Matthew Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Releasing the masseter muscle

MasseterJaw tension is a common complaint amongst singers. Vowels that require the jaw to relax and lower, such as /a/,  can be quite problematic even though it would seem that producing an /a/ vowel should be second nature. We have two sets of muscles that control jaw movement: those that lower the jaw (anterior body of the digastric, geniohyoid, and the mylohyoid)


and those that close the jaw (internal pterygoid, masseter, and the temporalis).


The larger and stronger of these muscles are those that close the jaw, after all these are the muscles that we use to bite down on food. If they were weak we would have problems eating an apple, Cinnabon, or triple cheeseburger.

Today I am going to introduce an exercise for releasing the masseter.

  1. Have the student sit at a table and place their elbows on the surface in front of them, shoulder width apart, and place their thumbs on their upper cheekbones.
  2. Ask the student to gently slide their fingers down until they find the soft spot where the masseter muscle originates, right below the zygomatic arch (circled below).insert fingers here
  3. Next have them gradually increase the pressure by allowing the head to drop down and forward into the thumbs. This may be uncomfortable for some students, especially for those with TMJ. Take it slow and if it is too uncomfortable, stop and try something else.
  4. Ask the student to let gravity pull their jaw down towards the floor and mentally focus on releasing the masseter muscle.masseter-and-temporalis
  5. While still in this position, ask the student to sing a comfortable pitch on /a/ and have them assess what they are experiencing.
  6. Finally, have them lower their hands and slowly rise from this position to a standing position while leaving the jaw where it is. Have them sustain single pitches on /a/ in the comfortable part of their range and then try 1-2-3-2-1 patterns.

Both my wife and I use this exercise and have observed that it works well in most cases. As always, it is important to remember that each student is unique and there is never an exercise that is a silver bullet for all singers, even if they have the same technical problem.

The source of this exercise is Gillyanne Kayes’ “Singing and the actor,” a great text for your pedagogy library (special thanks to my wife Jackie for pointing this exercise out to me). If you have other suggestions for releasing jaw tension, please comment below. Thanks for reading!



3 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Releasing the masseter muscle

  1. Kate Hammett-Vaughan
    December 15, 2015

    As always, concise and to the point. Lucky to have you in my circle of teaching friends, Matt! Thanks for this. Kate


  2. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: The value of sustained pitches | Matthew Edwards

  3. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Using staccato exercises to improve Laryngeal suspension | Matthew Edwards

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2015 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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