Matt Edwards

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

Mix it up Monday: The Chopstick Exercise

CCM Banner 2018

Tongue tension is one of the most frustrating challenges singers must overcome. If you look through the archives of this blog, you will find several exercises for releasing tongue tension. Some are indirect, others more tactile, and some very assertive. Today, I am going to share an assertive approach as described by Ronald Combs and Robert Bowker in their book “Learning to Sing Nonclassical Music.”

Tongue Out Chopstick.jpg

“Using the chopstick to adjust the tongue forward” (p. 28)

Combs and Bowker call this “The Chopstick Exercise”:

“It must be used with caution and good sense, as it is a way of artificially forcing the tongue into the correct position. Do not use this exercise if it gives you tongue cramps, or causes you undue discomfort. Find either a very thin pencil or a round, dowel like Chinese or Vietnamese chopstick.

Do not use a flat-sided Japanese chopstick or a rounded one that tapers from large to small. Place the chopstick sideways under your tongue and curl the tip of the tongue over it, tucking the tip in behind your lower teeth. This procedure pulls the back of the tongue up and away from the back wall of the throat. Then let go of the chopstick, so that you are holding it gently with your tongue only. Now sing exercise 21 in a comfortable range while holding the chopstick with your tongue.


Exercise 21 tongue out.jpg

p. 27


At the beginning you may find this very difficult. Be prepared for the chopstick to fall on the floor a few times. With patient practice you will find that you can sing the exercise with the tongue comfortably wrapped around the chopstick and, therefore, uninvolved in the production of the tone. It is especially helpful to do this exercise once with the chopstick in place and then, allowing the tongue to relax backward slightly, to repeat the exercise without the help of the chopstick. This should result in a new, relaxed, and more forward position of the tongue without the chopstick. Check in a mirror and monitor yourself. Because the chopstick is a foreign object and the position of the tongue is now unnaturally forward, it is not wise to do this exercise for a long time. Also, since it is correcting the problem of a pulled back tongue by forcing it forward to the other extreme, it probably should not be used until all other remedies have been tried. It is included here so that you will have the most ideas possible to help conquer this stubborn and difficult problem.” ( p. 27-28).

While the authors suggest using this as a last resort, I like to use it as a first step for five to ten minutes to help a student understand how much his or her tongue is trying to retract and the difference in sound when the tongue is fronted. Once the student understands the problem and can see the light at the end of the tunnel (by experiencing the free sound produced with a fronted tongue), I take him through a series of tongue agility exercises that retrain the tongue for singing. In addition to using this on a 1-2-3-2-1 exercise as suggested, I will often use the chopstick, or a straw, while having the student sing the melody of a song on /ae/ or a bright /a/. This helps program the student’s mind to think of a forward tongue position before inserting other vowels and consonants.

Do you use the chopstick exercise in your studio? Do you have other similar approaches you like to use? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. If you are not already following the blog, you can enter your name and email address below to receive a message each time there is a new post.

If you are looking for a fun summer getaway where you can learn and explore new ways to teach all vocal styles, please consider joining us at the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute. At the CCM Institute, we encourage participants to use all the available literature to create a system of analyzation and troubleshooting that works for them. We train our participants to understand how the voice works, listen for faults in the system, and then address them through a simple five-step process. Most importantly, our approach is not a strict trademarked method, but rather an open-ended system that you can freely adapt to meet your own needs. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website; early bird registration is now open. We hope you will consider joining us this summer at Shenandoah Conservatory in beautiful Winchester, VA.

As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful week of teaching. ~ Matt


3 comments on “Mix it up Monday: The Chopstick Exercise

  1. David Neal
    April 9, 2018

    Matt, thanks as always for this post. I recently learned a very similar exercise, using a straw instead of a chopstick, with the tip of the tongue in contact with the back of the lower lip, though not arched quite as much as in the photo. On the 1-2-3-2-1 pattern, the singer pronounces ya ya – ya ya – ya ya -ya ya -ya (or the same using /ae/), which helps release tension in the back of the tongue. While it seems particularly suited for nonclassical singing, I have also found it very useful in classical work as well. Tongue tension does not observe genre boundaries…!


  2. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: The false sensation of backspace | Matt Edwards

  3. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: How to allow placement to reveal itself (pt. 2) | Matt Edwards

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on April 9, 2018 by in Constriction, Mix it up Monday, Tongue, Vocal Exercises.

Ranked the #1 New Release in "Vocal and Singing" on (October 2014), "So You Want To Sing Rock 'N' Roll?" covers voice science, vocal health, technique, style, and how to find your artistic voice in a way that is beneficial to both singers and teachers. Order your copy today!

%d bloggers like this: