Freeing the Channel through Releasing Tension

LESSON 2: Freeing the Channel through Releasing Tension

(from Linklater Workday 5 and 6 pg. 129)


Educational Objective:  Students will understand how to release tension to improve vocal quality by participating in self-knowledge and group awareness activities.



  • Standard L1.T.P.5: Use voice to communicate meaning through volume, pitch, tone, rate of speed, and vocal clarity.
  • Standard L1.T.R.2: Defend responses based on personal experiences when participating in or observing a drama/theatre work.


Materials Needed: Freeing the Natural Voice by Kristin Linklater, soft/ meditative music, open space


Hook: Machine

            Directions: Students must create a human machine by combining their own sound and movement, and one by one, add to the group. As a whole, the machine must speed up as one unit, and then slow down to a stop as one unit.


Transition: Like a machine, our body has its own mechanisms that help us breathe (remember the human breathing machine we created last time?) In fact, having an awareness of our body and breath is foundational to vocal support.

            Building from bottom up:

  1. Body/ Breath awareness
  2. Vocal Principles
  3. Techniques
  4. Application

            We are building towards the application– our final performance/ project. But in doing so, we are going to go in-depth with vocal principles, techniques, and how those concepts help us build and connect with character.


Question: Where do we hold tension? We don’t store stress just in our mind– it goes into our body too!

  • Breaking down the picture of the head and neck (two large bone structures joined by a hinge– in your jaw). As you open your mouth, your chin drops towards the neck.
  • We send complicated messages to or jaws (“open your mouth wider” when you are singing…but you need space at the BACK of your mouth to allow for freer air flow). To maximize openness, we need to think of the “bottom” jaw as dropping and the “top” jaw as lifting from as far back in the mouth as possible.
    • Instinctual movements and feelings seen in animals too– a lion roaring in anger (130)– Try a “lion’s roar”; it’s going to sound ugly, but we are going to work to get that tension out through our breath!


Transition: In order to use our voice as the instrument that it is, we need to release tension and free our speaking channel. To do that, we are going to go through some exercises together. First, I want you to respond to a prompt aloud, but to yourself…and as you say it, take note of how you feel and sound as you speak. Here’s the prompt: “Recall a happy memory or favorite day.” I’m going to ask you to respond to the same prompt after we complete this exercise. Now we’ll proceed with me giving your verbal prompts for this activity.

  • One “subconscious” form of muscular defenses lies in our jaw hinges (i.e. clenching teeth to stifle a scream, so a bulging jaw represents courage). We’ve also heard the expression “set jaw,” which we see as a sign of determination, resolve, or contemplation. Or, have you ever bitten your tongue to stop yourself from saying something, or even distract yourself from other pain you might be feeling? That’s also where the expression “bite the bullet comes from. Humans have been conditioned, in a sense, to use the jaw as a defense against intense emotions.
  • We don’t have many opportunities to release that deep tension we get in our jaws…screaming, laughing, or yawning may release it to a certain extent. Today, we are going to work to really free the jaw, tongue, and throat. As we do so, you may feel inclined to yawn– do it and don’t feel like you need to hide it! We yawn because it gives us an increase of oxygen and give our jaws a much-needed stretch.


Step 1: (pg. 132)

  • Have students find their own space in the room. Students will start standing, but they may sit down later on– and please stand when prompted to during the exercise. To help us increase our awareness and relax your jaws, put the heel of your hands on the jaw hinge area on either side of your face. Gently massage your jaw muscles in small circles.
  • Next, press into your cheeks while moving your hands downward, smoothing the bottom jaw down away from the top jow until your mouth hangs loosely open. Imagine that your bottom jaw is dependent on your hand for movement– like it doesn’t have it’s own muscles.
  • Let your jaw relax down even further, like there are tiny weights at the back of your jaw underneath your ears. Then, gently lift the jaw back up with your hand (repeat a few times…notice how your jaw is starting to feel more loosened and relaxed.) Remember to keep your movements and stretches along your jaw very slow and gentle.


Step 2:

  • Place your thumbs under your jawbone and your fingers on top of it (around your cheeks) so that you are gripping your jawbone on either side of your chin. Keep thinking of your hands as the muscle-force for the bottom jaw. Start with your jaw closed and teeth touching lightly.
  • Without moving the bottom jaw at all, lift the top jaw up until your mouth is open. (remember how we talked about your bottom jaw/ chin being set like a hinge on your top jaw– the rest of your skull?)
  • Now, use your hands to lift the bottom jaw up to meet the top jaw. Let your teeth touch gently at the back.
  • Do the same thing again with your top jaw from where you are currently positioned– lift the top jaw up until your mouth is open, then bring your bottom jaw up to meet it..(may need to do it one more time). Now your head should be back, your mouth will be open, and you are still holding your jaw in your hands.
    • Ask a question– where are the muscles that move the top jaw? They are in the back of your neck.
    • Gently bring your head back down while holding your jaw in your hands. Let your hands go back to your side and keep your jaw loose.
    • Now that we have stretch out those muscles that control our top and bottom jaws, practice “voicing” your breath. What I mean by that is I want you take a deep breath in, and as you breathe out say “huuuh” or “aaahh.”
      • You may feel that the sound is richer and feel more vibrations from the sound. Now answer the same prompt that I asked you before we started the exercise: “Recall a happy memory or favorite day.” How does that feel different from when we started? Students may respond that their voice sounds and feels different. Identify that this is the student’s “natural voice.” Your natural voice has more resonance and richness than how we think we sound when we usually talk.


Practice: Breath and Movement– Have the students stand in a circle. Invite them to stand in a neutral position– feet shoulder-width apart, standing up straight, hands hanging loosely at their sides. Have one student volunteer to give the first “breath and movement” — which needs to be grounded and natural. The student standing next to them in the circle then tries to copy the same breath and movement– not trying to mock or make fun of it in any way. The breath and movement will travel around the circle; see how much it changes (or doesn’t change) as it goes around the circle. Remind the students to stay focused on their breath and grounded in their movement as they participate. After the first breath and movement goes around the circle, ask another student to volunteer sharing a new breath and movement to go around the circle.


Transition: Opening the throat…pg. 182

There is a sharp angle where our throat (which holds the larynx, vocal cords, etc.) turns into our mouth passage. If we have a lazy soft palate and tense tongue, we can jam that channel. We want to open that channel and stimulate spaciousness as we breathe more freely


Step 3:

  • While staying in your own space, lengthen the front of your neck so that your head us far back enough to allow for a straight breath channel–no corners or turns through your body.In this position, sigh out a whispered “haaaaa.”
  • Using the back of the neck, bring the head back upright on top of the spine. Visualize how that “channel” has changed shape, and sigh out a whispered “huuuuuh.”
    • Note: When the head is back, it is almost impossible to use the throat to support sound, so the breath must take over. However, even at the natural angle, you can still have the breath flow without interference in the throat– by releasing tension. We are trying to relax the throat and remove its ability to support sound. As you do so, you’ll find your connection with the core of your breathing (diaphragm, lungs, etc.) becoming clearer.


Step 4:

  • Straighten the channel again by gently tilting your head back. Focus on the starting point of the sound deep in your body (in your breathing core) and on a spot on the ceiling. Release a “haaaaah” sound and imagine that your voice is travelling to the ceiling in an unbroken stream of sound– from your core through the channel, to your spot on the ceiling.
  • Lift your head and neck back into the natural position–still keeping the channel open– and pick a spot straight ahead of you. Release a “haaaah” from your core and stream it to that spot.


Discussion: Now, I’m going to have you answer the same prompt as before– “Recall a happy memory or favorite day.” What do you notice now about your voice as compared to before we did this exercise? Do you feel more relaxed, more open and free to breathe? The exercises that we have done the past couple of days have helped us develop a more keen awareness of our voice– how we breathe, how our body functions as we breathe, and how we need to release tension to support proper breath and voice.


Assessment: Write a short response to the prompt: “How has my awareness of my voice and breath changed?”