The muscles controlling and surrounding the larynx represent one of the most important control systems affecting the human voice. For most singers, learning to stabilize the larynx is essential for their vocal health, their increase of range, and the proper blending of their chest and head voice.
In this article I will attempt to shed some light on larynx position and offer some exercises that can help you improve your voice by stabilizing your larynx. Keep in mind that full-time voice students may spend years on this! But a little awareness goes a long way in saving your voice from the harm caused by singing on a high larynx.
The Problem of a High Larynx
Consider the larynx to be a basket floating in a complicated web of tendons and membranes inside your throat. Your goal is to not allow the larynx to rise too much as you sing from low notes to high notes. To find your larynx, put your finger on the V that you feel in the front of your throat (commonly, the Adams apple: the original problem J) If you swallow, you feel it rise. We refer to this as constriction, because you are squeezing the space around the larynx. Good for eating, bad for singing!
You can tell if you're singing on a high larynx if you notice:
- A heavy chest voice and a large break between your chest voice and head voice.
- Vocal cords that feel scratchy and producing a lot of mucous.
- Your voice feels worse the next day after singing.
- Your head voice feels breathy, airy, and unfocused.
There are some differing views on whether or not a high larynx is harmful or not, with some techniques suggesting that it's acceptable (even desirable!) , and others suggesting that your larynx should be as low as possible. I base my findings on eighteen years of teaching, and constant study and testing of new ideas. I believe that advanced singers can learn to sing with a high larynx, provided that they are working with a professional who knows what they're doing. For most beginning singers, however, a larynx that is too high and surrounded by tense muscles can lead to significant problems with the voice.
Keep in mind that larynx control is only one of the five control systems I describe in my vocal method:
All of these systems function in concert, with stability of the larynx representing a long- term goal of the method. The larynx houses the vocal cords, and operates in relationship with the whole voice (body, mind and spirit), and is not in any way isolated. Each system affects the other systems in a structure of balance and coordination.
How to Stabilize your Larynx
There are a lot of techniques to help stabilize the larynx, but the first step of this long journey begins with awareness. Keep in mind that professional singers spend years getting this right! With your finger on the V of your larynx (or Adams apple) sing along with a scale and notice if it is rising and falling with pitch. Notice the difference between different vowels: Sing OO (like boot), and then sing AH (like father). I refer to this as the kinesthetic approach: which means that you feel what's happening with your body. Gaining awareness of the position of your larynx is the first step.
Next, consider your larynx to be a basket floating in a network of attachments, some reach up into the jaw, tongue and head, and some reach down into the chest, sternum and lower body. We want to relax the neck, jaw, and muscles around the larynx, so we can avoid the unconscious reflex that pull up on the larynx when we sing high. As you sing your scales, place your hands on the back of your neck and notice if there's tension. Next, place your hands on your jaw, and check to see if your jaw is clenching at all. The more release you have in these muscles, the easier it will be to stabilize your larynx.
Proper breath support is also important in order to stabilize your larynx. The basics of this are:
- Breathe in without motion in your neck, shoulders or face.
- As you inhale, feel your stomach inflate.
- As you sing a scale or song, keep some gentle pressure out against your abdominal wall.
- As you're singing, try not to let your stomach contract suddenly.
If you have any questions about the larynx, or singing generally, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
This essay first published March 2, 2010 on The Modern Vocalist.com the Internet's #1 community for vocal professionals, voice health practitioners and pro-audio companies worldwide since November 2008.