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