Holding the Jaw, Part 1

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!

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  1. How do you feel about holding the jaw for vocal exercises compared to the OOVO exercises popularized by Ingo Titze, particularly vocalizing through a straw. This is supposed to help create back pressure to protect the folds and also to optimally position the voice and keep the folds from coming together in an unhealthy way. Do you feel that holding the jaw creates back pressure and helps with correct vocal position as well? It seems that it would create at least some good back pressure.

    1. That’s one of the advantages of jaw holding – it is a semi occluded vocal tract exercise. When done correctly it creates a partial occlusion in the vocal tract, theoretically creating a bit of “back pressure” like other SOVT exercises. The resonance of the voice can change when the jaw is held too.

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    1. Holding the jaw seems to do several things all at once and seems especially good for students who cannot do “bubble lip” or tongue trills (currently popular SOVT exercises). If it keeps the masseter muscles from engaging and creates back pressure, this covers a lot of bases all at the same time and seems like a great option.

      1. I agree. It does several things at once, which makes it a good option for people who are open to it. In my opinion it can take months out of practice time because of all the areas it helps.

  3. This has certainly helped me!!! I was recruiting many other muscle areas to do the work and isolating in this way REALLY helped! Love it!!

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