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Flat Tongue

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Kevinh
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I found this forum via google and have a question about singing with a flat tongue. The question was somewhat addressed in another thread in this forum but I want to start the discussion again, if that is ok.

I read this article http://www.voiceteacher.com/tongue.html about 3 months ago, which suggests that singing with a flat tongue is damaging to the singer's vocal health as the tongue puts pressure on the vocal cords and the pharynx is filled with the back of the tongue. I haven't studied the voice long enough to know if this is true physiologically. In the article, he specially advocates singing with a tongue that is slightly arched (the opposite of a flat tongue) like speaking ae sound in apple.

Currently, I am studying with a teacher who is teaching me to sing with a tongue flattened technique to create the space in the throat and lowering the larynx. I am a tenor and from what I have experienced so far, flattening the tongue has helped me alot on the high notes of the passagio, especially for the Ab5 which I was unable to sing well until flattening the tongue and sending the jaw slightly back.

So I guess my question is, what is the correct position of the tongue, flat or slightly arched upward?

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I read this article http://www.voiceteacher.com/tongue.html about 3 months ago, which suggests that singing with a flat tongue is damaging to the singer's vocal health as the tongue puts pressure on the vocal cords and the pharynx is filled with the back of the tongue. I haven't studied the voice long enough to know if this is true physiologically. In the article, he specially advocates singing with a tongue that is slightly arched (the opposite of a flat tongue) like speaking ae sound in apple.

Currently, I am studying with a teacher who is teaching me to sing with a tongue flattened technique to create the space in the throat and lowering the larynx. I am a tenor and from what I have experienced so far, flattening the tongue has helped me alot on the high notes of the passagio, especially for the Ab5 which I was unable to sing well until flattening the tongue and sending the jaw slightly back.

So I guess my question is, what is the correct position of the tongue, flat or slightly arched upward?

Kevinh: With the question put that way, I would say 'neither' :-) Reason? The position of the tongue is the principal determinant of the vowel. To make the different vowels, it has to be able to move in particular ways.

When it comes to vowel formation, acoustically, the vocal tract (from glottis to lips) can be thought of as being divided into 2 sections, a 'pharyngel' section, and a 'mouth' section. For some vowels, (ee, ay, oo are examples) the mid-tongue is brought high toward the roof of the mouth, and for others it is lower. Also, the hump of the tongue can be forward, in the middle, or back, making what linguists call the 'front', 'mid' and 'back' vowels, correspondingly.

Research into singing in the latter half of the 20th century has added some refinements to this understanding. Its not only the position of the hump, but the diameters and lengths of the various sections of the vocal tract that determine the position of the vocal resonances.

In my opinion, its beneficial for male singers to think of the passaggio as a place in the voice where the 'chest voice' resonance strategy transitions to the 'head voice' strategy. IMO, its most fruitful to think of the 'best, most resonant vowels' to sing in this region, rather than any particular tongue positioning approach. Further, freeing the tongue from extraneous tension allows it to be most advantageously used.

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Quite Well Done Steve.

Kevin, I sense your far to concerned about the tongue all together. Generally speaking, keep the tip of your tongue touching the back of your bottom teeth and unless your going to articulate a consonant, keep it there. Its forward so as to not blunt your ringy overtones.

Congratulations on getting bridged, on the other hand, you can also learn to bridge with different tongue and more lifted laryngeal configurations. Its more difficult to bridge with a lowered larynx.

Are you a Classical singer or a Contempo?

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I'm a classical singer. I understand the concept of keeping the tongue slightly touching the tongue at all times.

I am not quite sure about the use of the head voice (which I associate with falsetto) in classical/operatic singing because there really shouldn't be any register changes as you go higher. Maybe the operatic greats simply blends their head voice better but listening to Pavarotti, he doesn't really go into a falsetto like sound until F5.

I guess more directly, my question is does singing with a flat tongue damage the voice as David Jones suggests in his article?

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I'm a classical singer. I understand the concept of keeping the tongue slightly touching the tongue at all times.

I am not quite sure about the use of the head voice (which I associate with falsetto) in classical/operatic singing because there really shouldn't be any register changes as you go higher. Maybe the operatic greats simply blends their head voice better but listening to Pavarotti, he doesn't really go into a falsetto like sound until F5.

I guess more directly, my question is does singing with a flat tongue damage the voice as David Jones suggests in his article?

Kevinh: Yes, well-trained classical tenors learn a transition to head voice which blends well with the entire voice.

Falsetto is not head-voice. Falsetto, depending on the source of the definition, is either 1) incompletely adducted, or 2) devoid of muscular involvement by the thyro-arytenoid muscles. The head voice, when sung softly, is well-adducted and has activity of the thyro-arytenoids. From that muscular balance, the proficient singer is able to smoothly crescendo from quite soft to quite loud tones, without audible break or tone 'blip' being felt or heard. If you are interested to know if your tone at the top of the staff or higher is falsetto or head voice, onset it at mp and smoothly crescendo to a ringy comfortable forte.

I know of no reason why a classical tenor would sing with a flattened tongue, other than on the latin vowel 'o', or which may be used in the English word 'awe', for which it is appropriate, along with some specific German words. To be well-pronounced by a tenor, all other vowels need more or less rise in the hump of the tongue.

A classical soprano, transitioning to the upper voice might do it, but for different acoustical reasons. For her, as the sung fundamental passes the lower vowel resonance, the power of the voice drops significantly. Quite often, sopranos modify the vowels as they transition the passagio, to raise the frequency of the lower resonance, so that it tracks slightly above the fundamental. If this is not done, the soprano on arriving at G and Ab above the staff has no appreciable vocal power, and will experience strain as well. Even so, the specific shading of the vowel 'ah' changes (and associated tongue positions) are based on which note is being sung, and which vowel the soprano would like the audience to think is being sung.

Now, to your question: No, singing with a flattenend tongue occasionally, if done without stiffness, does not damage the voice. However, singing with a tongue in _any_ single position, consistently throughout a range or section of the range, is inappropriate for reasons of vowel clarity and vocal power. When the vowel resonances align beneficially with the harmonics of the sung tone, the voice is not only louder, but more easily produced.... less effort. If this is not allowed to occur, that is, if the small tongue motions (required to adjust the vowels for optimum resonance) are not allowed, the singer is always tempted to oversing to compensate.

This reflex... to oversing, can lead to habitual overpressuring of the voice, the accumulation of tongue and pharyngeal tension, and eventual rigidity of the laryngeal suspense mechanism... all of which lead to less range, flexibility, etc., if made habitual. I think that David Jones' point is that habitual tongue flattening so often leads to these detrimental situations that it should be avoided. My own opinion is that the use of any single tongue position for all vowels will lead to the same situation, and is otherwise inadvisable because it leads to incorrect resonance adjustments for the various vowels.

For comparison, you might look into the number of videos of classical tenors which are available on youtube. It can be illuminating to see and hear these persons, and to see what aspects of their technique is visible, what particular vowels they choose for well-known words, etc.. For example,

Nicolai Gedda and Anna Moffo singing 'Un di felice' duet from "La Traviata'' at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jvn5O7QsY5Q

Pavarotti singing 'Nessun Dorma' from 'Turandot"

Alfredo Kraus singing the aria from 'The Pearl Fishers" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1WYRZA_CKE

Lauritz Melchior singing 'In fernen Land" from "Lohengrin"

Fritz Wunderlich singing 'Dein Bildniss" from "The magic flute"

Juan Diego Flores singing 'Ah, Mes Amis' from "La fille du regiment"

Piotr Beczal singing 'Che Gelida Manina', from 'La Boheme"

As for softer tenor headvoice, one of the best arias to encounter it is in 'Vainement, ma bien aimee' by Edouard Lalo.

As sung by Benjamino Gigli:

Kraus:

Henri Legay:

Tagliavini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0cKAR3bHW4&feature=related

Tino Rossi:

Dig the way that each of these singers approaches the exposed octaves at the end of the two verses.

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Well, from one person who has had "tongue trouble" to another. Stop worrying about it. The more I focused on it the worse I got. When everything begins working correctly, the tongue takes care of itself. I also figured out that my definition of a flattened tongue was not "the voiceteachers" definition and it may be the same with you. I looked at it as an issue from side to side like you would see with most pop artists, I think the voiceteachers definition is from front to back. I would call that depressing the tongue, not flattening it. Whatever you call it, you don't want to sing with your tongue constantly in that position. But again, stop worrying about it - it will lead to nothing but frustration.

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