6 Tongue Moves to Improve Your Articulation

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Photo Source: @benopassman via Twenty20

With musical theater artists increasingly being asked to master genres like rap and hip-hop, proper tongue articulation has never been more important. And even if you’re not planning on playing Lafayette in “Hamilton” anytime soon, it still be beneficial to make sure your tongue is working properly.

First, let’s discuss why you should care about your tongue; not only is it primarily responsible for the intelligibility of your text, it’s also strongly associated with your feeling of belonging in the world. The part of your brain where your personality is stored is called your insula, and the movement map that controls your tongue is right next to the insula. So when you work your tongue out, you’re also connecting more deeply to your sense of purpose and increasing your drive to share your talents with the world.

Here are six moves I want to make sure you can do. Going through these before an audition is a great way to focus your brain and your voice:

1. Tongue on the roof of mouth
Some of us have developed an incorrect habit of keeping our tongues low in the mouth. When the tongue is at rest, it’s supposed to be suctioned to the roof of your mouth, like an octopus tentacle. The tip of your tongue should be resting about a half-inch behind your upper front teeth. To find the proper position for the tip, say “Nah-nah-nah” and then rest the tip where the “n” is made. The back of the tongue should also be touching the roof of the mouth as much as possible.

2. Yawn/swallow with tongue up
Now that you’ve got the tongue up, try to complete three consecutive swallows without letting the tongue move from the roof of the mouth. Once you’ve done that successfully, try to yawn and lower your larynx while keeping the entire tongue (including the back) suctioned to the roof of the mouth.

3. Hi-hat
The hi-hat is the pair of cymbals in a drum set that meets to make a dampened “crash.” We’re going to do that with your tongue now; it will sound like “ts” in the word “its.” Once you’ve made the “ts,” push the middle front part of your tongue to the roof of the mouth to “damp” the sound. If you’re doing this correctly, you’ll feel your abs contracting, too. Repeat as rapidly as possible for 10-15 seconds.

READ: 4 Ways to Relax Your Singing Muscles

4. Chipmunk
We’re now going to make a chipmunk sound by suctioning the front body of the tongue backward along the roof of the mouth. When done properly, this will sound like the disapproving “tut-tut-tut” that your grandma might have made when you were misbehaving. Repeat as rapidly as possible for 10-15 seconds

5. Tongue cluck
We’ll now make a clucking sound by curling the tip of the tongue backward and flicking it down rapidly to rest briefly on the lower front teeth. It should make a sharp, clean sound that is somewhat similar to the motion for making an “l.” Repeat as rapidly as possible for 10-15 seconds

6. Dry K’s
Finally, we’re going to repeat a “k” consonant as quickly and rhythmically as possible. The goal here is not to let a lot of air escape. Most Americans have an aspirate “k,” which meaning we blow a lot of air through it. Try to make the “k” as dry as possible, letting the airflow be very small. Repeat as rapidly as possible for 10-15 seconds.

Since these exercises can be hard to understand without hearing/seeing them, see the video below from my 30-Day Vocalise Challenge that will make them easier to learn.


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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Andrew Byrne
Andrew Byrne is a voice teacher, performer, and composer-lyricist. His songs have been featured in movies, Seth Rudetsky’s “Obsessed!” series, and in many international concert venues. He has served on the University of Michigan musical theater faculty, and has taught internationally at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, The Banff Centre, and the Danish Academy of Musical Theatre.
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