Mix it up Monday: Strategies for reducing jaw tension
Leda Scearce, MM, MS, CCC-SLP is Director of Performing Voice Programs and Development at the Duke Voice Care Center. In her book “Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation” she offers a wide range of function-based strategies to address “faults” in the singing voice. While the title might suggest these exercises are specifically geared for rehabilitation, the truth is the exercises are valuable to all singers.
This week I am sharing some of Leda’s thoughts on addressing jaw tension. First of all, Leda states that it is important to remember that tongue tension can masquerade as jaw tension, to which I wholeheartedly agree! To help counter tongue tension, she offers a series of exercises on pages 201-203. Additional exercises can be found in past posts on this blog, which I have linked at the bottom of this article.
On page 204, Leda offers a chart with strategies for reducing maladaptive jaw tension. She suggests the following:
- Strategy #1: “Hold the mandible with the hand. The thumb and index finger should be positioned to create a “C” shape spanning the mandible, with the thumb and index finger spanning the lower jaw and the chin nested between them. Drop the jaw and gently allow the weight of the hand to hold the jaw in an open position. Sing on sustained vowels.”
- Tips and Cueing: The singer can use his own hand or you can assist. The jaw should not be forced open or over-extended. Be sure that the student does not tuck their chin or tilt the head down while doing the exercise.
- Strategy #2: “Hold the top of the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Gently move the jaw up and down in isolation and while singing on /n/ or /l/.”
- Tips and Cueing: It is not necessary for the jaw to cover its full range of motion during this exercise. The goal is to help the student identify the difference between a stiff jaw and a mobile jaw.
- Strategy #3: “Engage a gentle ‘chewing’ motion in isolation and during phonation using nasal consonants.”
- Tips and Cueing: The goal should be gentle mobilization with a moderate range of motion.
- Strategy #4: “Waggle the jaw from side to side or up and down while singing sustained vowels.”
- Tips and Cueing: The student may use her hands to assist in finding a waggling jaw. The movement should be continuous, smooth, and loose. Stiff movements from one position to the next should be avoided.
- Strategy #5: “Sing pitch pattern (such as 1-2-3-2-1 or 5-4-3-2-1) on “blah,” repeating the syllable on each note.”
- Tips and Cues: The student should use a lot of jaw and tongue movement. Allowing the cheeks to puff out when producing the “bl” is acceptable and can be helpful.
- Strategy #6: “Sing on /wau/ or /jal/, emphasizing exercursion of jaw.”
- Tips and Cues: In some of the tongue exercises, you will try to minimize the excursion of the jaw. However, in this exercise, you should encourage jaw movement.
Finally, Leda says that “Visual feedback from a mirror will be helpful in all strategies, enabling the singer to monitor the position and movement of the jaw. Strategies are presented in order of degree of external assistance from more to less” (p. 204).
I have found great success with these exercises and encourage you to check out Leda’s book for more great approaches to freeing the voice. Do you use strategies similar to Leda’s in your studio? Have you tried Leda’s exercises before? Feel free to add your own experience in the comment section below. If you are not yet following the blog, you can enter your email below to receive a notification each time there is a new post. Finally, if you enjoyed this week’s post, please consider sharing it on social media. As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful week of teaching. ~ Matt
Past posts on Tongue Tension:
Mix it up Monday: Relaxing the digastric and mylohyoid muscles
Mix it up Monday: McClosky articulation exercises
Mix it up Monday: Simple yet effective tongue stretches
Mix it up Monday: Tongue Mobility Exercises
Technology Thursday: Real-time MRI IPA Chart
Mix it up Monday: Using a cork to improve your students’ vowels
Mix it up Monday: Tongue Twisters
Mix it up Monday: Tongue-out phonation