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Tongue Tension/Knödel

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mpocock
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Hi guys,

Hope you're well :) I've got a student at the moment with a serious tongue tension issue - he has a great tone in his lower range, but he has a block in his chest voice belt at F4. At F#4 his voice squeezes out of contention.

It seems to me that the tongue tension is squeezing so hard that it's locking up the larynx at those high pitches. Have worked him through anchoring, twang, and abdominal support, and I'm happy with the efficiency of the fold closure - it's just that damn tongue tension.

I've done the 'thumb under the jaw' thing, as well as keeping the tongue protruded while doing scales to relax the root. Some folks will know on here I'm a big EVT fan, so keeping the tongue high has been my main strategy for getting it relaxed.

What do you guys think? Have you had this problem in the past? Have you worked students through it? And is there another thread where this discussion has taken place before?

Matt :)

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For me a good way is to relax the tip of the tongue and make it rest on (not behind) the lower front teeth while touching the lower lip.

Then while practicing make it stay there and stay relaxed the whole time. This will basically enforce the use of anchoring for stability.

Almost any action that creates tension (like pressing the tongue against the molars) will pull the tip of the tongue away from the lower front teeth.

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My tip is dont focus to much on the tension itself but more on goodvoiceuse, thetension is there for a reason. Meaning i dont belive it's that tension thats responsible for the locked voice at f#4 but it's more a result of the voice being unbalanced/not strong enough and thus "that" tension appears to aid.

This other tip is quite extreme and requires alot of the student and the coach so if you dont see him regularly it's not wise. So basicly this is something you do 1-2 minutes max aday if not even less, and the students overall technique must be monitored. so all warninglables aside, ect

Make him try to find that squeeze abit lower before he starts to squeeze and work from there to gradualy make him feel how to loosen the squeeze. This will also teach the squeezemuscles to let go and make them abit stronger and not suddenly jump into action around that e4-f4 area.

But this is not for all students so keep that in mind, but if you feel he's still stuck with this after a long while of good voiceusage it might be worth a try

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@FelipeCarvalho - my main approach has been vowel modification, so trying to get the tongue tip touching the lower teeth while keeping the dorsum high. I find that using an 'EE' vowel to locate the molars then allowing the sides of the tongue to gently 'peel off the molars' to form the other vowels keeps a good high position.

Also, I've found that trying to get the students to visualise aiming the sound at the hard palate is a nice exercise to raise the dorsum of the tongue, since it gives a nice vibratory feedback when you get it right, and makes a nice ringing sound.

Does that sound alright - are there better strategies I can be employing?

@CunoDante - Ok, look forward to seeing that video! Never thought of tension on the inhale before, I'll check for that when I see him. The lack of jaw opening, or a kind of held jaw, could well be a possibility, I'll also check for that and work on that next time.

@Jens - What do you think might be causing it? I've seen tongue tension being linked to laryngeal tension in students before, but as I said in the intro I'm quite happy with his general phonation. Maybe he could do with a more relaxed pharynx..?

Inquisitively yours,

Matt :)

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It's very hard to know without hearing him, sometimes it's just that the student hasnt put in the time in that area of the voice.

It can be mental, he can be trying to hard he can be trying to little, to much "squeeze"to little "squeeze" ect ect.

My point being if you focus soley on that tension and that tension is not the problem, the body will only respond by making new tensions.

But anyways this is a good site and many of the tips youll get here will not only focus on both solving the tension but and adding to the general voicetechnique wich is what you want.

So just monitor your student when you take away this tension so he doesnt add new one's im not qorried though he seams to be in good hands

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@FelipeCarvalho - my main approach has been vowel modification, so trying to get the tongue tip touching the lower teeth while keeping the dorsum high. I find that using an 'EE' vowel to locate the molars then allowing the sides of the tongue to gently 'peel off the molars' to form the other vowels keeps a good high position.

Also, I've found that trying to get the students to visualise aiming the sound at the hard palate is a nice exercise to raise the dorsum of the tongue, since it gives a nice vibratory feedback when you get it right, and makes a nice ringing sound.

Does that sound alright - are there better strategies I can be employing?

It sounds good, not better strategies but maybe thinking about it differently to see if approaching from another side helps the person... A few suggestions that I find that helps:

- A lot of people try to keep the "weight" and the sensation they associate with weight is exactly the tongue tension. A nice way to get rid of it is exagerating forward/twang for a while and then comming back to the center. Try to reverse the problem, instead of reach for the F/F#4, go right for the C5 and slide down. Do a few times then stay on the F#4 and use it to map how it feels, trick the person to think in falsetto and very twanged/loud.

- Another, is nasal/oral ballance. What should be controlling the ballance is the velar port, but most of the time, its the tongue that is doing a big part of the job, and even lifting the palate does not relief this if the person does not relax into a more "nasal" posture to begin with. I would work with very nasal vowels and reposition them through velar coordination to help the person identify the changes, a suggestion would be nasal (really though the nose) Ah to oral Oh. A very good sign of this is if by using a nasal consonant on a few test scales like M+vowel or N+vowel the problem is reduced, but on plosives it gets worse.

- This was a big problem for me for years, check if the very coordination used to lift the velar port is not tied together with the tension on the tongue. If by closing the velar port the tongue is tensing not due the phonation but because he constructed a reference that has tongue tension together with the lift, you will have to solve this coordination first. Make the person pronounce a G+vowel or suck in air through the mouth with tight lips and ask about the coordination (or whatever other references you use of course), I would spend some time comparing and seeing if the tension does not kick in simply by thinking of lifting.

- Try a few tests with L, B or D + vowel to see if it helps. If there is a improvement (specially if it gets easy), the tongue is probably compensating for a slow, maybe insecure/weak attack coordination. So I would think of something to work on agility, like stacatto maybe?

Hope it helps!

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@Dante, Felipe: great tips guys!

Just to add something. Depending on the individual the shape of the tongue can play quite a big role in tongue tension. When the tongue size deviates quite a bit from the average size (especially in relation to size of the oral cavity) the "standard" tongue positions might actually be wrong and cause tensions.

Just to give you an example: My own tongue is really, really big. If I completely relax it intentionally, it lies above all my lower teeth (to the sides and front) and sticks out of my mouth.

Because of that, when my mouth is closed (which it is mostly during the day), my tongue is ALWAYS under some kind of tension because I have to pull it back to actually fit in my mouth. This also creates the breathing tension that Dante is mentioning.

What I have found out is that in singing I have to use A LOT of smile (more than most other singers) and that the tip of my tongue should not be placed on the lower fron teeth (as often suggested) but even lower, burying itself in the area below the lower front teeth.

This might also be worth a try: Make him put the tip of the tongue as deep as possible into the area below the lower front teeth. This will automatically lift the dorsum of the tongue. Then make him use a very twanged/bright sound color (as Felipe suggests) with projection through the nose and see if it works.

EDIT: I have a very nice exercise for the correct tongue position, but it depends on making noises that are not really native to the english language. It depends on the consonants ç and x. Will post a video when I have time.

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Also, I've found that trying to get the students to visualise aiming the sound at the hard palate is a nice exercise to raise the dorsum of the tongue, since it gives a nice vibratory feedback when you get it right, and makes a nice ringing sound.

Does that sound alright - are there better strategies I can be employing?

Just noticed that. Aiming the sound at the hard palate is actually counter-productive in head voice. While this is the correct strategy for chest voice, it has to aim more towards the soft palate in head voice. The gradual switch from aiming at the hard palate towards aiming at the soft palate is a very important step when moving towards head.

It is exactly what the consonants i named are for. The consonant /ç/ aims at the hard palate, the consonant /x/ aims at the soft palate. When switching to head voice you need to make a gradual switch from /ç/ to /x/.

The tongue has to be placed in a way that this gradual switch can happen easily and the airstream from those two consonants has to be aimed in a forward projecting way. But as said above, hard to explain that in text form.

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Nice one - thanks everyone! Get you a case of beer for that one ;)

@FelipeCarvalho - Ok, never thought about it like that, but you're dead right. Isolating the palate might leave the tongue a bit freer to do its thing.

@Benny - I'm not quite sure I understand the phonetics you're using for /ç/ and /x/, could you use them in the context of a word? :)

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@Benny - I'm not quite sure I understand the phonetics you're using for /ç/ and /x/, could you use them in the context of a word? :)

Well, it is difficult in Englisch, because those phonetics are not really native to the language, but I give it a try:

The /ç/ is sometimes used when you say the word "huge". When you say the "h" in that word in a special way you get the sense of an airstream touching your hard palate.

The /x/ is pronounced like the leading "J" in the spanish word "Jalapeño" or the spanish name "Juan", which you might know. In this case you should sense a stream of air touching your soft palate.

The /x/ serves exactly the purpose that Felipe is mentioning. To make the soft palate as independent as possible on the tongue. The lifting of the palate should be more in terms of "directing the airstream" instead of using the tongue to do things.

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@Benny82 - what an interesting exercise! I can see that has a lot of potential for isolating the two :) Thanks!

Cool, then I think you got the two consonants working. There are some more steps to this exercise that I usually use.

First step is a smooth transition from the "chest voice" /ç/ into head voice /x/. The tongue will do a certain forward/down movement on this and the jaw will often open more while going into the head voice consonant.

Second step is to minimize the movement of the tongue. For this you can do a resonant hum on NG. The point where the tongue touches the palate on that hum is taken as the "center" point and is almost exactly the point where soft and hard palate meet.

Now you move both consonants als close as possible to that center point, so you do an NG into /ç/ with the airstream touching the palate just a little bit in front of the NG position (hard palate). Then you do an NG into /x/ with the airstream just a little bit behind the NG position (soft palate).

Then you do the smooth transition again. This gives you a switch between the consonants with very minimal movement of the tongue.

Of course third step is to do it on a vowel, EH is often good in that case, so you go NG -> /ç/ -> EH on a solid chest note (let's say G3) and then NG -> /x/ -> EH one octave higher (G4 in that case).

Fourth step is to do a siren from G3 to G4. After practicing a bit the switch between chest and head is very minimal in terms of tongue work and placement. It actually becomes quite easy.

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