One of the most powerful tools I’ve found for addressing jaw tension and teaching jaw-tongue muscle independence is holding the jaw. I learned this tool from Thomas Blaylock, and he learned it from Joseph Kline. It allows the voice to phonate without engaging the masseter or swallowing muscles. In fact, there is a laundry list of skills you can learn while holding the jaw and doing vocal exercises. It works.
To hold correctly, gently open the mouth so it feels open and relaxed but not hyper extended. Then, using the index finger and thumb of one hand, keep the jaw in that place. From this position, you can teach vowel integrity, vowel modification, and efficient airflow. At least, that’s what I’ve found with holding the jaw.
A very cool part of the jaw holding story is that I saw Renee Fleming do a version of it last year at the PAVA conference. She said she uses it for her warm ups regularly, and if she does it, I’ll take it to the bank. But honestly, I’ve seen so many people (including myself) learn tongue-jaw muscle independence by doing this, that I’ve already taken it to the bank.
As a flesh and blood human being, it feels rather dangerous to share my thoughts on this subject. You see, there are as many methods as there are voice instructors, and each method contains tips and tricks that work. And many teachers have very strong opinions. I hope that this lil’ post catches some flack, gets someone’s attention, though. I think the bigger danger is NOT talking about what we are doing in the vocal studio. I like doing particular exercises while holding the jaw because it gets results, and it does very specific things that are easily demonstrated to a student. Typically, if an exercise is getting the body to do specific movements, a student is more likely to do it. (#happy)
I’m a reasonable person, so I realize holding the jaw isn’t for everyone. At the same time, I offer this tool as a way to help someone who might truly benefit from it. I’ll talk about some of the skills you can teach while holding the jaw very soon!