Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Using staccato exercises to improve Laryngeal suspension

CCM Bannder no dates

cropped-cornelius1In his book Voice: Psyche and Soma, pedagogue Cornelius Reid addresses what is commonly called “open throat singing.” Reid explains that the sensation of a closed throat (throat constriction), is caused by activation of muscles that are active when chewing and swallowing. Reid suggests an indirect approach, rather than trying to directly control the muscles involved, to improve what he calls “laryngeal suspension.” Reid lays out six exercises for this purpose in chapter eight of his book (pgs. 86-92). He begins the chapter by stating “The purpose of a vocal exercise is to encourage naturalness of movement, to remove muscular blockages, to strengthen that which is correct, to develop and properly integrate the vocal registers, and to effectively position the larynx so that it provides the open-throated resonance so essential to good singing (p. 86).” In his opinion, the teacher must improve laryngeal registration (chest, head, mix, etc.) while simultaneously addressing laryngeal suspension in order to achieve results (see 45-63 for more information about register development). According to Reid, the first step to helping the student “innervate the suspensory muscles so that they will position themselves reflexively in an appropriate manner (p. 87)” is to use staccato. The design of these exercises should not be confused with staccato used for developing agility. Rather these exercises are designed to lead the student to “an awareness of his throat as a vital participant in the phonative process (p. 87).”

The exercise variations below are intended to help the student gain a “kinetic sense of laryngeal function (p. 87).” Reid says that chest register balance should be encouraged over lightness and the exercise should be performed “with considerable vigor (p. 87).” The result should be similar to a full belly laugh using the vowel /a/ or /i/. The singer must not try to consciously control the throat, but rather favor spontaneity to find the correct response.

Reid suggests the following variations:

  • Two repetitions of an arpeggio. First time singing staccato ascending and descending. The second time, ascend with staccato, sustain the octave, and then finish with a descending legato line.
  • Repeat an arpeggio two times in a row alternating between singing one half staccato and the other legato (try both staccato up legato down and legato up staccato down).
  • Sing a single arpeggio ascending legato and then a reiterated staccato on the octave
  • Finally sing a staccato arpeggio with a trill on the upper note

When singing these exercises, the staccato effect must be initiated by the larynx and not the diaphragm. Reid also suggests that in order to help the student develop a “feel” for the movement of the larynx, they should remain still from head to toe.

I believe these exercises are similar to the “wobbles” that Steven W. Smith talks about in The Naked Voice. Both exercises are designed to destabilize the voice from its default setting by using quick movements that require the external laryngeal muscles to disengage. When used in combination with exercises that address the tongue and jaw, staccato exercises can be very effective for releasing constriction and encouraging a relaxed/open throat during phonation.

Have you used these exercises or other variations? If so, please leave a comment below. If you are not yet following the blog, please enter your email address on the bottom right of this page to receive an email notification when there is a new post. As always, thanks for reading!


6 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Using staccato exercises to improve Laryngeal suspension

  1. Diane Thornton
    February 6, 2017

    Yo, Matt,

    I have requested help from NCMTNA towards attending a session at the Institute again this summer. Even though I have accreditation for the 2nd session, you are bringing in Sataloff for the second session and that is of great interest to me. If you think it would be better for me to do one of the other sessions instead, please let me know.

    Thanks so much and take care,




    • Matthew Edwards
      February 13, 2017

      Session two will be somewhat different this year. It will not be an absolute repeat, but it will be similar. Session three is completely new. Would love to have you for either. Sataloff is brilliant and a great lecturer. Looking forward to seeing you again! ~ Matt


  2. Maurie
    February 8, 2017


    This is a great reminder. I like the part of NOT engaging the diaphragm. We are working on isolating the throats muscles and releasing the ones that don’t help us sing. Is that right?



  3. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Using head-voice to clean up diction | Matt Edwards

  4. Theodore ( Tony ) Grau
    September 11, 2019

    If I may pose three questions on staccato,
    First how fast are these exercises done and second how high do we go doing these exercises? And third do staccato exercises develop the edges of the vocal folds rapidly ?
    I would be most appreciative for your response.

    Regards…….Theodore ( Tony ) Grau


  5. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Small dog, big dog | Matt Edwards

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2017 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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