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Understanding Mouth Anatomy: Tips for Singers

When many singers think about technique, their focus often isn’t on how to properly manipulate the parts of the mouth. Although breathing technique, laryngeal control, and body stance are crucial to successful singing, the position of the tongue, jaw, cheeks, and lips also play a significant role. Understanding mouth anatomy can help singers produce clearer sound, limit straing on their throat and vocal chords, and improve their overall sound quality.

Tongue

The tongue is an important part of the mechanics of singing, enabling singers to produce consistent and focused tones with their voices. The tongue includes eight separate muscles, which make movement and placement of the tongue possible within the mouth. The tongue is strong and agile, able to move quickly to produce sounds in conjunction with the lips and teeth. For optimal sound, singers should be mindful that the tongue does not crowd the mouth. Tension in the tongue can also interfere with tone as well as hinder correct positioning.

A simple exercise to test for tongue tension is to move the tongue from side to side while keeping the jaw stationary. Inability to do so can indicate tension.

Teeth and Jaw

Having a relaxed jaw is important while singing to prevent strain on the vocal chords. It’s easy to allow tension to set in while singing, especially when trying to reach higher and lower notes. Having a free and fluid jaw involves relaxing it at the hinges and allowing it to open softly. Jaw and tongue tension often go hand-in-hand, and singers with one will often have to contend with both. The jaw should not move in conjunction with the tongue as it forms consonants. While the mouth should be open enough to produce clear sound, it should not be extended enough to cause strain. Excessive strain on the jaw can cause complications both for singing and general activites such as chewing and speaking.

Soft Palate

The soft palate includes connective tissue and muscle separating the nasal cavity and the nasal part of the pharynx from the mouth. As air moves up from the vocal cords, it hits the soft palate, causing this flexible area to move while speaking and singing. Raising the soft palate increases space and retracts the ventricular vocal folds to create more room for resonation of sounds in the vocal tract. Usually, singers don’t need to actively manipulate the soft-palette, but soft palette exercises can help strengthen the muscles and increase overall vocal control.

Mouth Shaping and Vowel Formation

Vowels are formed by the tongue, lips, and jaw. Proper vowel formation ensures that a singer’s words are easily understood, and can also help with overall sound quality.

The primary vowel sounds are “ah,” “eh,” “ee,” “oh,” and “oo.” Vowels in singing can differ from standard speech pronunciation. Words such as “sky,” where the vowel is a combination of two primary vowel sounds (“ah” and “ee”), can sound nasally, or can close off the throat if sung the same way the word is spoken.

While the lips should be shaped properly, they should be relaxed enough to prevent jaw tension. Tension in the jaw or tongue will interfere with vowel quality. The mouth shape should be oval for an “ah” sound, relaxed for an “ee” sound, round for an “oh” sound, and puckered for an “oo” sound.

Additional Resources

Anyone who wants to enhance their vocal quality and skill will often make significant improvements just by learning more about mouth anatomy. A voice can have rich resonance when a singer understands how vocal sounds are impacted by the positioning and tension in the mouth and jaw. For best practice, vocal instructors can help singers learn how they’re improperly positioning the parts of the mouth, and provide exercises for fixing bad habits, relieving tension, and strengthening the lips, jaw, tongue, and larynx.

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