The wonderful tongue!  A muscle articulated in so many ways that voice teachers can't even tell their students what they should do with it.  We have to speak in pre-sets, that is to say we have to talk about vowels.  "Sing a brighter ah."  "Add some oo to your ee."  Or the eternally popular, "Sing pure Italian vowels", whatever that might mean to a particular voice teacher.  All of these instructions are intended to help students find a resonant sound and hang on to it though entire songs.

Not only is the wonderful tongue a major part of resonation and, of course, articulation, it is also a major source of problems for singers who do not understand one basic fact about the tongue, the hyoid bone, and the larynx. 

Jeopardy question:  What bone in the human body is not connected to any other bone?  Answer:  Alex, it's the hyoid bone which is attached to the base of the tongue and from which the larynx is suspended. 

Pull your tongue up the in back, and you necessarily must pull your larynx up, too.  Elevated larynges generally produce strained sounds.  German voice teachers sometimes speak of a krawatten tenor, a fellow who sounds as if his necktie is too tight.  There are a number of physical causes for tension around the larynx, but the easiest one to avoid is tongue tension.  Releasing the back of the tongue is often the cure for a too tight sound or for a voice that has limitations that seem to be not physical.

Telling students to relax, though, is often counterproductive.  When a voice teacher makes students aware of their bodily tensions, the idea must be conveyed in a non-critical manner.  Most students will create body tensions in response to critiques that make them feel as if they are wrong, wrong-headed, stubbornly doing it wrong to annoy the teacher, or just plain stupid.  Sad to say, most of those kinds of critiques are found in many voice studios.

Pollyanna I am not!  I don't believe in never telling students that they are doing something wrong.  I think that it is perfectly possible to tell them what is wrong without making it their fault.  Surely they would not keep paying for voice lessons if they only wished to annoy the teacher!

Concerning the wonderful tongue, it is also a fine villain in the drama of learning to sing.  One might say that it climbs up our throats with good intentions to help us sing better but that it is, alas, mistaken.  Some pedagogies make the tongue another item in the list of things with parts to be memorized, and that may work for students who like to break down ideas to understand them.  I think that it is important to think about this highly complex muscle in ways that let the students relax and learn to use it.