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Tackle the Technique: Jaw Tension

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

Mapping the Jaw


It’s important to understand the shape, size, and location of the jaw. Take a moment to palpate or find on your own body where you think the lower jaw connects to your skull.


Now let’s find that same place from an anatomical perspective:

  1. Place your fingers right in from the ear canal - you should be able to feel the bones there.

  2. Next, keep your fingers there and open or release the jaw from the place where it moves - you should be able to feel a pretty obvious movement in that connection.

  3. When we open the jaw, it moves in a down-and-back motion. 

  4. When we close the jaw, it moves forward and up, basically the opposite direction.


Within that movement, there are three positions for the jaw, two of which require muscular activity: closed, open, and released.

  1. Two primary muscles are used to close the jaw: the temporalis (which is at the temples) and the masseter (which is inside the lower cheek region). Both of these can be felt when you clench your jaw.

  2. The digastric muscle allows the jaw to open, and it connects at the side of the base of the skull all the way down to the chin.

  3. The third position, release, requires no muscular work. Clench your jaw, then open it, then release it. Your lower jaw should ideally have sort of a “duh” relaxed feeling. 


Jaw Exercises


There are two particularly common types of jaw tension: jutting the jaw forward from its resting position (which has been my issue), and clenching the jaw.


FIRST:

You might be able to determine the presence of tension in your jaw by opening your mouth and jaw, and gently shifting the jaw from side to side while the mouth is open. You *should* be able to do this without too much tension or strain.


SECOND:

Gently place one finger on your chin, your head in a relaxed and neutral position, your eyes at normal eye-level and sing “yah yah yah…” on any notes. Try that a second time, and this time let your tongue take over the bulk of the movement. If the jaw is relaxed, your tongue should be able to produce the syllables fairly easily.


THIRD:

This exercise may be helpful for those who struggle to make the previous exercise work, or if they just don’t notice any difference. Cradle the back of your neck in your hands and place your thumbs on the ridge of the chin just below the lower lip. This can prevent jutting in general, and also encourages isolation of the cheek muscles for rounded vowels.


Speaking of vowels …


FOURTH:

Try singing various pitch patterns that incorporate vowel migration. For example:

  • 1-3-5-3-4-2-1 [i-eh ́-a-eh ́-i-eh ́-a] - this exercise requires almost ZERO jaw movement

  • 1-3-5-3-4-2-1 [i-eh ́- a-o-u-o-a] - this exercise requires some jaw movement due to the lips rounding for the O and U

  • 1-3-5-8-7-5-4-2-1 [i-i-eh ́-eh ́-a-a-o-o-u]

Again, the idea is that the jaw can release and allow the tongue to provide more of the actual syllabic or vowel activity.


My next Tackle the Technique video will dig a bit further into info on the tongue! For now, we’ve at least experienced the tongue in relation to the jaw through the kinesthetic sense. A few articles I used for this are listed below, and please do NOT hesitate to ask questions! :)




Sources


  1. Carla LeFevre, “Tongue Management.” Journal of Singing, November/December 2011 Volume 68, No. 2, pp. 157–162 Copyright © 2011, National Association of Teachers of Singing

  2. Richard Miller, “Three-Fingers-In-the-Mouth.” JOS March/April 2001 Volume 57, No. 4, pp. 37-38 Copyright © 2011, National Association of Teachers of Singing

  3. Richard Miller, “(1) The Problem of the Retroflex Tongue and (2) Pulling the Jaw Downward.” JOS January/February 2002 Volume 58, No. 3, pp. 241-243 Copyright © 2011, National Association of Teachers of Singing

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