Why Does This Help a Singer?
“Both attention to detail and attention to the whole are essential…Your task is to wake up the sensory receptors in each structure, adding layers of awareness as you go”.
Take a look at this image! It depicts just a little of the wonder that is the human face and head. The face projects a representation of our heart and mind with the subtlest of nuanced movements – some conscious, some subconscious. It works hard – so show it some appreciation and incorporate some of these stretch and massage techniques into your weekly routine.
There is a broad body of work amongst vocal coaches and scientists that verify that singers benefit greatly from “isolating and eliminating pockets of muscle tension” (Linklater); particularly the tension that exists in the parts of your body where we wish to encourage healthy resonance and robust tone production.
“The free voice has a passage through the channel with appropriate settings of face, lips, jaw, tongue, soft palate, pharynx and larynx, and no excess muscle constriction.”
Because the exercises in Shewell’s Voice Work are so excellent, selected excerpts are included here verbatim (denoted by Ex #). Other exercises have been gathered from personal experimentation, professional development and collegial conversations.
How Do I Do This?
There are more exercises than you actually need here. A wide range of choices are included because, let’s face it ;-), some of them are pretty strange. So, they won’t all be your cup of tea. The results will be evident in your face, your breath and your overall body. It’s hard to maintain a tense body as your face relaxes.
Have a play around with them and choose your favourites to make up your own personal list. Here is a My Face Massage List for you to keep a record of what works for you.
REMEMBER TO MAINTAIN EVEN BREATHING THROUGHOUT EACH EXERCISE.
- General face massage – one side at a time.
Place your left hand on the left side of your face to act as gentle stabiliser while you massage the right side of your face. Use gentle, slow movements. Experiment with small strokes of about 1cm in length or small circles. Where there are bones, eg jaw, cheek or brow, gently move the muscles back and forth over the bones in very small movements. Repeat on the other side of your face.
Try this order of zones to start with: cheek; brow and temple; TMJ (temporomandibular joint, where your jaw attaches to your skull); jaw; chin and upper lip
- Ex 3: a string from the nose
Imagine that there is a drawstring attached to the tip of your nose. When you pull on that string, the whole of your face tightens and puckers up towards that nose tip. Tighten all your facial muscles, until your entire face is tightly screwed up – scalp, eyes, forehead, cheeks, lips, inside of mouth, tongue and nose. Hold for about 10 seconds and then, very slowly, imagine that the string tension eases so that the tension releases. Imagine the sense of widening and release spreading out into your hairline and the back of your mouth.
- Ex 4: stretch the lips (do each 5-10 times)
- Keep the lips closed as you stretch them into an enormous smile – hold for 5 seconds – then tighten lips and hold in a silent whistle setting for 5 seconds.
- Lift your top lip as high as you can towards the nose and then pull it down.
- Push out your bottom lip as far as possible.
- Now do top and bottom lip protrusion together.
- Turn the corners of your lips down, and then up.
- Imagine a fly creeping round your mouth; try to shift it by moving all that muscular area around your lips, bit by bit.
- Fish mouth: push lips forward in an open mouth setting (quite difficult!) and open and close your lips like a fish.
- Sneer: bring one corner of your lips up towards your left nostril, and then do the same on the other side (one side is usually stronger than the other, which is normal and unimportant).
- Ex 5: two vowels
- Move between OO and EE as fast as possible, with an awareness of strong lip movements.Unvoiced, then voiced.
- Then on MOO MEE as fast and extensively as possible on that one out-breath.Then on BOO BEE.
- Ex 6: to stretch the lips: five vowels
- Mouth the five vowel names (EH-EE-AYE-OH-YOO).Exaggerate the movement of your lips as they shape the different sounds. First do them with little jaw movement, and then let the jaw also be involved in their shaping. But be careful to check that there is no inappropriate neck muscle tightening.
- Then repeat several times with the sound MM before the vowel – MEH MEE MY MOH MOO.
- Ex 11: Speaking in wibble-wobble
- Say ‘wibble-wobble’ as fast as possible several times.
- Speak several longer utterances using only the sound ‘wibble-wobble’.
- Ex 14: chewing
Imagine that in your mouth you have a delicious morsel. Chew for a minute, feeling the jaw joint open and close, and letting the tongue be fairly far forward in your mouth. Do silently for 30 seconds and then with voice for another 30 seconds.
- Ex 9: Finger-tip Jaw Massage
Use the fingertips of both hands to rub in front of both ears, as you slightly open and close your jaw. Feel around the jaw joint and explore the muscles around it with a gentle pressure of your fingers.
- Ex 17: Over-speaking
For two minutes, speak with exaggerated jaw movements (as though mouthing instructions to someone through a thick glass window) but still use as ordinary a voice as possible. Then revert to the normal settings but feel an increased sense of space and freedom in the jaw movement.
- Ex 21: downward ‘wohs’ and ‘wahs’
Sing a series of woh sounds down a scale from high notes to low; let your jaw bounce open quite widely as you say each sound. Next, choose a 5-note exercise pattern and sing it on wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.
- Ex 24: closed and open speaking
Place a small black straw, pencil or chopstick between your teeth while counting or saying any series of words (eg days of week, months, alphabet etc). Then take the item away and repeat the speech, noticing the difference.
- Ex 4: the lion yoga exercise
Drop your jaw and protrude the tongue as far as it will go for 30 seconds – feel the pull on the tongue root. Have a hand on the side of your neck to make sure that you are not tightening those muscles; the energy should be in the tongue. Put your tongue back. See if you can still feel a stretch in the tongue root.
- Ex 5: Cleaning the mouth
Imagine that you have just eaten something delicious and it has left traces throughout your mouth. Use your tongue tip to move into every part of your mouth, between lips and gums, behind teeth, along the palate and along the floor of your mouth. Count the tops of all your teeth, top and bottom. How many can you feel?
- Ex 8: undulating forward
Place the tongue tip just behind your lower teeth or lower lip and keep it firmly in that place. Drop your jaw to a comfortable position. Push the tongue forward, as if out of your mouth, so that the body of it moves forward and you feel the stretch as the tongue ‘hum’ protrudes and flattens. Do 10-20 times. Either breathe normally or coordinate the movement with the out-breath alone.
- Ex 10: tongue talking
Put your tongue tip between your lips and speak for a minute or two like this, keeping the tongue quite floppy. It will sound dreadful of course but will give a sense of a forward placed tongue with no tight backing tendency. Then go back to normal and keep just a little sense of that loose, forward-in-mouth placing.
- Ex 11: ventriloquist talk
Let the jaw drop to about one finger-width, keep your lips in a slightly spread position and read or speak as if you were a ventriloquist. Your lips and jaw need to be as immobile as possible but not tense. This requires the tongue to work very hard to make the precise and different placements needed to ensure that the vowels and consonants are clearly intelligible and helps increase awareness of the tongue in the mouth. Choose a sentence that does not require lipped consonants, eg “I don’t know how you could go there on such a dreary day and ask Keith to run around in hardly any clothes!”
- Ex 13: exercise the tongue but not the jaw
Put your tongue tip behind the lower teeth and keep it there. Speak or sing down a number of notes on the sound YEH. Feel the tongue not the jaw working to make the fullness of those sounds. Do several on each out-breath and repeat the sequence 5-10 times.
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Face muscle image – https://www.tes.com/lessons/JaPT2JYgHxASSw/week-9-the-position-of-facial-muscles
Linklater, K. (2006). Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and art in the practice of voice and language. Nick Hern Books, London.
Malde, M., Allen, M. & Zeller, K. (2010). What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body. Plural Publishing, California.
Shewell, C. (2009). Voice Work: Art and Science in Changing Voices. Wiley-Blackwell, United Kingdom.