing tone quality to its pivotal role in achieving good diction, the tongue emerges as a powerful orchestrator of expressive communication. The relationship between the tongue and the larynx further emphasizes the importance of maintaining freedom and flexibility in both structures for effective vocal control. Recognizing potential challenges such as tongue root tension and addressing them through conscious practice and awareness becomes crucial in fostering a healthy and adaptable vocal system.


About the author: Luke Steinhauer is a premier vocal coach, international voice consultant, and Estill Master Trainer, based in New York City. Luke is a graduate of The University of Michigan and an MBA Candidate at Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business, CUNY. @lukesteinhauervoice


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