Matt Edwards

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

Mix it up Monday: Addressing a narrow tongue

CCM Bannder no dates

tongueI have frequently addressed tongue retraction on this blog but realized a few weeks ago I have never discussed tongue narrowing. The tongue is controlled by a complex muscular system. The styloglossus, palatoglossus, and hyoglossus all help retract the tongue. The genioglossus is the sole muscle for protruding the tongue, which is one of the many reasons the tongue is likely to retract when singing – the genioglossus is outnumbered. But there are also muscles within the tongue. The image below shows the longitudinal, transverse, and vertical tongue muscles. These aid in chewing and swallowing and of course language. However, narrowing will often occur on vowels when singing, causing undesirable tension and/or a loss of clarity.

To explore the difference between a narrow and relaxed tongue, begin by alternating between /la/ and /na/. When pronouncing the /l/ you should feel a slight narrowing of the tongue. When you pronounce /n/, you should feel the tongue relax and widen. Alternate between these two (in speech) paying close attention to the narrowing and relaxing of the tongue. It may help for your students to watch themselves in a mirror while doing this as many struggle to place the tip of their tongue behind their upper teeth for these two consonants. It may also help to show them an image of tongue placement for /l/ and/or /n/. The real-time MRI IPA chart is great for this, here are the videos for /l/ and /n/. When they can accurately articulate the difference in speech, put it on a single pitch, for example, /na-la-na-la-na-la-na—/. When they are successful on a single pitch, expand into step-wise patterns.

After exploring the front of the tongue with /l/ and /n/, explore the back of the tongue with /gi/ and /hi/. You should notice that /gi/ narrows the tongue and /hi/ encourages it to relax. If the tongue tries to retract, make the vowel brighter. Students should notice (depending on mouth shape) that on /gi/ the tongue narrows between the upper molars, while on /hi/ the tongue widens across the molars. Cue your student to create a mental map of that sensation of width as they first speak /hi-gi-hi-gi-hi/, then put it on pitch before expanding to step-wise patterns.

Then create your own patterns using a variety of vowels to help your student release narrowing tension throughout their range. In combination with the previous exercises I have presented on the blog, your students should begin to notice a reduction of tongue tension that will improve all aspects of their singing.

Do you have other exercises you use to release narrowing tension in the tongue? If so, please share below. If you are not yet following the blog, please submit your name and email address in the comment form below (no comment necessary) and you will be added to the mailing list, ensuring you receive each new post in your email. If you enjoyed this post, please share it on social media to spread the word about Evidence-Based Voice Pedagogy.

Want to learn more about Evidence-Based Voice Pedagogy? Consider joining us at the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute this summer in beautiful Winchester, VA. Our faculty includes experts from a wide range of backgrounds who respect the work that has gone into all methods of vocal training and love helping other teachers learn how to apply science to tradition while also teaching new approaches. Best of all, it is a fun, positive, and supportive atmosphere where teachers are encouraged to find their own pedagogical voice to help keep the world singing.

Thanks for reading and have a great week of teaching!


Matt Edwards is an Associate Professor of Voice/Director of Musical Theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA, and Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute. He is the author of “So You Want to Sing Rock ‘N Roll” and dozens of articles and book chapters on functional voice training for non-classical styles. For more information visit 


6 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Addressing a narrow tongue

  1. Michelle Areyzaga
    April 8, 2019

    I’m still wishing to come this summer but my workload might make it impossible til next year.  This reply is to let you know that I had trouble finding the dates for the institute… can they be added to the landing page for the link you provide?  thanks for this terrific blog!!!!!michelle areyzaga

    From: Matt Edwards To: Sent: Monday, April 8, 2019 8:22 AM Subject: [New post] Mix it up Monday: Addressing a narrow tongue #yiv4512907932 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv4512907932 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv4512907932 a.yiv4512907932primaryactionlink:link, #yiv4512907932 a.yiv4512907932primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv4512907932 a.yiv4512907932primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv4512907932 a.yiv4512907932primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E !important;color:#fff !important;}#yiv4512907932 | Matt Edwards posted: “I have frequently addressed tongue retraction on this blog but realized a few weeks ago I have never discussed tongue narrowing. The tongue is controlled by a complex muscular system. The styloglossus, palatoglossus, and hyoglossus all help retract the ” | |


    • Matt Edwards
      April 8, 2019

      Thank you for catching that! It is fixed, and the dates this year (2019) are July 13th – 21st

      Thanks for checking it out! ~ Matt


  2. Elizabeth Bastable
    June 4, 2019

    Following 🙂


  3. John W. Pont
    October 3, 2019

    The anatomical detail is mindblowing. Your approach reminds me of the approaches of diction specialist like Edmar Ferretti and Cicely Berry. Indeed a more inclusive approach of articulatory tension is sorely needed. Rather than censoring particular forms of tension it is more helpful to see them as extremes in a gradient of tonicity. Mastering the entire gradient through exercies expands the expressive range of the vocal apparatus (important in Cicely Berry’s concept of muscularity). The sensory exploration of the gradients from one extreme to the other will release the balance between optimum tonicity and articulatory comfort. It also offers new organic colors in the linguistic palette. Case in point: after sensorial mastering of the gradient L-N tonicity exercise you described in your article, the vocalist will be able to impart the different flavors of English, Russian and French to the L and N sounds. Respectively: the name Melanie (en), Melanya (rs), Mélanie (fr). Eliminating the “censors of the tensors” through gradient tonicity exercises will also instinctively release the balance between articulatory, technical and expressive muscularity, so the words are released “by their own volition” (Cicely Berry in The Voice and the Actor/The Actor and his Text).


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

  5. Carla LeFevre
    October 17, 2019

    Hi Matt—I realize this is an old post, so you may not see my reply:) I haven’t used the term “narrowing” but I do have many strategies for allowing a “wide tongue.” Most of them are in my Journal of Singing articles on Tongue Management.


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This entry was posted on April 8, 2019 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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!

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