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MTF Voice Training: the Negative Effects of Tongue Root Tension on Voice Authenticity

In this article I delve into a lesser-known aspect of vocal production and one that is often disregarded, the consequences of tongue root tension on mtf voice training abilities. I will address what exactly it is, highlight the signs and symptoms of it and lastly I will discuss how to rid yourself of tongue root tension once and for all.

Signs and Symptoms of Tongue Root Tension:

1. Speaking is Effortful- Think of it as driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the break, we end up trying to increase power (volume) to compensate for this but it only seems to make the problem worse

2. Reduced Speaking Range- Since the muscles around the larynx will be constricted, it won’t be able to move as freely or as easily as it otherwise should be able to.

3. Monotone Sound- Since the larynx isn’t free to move this tends to result in a dull pitch variety which often presents as vocal fry eg. a throaty/ croaky sound.

4.Weak and Scratchy Voice- This results from overworking your voice and from there you’ll begin to feel a scratchy sensation in the throat

The Unwanted Consequences of Tongue Root Tension on MTF Voice Training:

The tongue root, a seemingly inconspicuous element, can exert a significant impact on vocal production. Tongue root tension disrupts the delicate balance within the vocal tract, resulting in compromised ability to brighten our resonance and create an authentic sounding female voice. When the tongue root remains tense or elevated, it shortens and narrows the pharyngeal space, hindering the natural amplification of sound. [1] The consequence is a muffled, constricted quality to the voice often described as “weak” or “breathy”. In addition to limiting the ability to brighten resonance, this hindering factor can also make it challenging to project our voice, be expressive, and emotionally/ verbally connect with others.

Clarity in Voice is Key to Female Resonance:

Clear articulation is the cornerstone of effective communication. Unfortunately, excessive tension in the tongue root can hinder the coordination of articulatory structures, impeding the formation of precise speech sounds. It may lead to the distortion or slurring of words, affecting intelligibility and clarity. In professional contexts where conveying information or delivering presentations is paramount, the negative impact on articulation can be a significant obstacle. [2]

Breath Control Struggles:

Efficient breath control is the fuel that empowers our voice to sustain long phrases, control dynamics, and deliver captivating speeches. Tongue root tension disrupts this delicate balance. When tension restricts the tongue root, it interferes with the coordination between the respiratory system and the vocal folds, resulting in compromised breath support. The consequence? Shallow breathing, vocal strain, and reduced stamina. Without adequate breath control, our vocal abilities are hindered, leaving us unable to fully express ourselves or reach our potential.

How to Fix Tongue Root Tension:

While tongue root tension may present vocal challenges, it's essential to remember that awareness and proper technique can help mitigate its negative effects. Here are a few strategies to address and alleviate tongue root tension:

Vocal Warm-ups: In addition to the vocal warmup exercises that you’re already doing, make sure to include the following warmups to target tongue root tension as well.

1. While holding your hands together, stretch your arms behind you and hold them there while you slowly stick out your tongue as far as you can, repeat this several times.

2. Use sounds and phrases that get both the front and back of the tongue moving. The Naked Vocalist has a great example of this: “Tik-Ka Tik-ka Tik-ka, glay-gla glay-gla glay-gla and lee-yah lee-yah lee-yah”. Through combining consonants and vowels it gets the full tongue moving, just be sure that your tongue is leaving enough room between the top and bottom of your mouth when completing these.

3. Tongue Root Massage- Place your thumbs underneath the tip of the chin in the soft spot (start of your tongue root). Now press in and make circles with your thumbs, aiming to massage the area, be mindful that although this shouldn’t hurt it also is likely to not feel all that comfortable either. Continue to work your way back until you reach your larynx then work your back to the front. Try to do this for the entire tongue root area under your jaw.

4. Stick out your tongue and swing it back and forth from one side to the other, make sure to repeat this for roughly 20 seconds or so.

Mindful Self-Exploration: Spend time in front of a mirror, observing and adjusting the position of your tongue root as you speak. Take note of any excessive tension and make conscious efforts to release it. Experiment with relaxed tongue root positions to discover the impact on resonance, articulation, and overall vocal quality. You can also try placing your thumb just underneath the tip of your chin on the squishy part (the tongue root) and go through the vowel sounds of /ee/, /eh/, /i/ (as in “my”), /oh/ and /oo/. You should not feel any hardness or pressure there while making vowel sounds.

Understanding the negative effects of tongue root tension on the voice is crucial for professional vocalists and everyday speakers alike. By acknowledging and addressing this issue, we can overcome the obstacles it presents and unlock the true potential of our voices. Trans voice training can be incredibly difficult, especially when problems arise that we’re unfamiliar with how to identify or remedy. Fortunately, the first step in remedying the problem is identifying when it’s happening and affecting your growth towards an authentic sounding female voice in the first place. As always, remember to be patient with yourself and your abilities, mtf voice training takes time and dedication but with a little direction I have every confidence that you’ll get there.

1. Lindberg-Kransmo, Maria. The Influence of the Tongue on Vocal Production, thesis, May 2002; Denton, Texas. ( University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library,; .

2. Miller, Richard. (1996). The Three Musketeers of Tension: Tongue/Neck/Jaw', On the Art of Singing (New York, 1996; online edn, Oxford Academic, 27 May 2015),,


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