Open Throat Singing: Keeping Tension Out of the Voice

Classical Voice Studio

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Disclosure:  Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  This means that if you buy something by clicking through those links, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

How to Create a Daily Practice Schedule You Can Actually Follow Have you ever been singing for a while and your voice gets tired?  Or your throat just feels tight? When this happens, it’s probably because you’ve been employing contracting muscles in your throat. When you swallow, muscles constrict the throat to push the food down the esophagus.  Beginners (and sometimes, even experienced singers) often employ these muscles to aid in the production of sound.

However, continuous use of these muscles in this way will lead to vocal trouble down the road- not to mention the uncomfortable tightness you feel in the moment.   You need to train your muscles to relax and sing with an “open throat” to avoid tension and strain.

Vocal Tract Freedom

Step 3 in building a healthy voice (after posture and breathing technique) is vocal tract freedom.  When your vocal tract is free, your jaw, larynx, and tongue are all relaxed- your pharynx will feel “open.” Hence the colloquial term for vocal tract freedom, “open throat.” Learning to sing with an open throat is important for you to avoid the tension and strain that could lead to vocal health problems down the line.

For this reason, I’ve put together 15 vocal conditioning exercises to help you to stretch and relax your throat as well as improve its flexibility.  In order to restore your vocal tract to its “factory setting,” so to speak, I suggest doing each of these exercises during your daily vocal warm-ups.  Then, pick one or two stretches or massages of the tongue and jaw on a regular basis to maintain freedom of the voice.  (And if you aren’t doing vocal warm-ups regularly, you really should.)

15 Exercises to Relieve Vocal Tension and Create an “Open Throat” Feeling

Relaxing the Jaw


1. Cool Spot

This is the simplest exercise that allow you to feel what an open throat is. 

  1. Gently open your mouth
  2. Inhale, trying to feel a “cool spot” in the back of the mouth


2. Jaw Stretch

Because the actions of your jaw affect your tongue, it also affects your larynx.  Keeping the jaw free from tension will help you keep an “open throat.”

  1. Place your pointer finger on the point right in front of the ears (upper left hand corner of the picture)
  2. Drop your jaw as far as you can.
  3. Press you finger into the indent created by this action
  4. Relax your jaw with your finger in place. 
  5. You’ll feel a little resistance in your jaw- this is the stretch
  6. Release
  7. Repeat several times throughout your rehearsal session


3. Hum and Chew

  1. Lightly close your lips
  2. Begin humming on any comfortable pitch
  3. Chew like a cow, moving the jaw in a circular direction
  4. Chew, moving the jaw in the opposite direction
  5. Relax


4. Sing and Chew

  1. Allow your jaw to be loose
  2. Sing a descending 5 note scale on the syllables “yah-yah-yah-yah-yah” in a gentle chewing motion

5. Jaw Massage

Use your fingers to gently massage the muscles of the jaw.  I emphasize gently, especially if you’ve never massaged your jaw before.  You are likely very tense there from years of talking, singing, and chewing. Use the drawing on the left as reference.

  1. Use your fingertips to massage right underneath the cheekbone using a circular motion. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  2. Move to the muscles that control the jaw hinge right by your ears, massaging in a circular motion. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  3. Move slowly down the jaw bone from the ear to the corner of the jaw using circular motions in both directions.
  4. Massage the muscles over the lower mandible (right below the teeth), again using both circular motions.
  5. Use your thumbs to massage under the jaw.  Target the space right underneath the teeth (not the tongue). It might feel good to just press, especially under the front bottom teeth.


6. Cheek Massage

The cheek muscles are very much involved in singing and can get very tense, adding to the overall discomfort in singing.  Regular massage can help avoid this.

  1. Place your fingers under your cheek bone.
  2. Lightly press with your fingers and drag in a diagonal direction toward your lips (the direction of the muscles on the side of the face in the picture above)
  3. Your jaw will naturally open as you drag your fingers.
  4. It may feel good to try keeping your jaw closed while you do the massage
  5. Play around with the amount of pressure.  Do what feels go to you.

Relaxing the Tongue

7. Tongue Massage

As you can see from the picture on the left, the tongue is a very long muscle that attaches in the middle of your throat to the hyoid bone (which is the uppermost part of the larynx, labeled right above the thyroid).  Because of this connection, tension in the tongue will directly cause tension in your larynx.  When you swallow, pay attention to the action of the tongue. When it flexes, the larynx moves.

  1. Gently close the mouth
  2. Use the thumbs to press under the chin behind the jaw
  3. Work your way back toward the throat, making sure not to miss any part of the tongue
  4. Use circular and side to side motions to massage the tongue


8. Tongue Stretch

  1. Open your mouth as tall and as wide as you can
  2. Stick out your tongue as far as you can, like a panting dog
  3. Relax, the tongue and jaw returning the tongue right behind the lower front teeth (this is where it should be when you sing!)
  4. Leaving the tip of the tongue on the teeth, arch the tongue, pushing the middle part of the tongue out of the mouth
  5. Relax
  6. Repeat


9. Quiet Tongue

This exercise is a to be done once you’ve already massaged and stretched the tongue.  Now that it is less tense, you can relax it. 

  1. Open the mouth gently
  2. Place the tongue over the teeth so that it is flat
  3. It might help to place the tip of your index finger in the middle of your tongue
  4. Try to keep the tongue relaxed and lazy
  5. Your tongue is used to being used, so pay attention to anywhere that it might tense up.
  6. Consciously relax those parts of the tongue

Bonus: This exercise is also really good for helping you to calm down when you are feeling overly stressed or emotional in general.  Really- once you’ve relaxed your tongue, try to feel a really strong negative emotion without tensing your tongue- you can’t.  Next time you are feeling angry or anxious, relax your tongue.  It really works!

Relaxing the Larynx

The third key point of a tension-free voice is relaxing the larynx.  Many singers sing with a high larynx causing excessive strain on the voice.  Stretching and relaxing the muscles that control it will help you avoid this and create that “open throat” feeling.

10. Laryngeal Massage

  1. Place your fingertips on your larynx (the white bit in the picture on the left)
  2. In a very gentle, circular motion, massage the larynx from top to bottom
  3. Take care not to use too much pressure here, you don’t want to hurt yourself
  4. Reverse the circular direction
  5. Move outwards to the left and right of the larynx and massage the the muscles on the sides
  6. Take the sternocleidomastiods between your thumb and index finger.(They’re the long diagonal muscles in the front of the throat running from behind the jaw to the collarbone. Although there’s one on each side, only 1 is shown in the picture.)
  7. Gently apply pressure to the muscle from the top (for a couple seconds), working your way down to the collarbone.*
  8. Repeat as it feels good.

*This may cause some referred pain to other places in your neck or shoulders. If so, ease up the pressure if you need to, but hold onto it for longer, waiting for the referred pain to subside.  Referred pain usually means that the muscles is especially tense and in need of physical manipulation.


11. Laryngeal Stretch 1

For following 4 stretches, stand or sit so that your arms can reach down and away from the neck.  This one can also be considered a tongue stretch, but it directly affects the larynx, so I put it here.

  1. Gently open you mouth
  2. Slowly lean your head back
  3. You’ll notice that your jaw will naturally open more
  4. Stick your tongue out of your mouth
  5. Return your tongue to the mouth and slowly close your jaw
  6. Alternate steps 4 and 5 a couple times


12. Laryngeal Stretch 2

This is the same as the first one, but stretches the side of the throat.

  1. Gently open you mouth
  2. Lean your head gently back and to the right
  3. Stick your tongue out of your mouth
  4. Return your tongue to the mouth and slowly close your jaw
  5. Alternate steps 4 and 5 a couple times
  6. Repeat on the Left Side
  7. Play around with the positioning of the head on each side to get a good stretch in all directions


13. Laryngeal Stretch 3

  1. Lean your head gently back
  2. Gently close your mouth
  3. Press the tongue against the roof and hold
  4. Release the tongue
  5. Alternate steps 3 & 4


14. Laryngeal Stretch 4

This is just like neck stretch 3, but stretches out the sides of the throat.

  1. Lean your head gently back and to the Right
  2. Gently close your mouth
  3. Press the tongue against the roof and hold
  4. Release the tongue
  5. Alternate steps 3 & 4
  6. Play around with the positioning of the head on each side to get a good stretch in all directions


15. Big Yawn

  1. Open your mouth to yawn
  2. Actually make yourself yawn
  3. Make the yawn as big as you can
  4. Lower the larynx as if you were going to make a very deep, low sound
  5. Relax
  6. Repeat

Vocal Freedom Cheat Sheet

Doing these exercises every day will really help you to relieve the tension in your voice.  So, I’ve made nice printable reference PDF of these exercises for you so you’ll have them wherever you practice to easily refer to.

All of these vocal exercises I am sharing with you, including these “open throat” exercises, are a combination of exercises that I have learned and ones that I have created or modified.  I do my best to present them concisely in my blog posts to keep them easy to read and learn.  However, I do realize that I am new blogger and don’t have a wide selection of vocal exercises.

Since I can only write 1 or 2 posts a month, it will take me a very long time to cover all the aspects of singing with a variety of exercises for you- and you need those exercises right now, not in a few months when I post them. 

So, I want to share with you a resource that I really value and have used often in my teaching and my own practice. In fact, it is the textbook that was used in my Voice Techniques class in college.

Teaching Kids to Sing is a wonderful book with a wealth of information and sequentially graded singing exercises.  Even though the book is geared towards voice teachers of children, there is still a great breadth of knowledge you can gain from it.  The exercises are great for singers of any age.  I highly recommend you check it out (and get it used). 

If you found this post helpful, please share it!

For more information on vocal health, read my post 11 Simple Habits to Care for Your Voice.