Small Tongue Rolls

The assumption with this exercise is that you’ve already read and done the Tongue Stretch Basics exercise; if you haven’t you might want to go and read that first.

The goal of stretching out the tongue in the manner we have been (in the Tongue Stretch Basics exercise) is to target the tongue root where a lot of tension is held. This part of the tongue is instrumental in the process of swallowing, and the theory goes that by stretching out the tongue root, we can increase awareness and find some release in that part of the tongue in order to help the sound move past the back of the mouth and forward into the front of the skull.

Big Tongue Rolls on Sound

Begin by dropping your jaw, and finding lots of room in the back of your mouth. With the tongue tip behind your lower front teeth, roll the body of your tongue out in a big arch, as we did before, exhaling silently, and then s l o w ly roll your tongue back in. Let the breath drop into your belly, and roll your tongue out again. The point here is that it’s a big tongue roll, and you’re really trying to show the back of your tongue.

To add sound, start with your mouth open wide and sigh out on "ah" (IPA [ɑ]), in the middle of your range. Then roll your tongue out on the sustained [ɑ] sound, and back in again. Breath by breath, work your way up by semitones through your range. You can hear a two octave range of pitches going up and down to practice along with here. The goal is to roll your tongue smoothly while trying to find room above your tongue for the [ɑ] sound. Rolling your tongue will distort the sound of the vowel somewhat, but try to find enough room above the [ɑ] so it distorts as little as possible.

Smaller Tongue Rolls

The next step is to work on smaller tongue rolls. These aren’t so much about stretching the tongue as they are about isolating the tongue arching action, and keeping the sound free. Begin by rolling the tongue out to the point where the middle of your tongue is just below your upper front teeth, about half the distance of the Big Roll. Just hang out there for 30 seconds or so, breathing over the smaller tongue roll to get used to it. Let the jaw opening be just big enough to you aren’t biting your tongue, and let the outgoing breath be like a whispered "ee" sound (IPA [i].) Now, on the next breath cycle, whisper/sigh out on "ee," [i], and then let your tongue relax back into the centre of your mouth to the whispered vowel sound "uh," (IPA [ʌ].) I find it helps to have a leading /h/ sound before this, so it might be more accurate to say "hee-uh" Now, breath by breath, roll the tongue out, then sigh out "hee", relax the tongue back in, let the sound change to "uh." Now try two rolls on one breath, "hee-uh-ee-uh." Now three, "hee-uh-ee-uh-ee-uh," (IPA [hi.ʌ.i.ʌ].)

Finally, add sound to the small tongue roll. As you do, the second and third "ee" may begin to sound like a "y" consonant (IPA [i] becomes [j].) This means the sound will be more like "Hee-uh-yuh-yuh," (IPA [hi.ʌ.jʌ.jʌ].) Work your way up to 5 small tongue rolls in a row, and then try them on pitches, working up and down through your range with ease. Remember to keep your jaw relaxed, find space in the back of your mouth (ie lift your soft palate), and let the breath drop down to your core for each group of 5.

You can view this action here, first without sound, and then with:

  • This post is available for download in a condensed format, so you practice the small tongue rolls, once you know them, and work along with the recording.

Next Step: Soft Palate Lifting

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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