When working with a student awhile back, I noticed that not only his lips were getting in the way when running through vocal warmups, but his jaw was very tense. It caused his sound to be very strained, nasal-sounding, and it looked as if he was experiencing discomfort from the issue. I myself have had problems with tension, both in my jaw and other areas of the body, so I wanted to share some basic information on the jaw, its role in singing, and a few tips on troubleshooting jaw tension.
The Jaw & Its Effect On a Vocalist’s Sound
The jaw is an essential part of the mouth and can either help or hinder you when singing. The main jaw joint incorporated in the movements necessary for swallowing, eating, yawning, and talking is the temporomandibular joint (or TMJ). Although there are ligaments, muscles, and bones that make up this joint, singers should be primarily concerned with relieving tension in the muscles surrounding and supporting the hyoid bone and upper-neck region. For a more in-depth explanation and for images that show where these different ligaments, bones, and muscles are located, here is the link to a very informative site: physio-pedia.com The tongue, lips, and larynx work together to create different mouth shapes, postures, and sounds vocalists use for singing and can drastically effect how easy it is to manipulate your sound and the type of tone each individual singer can produce. Tension in the jaw or inexperience with moving your jaw when you sing can result in your tone, diction, and overall sound being unclear, unsupported, and can even lead to overcompensation in other parts of your body resulting in strain and discomfort. By making some minor adjustments and following some of the tips below, you can improve the quality of your tone.
Tips to Help Ease Jaw Tension
Make sure before you start applying these simple exercises to your vocal routine that there is no pain when you move your mouth open and closed. Pain could indicate a more serious issue with the joint. A good indicator of how much tension you have in your mouth and jaw is trying to fit three fingers into your mouth, between your teeth. Any less than this could indicate jaw tension or another issue.
1. While singing scales, incorporate a chewing motion. This could be as simple as opening your mouth (jaw movement up and down) or opening your mouth side to side (jaw movement side to side while moving up and down). Some of my vocal instructors have also told me to practice scales while moving the jaw in a circular motion (jutting out your jaw and then moving it back and forward in a circle).
2. While singing scales, try to make your ear touch your shoulder, first with your right and then your left. You can also practice this one with other simple vocal exercises too. This is a form of stretching for the sides of your neck and shoulders, which, when tense, can put more stress and tension on the jaw muscles. This exercise also helps to relieve tension in the tongue.
3. Massage your jaw and surrounding muscles. Using your fingers, gently massage the muscles surrounding your jaw to cause more blood to flow to this area, making everything more relaxed.
4. Try singing in front of a mirror. This not only helps you with performance technique, but aides in helping you become more aware of how much your jaw moves or doesn’t move when you sing.
5. Gently press downward on your chin to help lower your jaw more while singing. This exercise also helps you to become more aware of what it feels like to actually open your mouth (I have this issue as well) when you sing. As with all other tips and exercises, though, if you feel any pain or discomfort, stop. You don’t want to strain any muscles and this discomfort may be a clue to an issue with the jaw joint.
Just like different personalities, opening your mouth more is not an issue that every vocalist has to worry about. Every singer is different, bringing their own unique timbre and performance style to every musical situation. Articulation, forming vowel shapes, and even singing in different languages create room for many different techniques and approaches when utilizing the jaw in relation to singing. I hope that these basic tips help anyone out there who has issues with tension and/or jaw tension when performing.
If you have any other tips or techniques to try to relieve muscular tension for vocalists, please leave a comment below!