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False Vocal Fold Retraction (From the book Singing and the Actor)

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Hi guys,

I'm currently reading the book "Singing and the Actor" by Gillyanne Kayes and there's a chapter (Chapter 5) wherein she discusses about 3 different positions for the vocal cords, (1) neutral, (2) constricted, and (3) retracted.

I'm having having doubts if I really got the retracted position correctly and would appreciate it very much if you guys can help me with this. The author describes that "When you find the retracted position for the false vocal folds, you may feel the sides of the thyroid widen as if opening out" (Page 47 for those who have the book) and on the next page, there's a picture of a person checking for the retracted position by checking her thyroid muscles with her two fingers (using one hand only).

Now I did check on the same spot the book demonstrated and I did feel some "bumping" around the thyroid area but am skeptical if I really did it correctly. There's a short article I found on the net that talks about getting the false vocal folds retracted (http://www.harmonyinworship.com/training/False%20vocal%20fold%20retraction.pdf) and it talks about the same ways to go into the retracted position as the book. Unfortunately, this didn't help me confirm whether I'm doing the right thing or not, just the same information from the book (w/ pictures).

Sorry if this got a bit long. My question is, are there any other places to check so that I can monitor if I am doing the retracted position correctly? For example checking what happens in the mouth or something (my velum does go up when I do this though. Not sure if it has anything to do with that).

Thank you.

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There is a better way :

- put your fingers in your ears, so you can't hear anything.

- Take inspirations : you re gonna hear a sound that is due to the vibrations of the false vocal fold caused by the air.

- When you are in a false vocal fold retraction, you won't ear a sound, or a very little one :)

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Thats basicly the difference between a squeezed and forced emission and healthy vocal production. But to eliminate it from the coordination of the vowels you have to change the vowels intentions, so that when you sing Ah, its done right from the start, its the source of the problem. Simply trying to open it, specially FEEL it openning will just cause more tension.

The sensation of sustainning this posture is directly linked to support and that feeling of "inhaling" or "drinking" the sound.

BTW, the reason why this happens is because something wrong is happening and your neck and larynx are trying to provide more resistance to the air-flow in order to protect from damage. Force this open, and you will not only create more tension on the movement, as you will remove this protection and let all hell come loose against the vocal folds. Not a good idea in my opinion.

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Hi there jankungamba,

First of all, not trying to do any product placement here, but Singing and the Actor is like my bible. It's really one of the best texts written for contemporary singers of any style, not just musical theater singers.

That being said, it's a very dense book. If you're not working through it with a teacher who's had some training with either Estill or Vocal Process, you're not going to understand everything in there the first time you read through it. But that's perfectly okay! You don't need to fully understand everything in that book to be an amazing singer. Much of it can serve as a reference to come back to later on. I constantly find myself doing that after having that book for over a year. And I still don't fully understand every single sensation that she talks about in all of those exercises.

Now on to your specific point....

First of all, just to be absolutely clear, when she talks about positions for the vocal cords (folds) she's talking about the false folds, not the true folds. The true folds are the folds that produce the vibrations that produce all of the sounds of our voice. The false folds are just sacks of flesh that prevent us from choking when we swallow. They also can get in the way when singing, which is what happens when we're constricted.

When you are in retracted position you should feel an opening in your throat, below the bottom of the jawbone.

Hugo's suggestion is also good: stick your fingers in your ears and change your breathing posture so that you are still inhaling (through the mouth) but you cannot hear, or barely hear, yourself doing so.

I have another (similar approach) that I use. Take a big breath and really suck in a bunch of air. If you're really sucking you should hear a loud hissing sound. You should also feel some constriction in the neck just below the jawbone. This is the constricted position. Now try and really open your throat right at the area you felt that constriction when you were sucking. Then try to take a deep breath but do it silently (or almost silently). If you manage the silent deep breath, you're retracted. If you're having trouble getting the silent deep breath, try Gillyanne's silent laugh exercise to get you in the right posture. Laugh silently and then try to take the silent deep breath.

Retraction can take a while to get, so don't worry if all of this is a bit frustrating. You WILL get a feel for it eventually.

Also, in most instances don't fret too much over trying to hold a retracted position throughout an entire song. Get in a retracted posture before you sing to avoid constriction (especially if you're nervous), but singing in neutral is fine for the most part.

Retraction is helpful for belting, but you almost never belt an entire song. Before I belt, I'll take an upper chest breath while simultaneously engaging my anchoring muscles and retracting my false folds (all things that Gillyanne says are crucial for good belting). I find that the upper chest breath serves as a great mental cue to do all of these things, because it's something that you only use when belting. The rest of the time you should be taking low abdominal breaths.

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Thank you for the replies. Very much appreciated :)


The method you said was also also mentioned in the book and also in the link I posted in my first post. I've tried it and there was definitely a difference between exhaling / inhaling with a non-retracted (though not constricted) and a retracted one. Doing it in the retracted position, as you've said was quieter (almost silent) than the non-retracted one. Exhaling / inhaling in the retracted position felt like I was gulping the air. It went in (or out) without resistance or anything. Though I've done what the book told me, I just didn't feel confident that I did it correctly (I was like "is that it?") so I wanted more ways to confirm it.


In reading the book so far, I haven't encountered the word cricothyroid yet. She just mentions to "feel your thyroid" and gladly there was one picture on where I should feel the "widening of thyroid" when doing the retracted position. There was a chapter about tilting the"cricoid cartilage" (they are not synonymous right?) to access higher notes in the range though. With regards to "how do you feel it's position?", I simply cannot describe it in words. I'm just immitating the picture described in the book :(


Thank you for the very detailed post.

Though I'm just 1/3 of the book, I can already tell why you consider this as your bible. It's pack full of information though it's very hard to read :(

Unfortunately, I am on my own (but with help from people like you online) in understanding the book. I am working in Japan right now and the teachers at the vocal school I was attending to cannot understand English so even if they're super knowledgeable in the field, they won't help much in explaining the contents of the book.

Now with regards to the "suck in a bunch of air" thing that you mentioned, what would the position of my mouth be? Position it as if I'm kissing (very small opening of the mouth)? It's because I won't be able to produce a hissing sound if my mouth is any more open.

The silent laugh exercise is one of the exercise I totally don't have any confidence that I did it right. I didn't feel any "opening" or whatsoever when I did that so I skipped that and tried the other exercises.

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Yes, if you're sucking air in, kissing position would be a good approximation for the mouth/lips. Your top and bottom teeth being close together helps too.

Here's what I'd try. Get your mouth into whatever position you need to make the hissing sound by sucking air in. Then make the hissing sound. THEN keep your mouth in the same position, but try to breathe silently. The shift from hissing to silent breathing should be occurring in your throat, not your mouth. You can breathe silently regardless of what position your mouth is in. Just make sure you don't switch to breathing through your nose.

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Also with regards to what you were asking ronws, about cricothyroid, you won't find it in the book. A lot of people on this board describe the process of bridging into the upper register as gradually using more cricothyroid (CT) muscle and less thyroarytenoid (TA) muscles.

Gillyanne describes this process by referring to the movement of the cartilage rather than the muscles. She'll often refer to the thyroid cartilage "tilting" when you move into the upper register. When you hear people talking about more CT and less TA here, they're basically talking about the same thing as when she refers to thyroid cartilage tilt.

Cricoid cartilage is something she describes in reference to belting. The thing is that there's some things she's put up on Vocal Process' website where she mentions that they're actually not 100% sure that the cricoid cartilage tilts, because they can't see it happening on the laryngoscope.

And finally, don't give up on the silent laugh! It takes a while to get, but it's something that's well worth having in your toolbox.

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The thing you all should know is, whats physicly happening while doing these exercises is not retraction of the falsefolds. But the sensation of openthroat singing, if the falsefolds where fully active while we are singing we would have à constant distortion on our voice.

Latest cvi research even showed that in very full singing, the falsevocalfolds where abit active though not touching. With that being Said Continue do the exercises because they are very very good!

And also, i think the female voiceclips in the book are very subpar most are just alterations of (neutral) and light sounds.

So ifyou are female and working with the book it might be something to take into consideration.

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The kissing-sucking exercise is brilliant! A great addition to the exercises in the book as well. Positioning your mouth into a kissing position naturally encourages you to suck in the air very loudly so practicing retracting the false cords in that position requires more concentration and is harder than just an open mouth position. Though I'll keep practicing the silent laugh as well :)


Thanks for the link. Never heard of "Singing and teaching singing", looks like a good book.

I think I'm more confident that I'm retracting the false vocal cords correctly than before. I have other questions regarding the contents of the book but that will be for a different thread.

You guys have been a great help. Thanks.

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  • 1 year later...

I've been sick with pneumonia for the last week or so, so in my quest to understand all I can about technique, I downloaded the SATA book. It's a fascinating read. I've read it through, quickly, twice and now I'm rereading it slower and trying some of the exercises. It is really unfortunate that the CD audio files are no longer available.

Anyway, my question with respect to retraction is the issue of tension. I can do the retraction quite easily if I concentrate on it, but it does take some effort to hold that position. Is that counterproductive to the generally accepted notion of having the throat tension free? To put it in perspective, the tension I am talking about is not like a clenched fist, but more like the tension of a finger snap - fairly minimal.

Secondly, once you have the retraction accomplished, how do you maintain compression on the true folds? Do they naturally stay together and compression is totally dependent on air flow pressure?

Thanks everyone - can't wait to get back to lessons!!

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Willise take it to the lesson before using it on a training routine...

Its just unpredictable, we dont have enough information on you or your voice to tell if its a good idea or not. Specially if you have tendency to loose adduction and get airy, a different route might be wise if thats the case.

There is no need for tension, and it should be an extension of your breathing coordination.

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