Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
In most untrained voices, the larynx naturally rises and falls with pitch. You can experience the natural movement of the larynx by placing your fingers lightly around your “Adam’s Apple” and swallowing. You should feel the larynx rise and then lower back to its resting position. If you do a simple ascending and descending glide using your speaking voice on /a/, you should experience movement similar to swallowing. Although the larynx is designed to be flexible, many singers end up with a larynx that gets locked high when singing. This can occur as a result of learning to belt without proper training or pushing in any style whether in chest, head, or mix. Today’s exercise is a tactile approach to helping students discover a comfortably low laryngeal position when singing.
The exercise comes from Dr. Sílvia Maria Rebelo Pinho, a Brazilian speech language pathologist as described on pages 56-57 of “Exercises for Voice Therapy” edited by Alison Behrman and John Haskell. Dr. Pinho says that yawning has often been used as an approach to finding a lower laryngeal position. However, when many students attempt to force a yawn, they do so by compressing the tongue and tensing the larynx. This has been my experience as well. Dr. Pinho uses the spaghetti exercise as an alternative to help her clients elongate the vocal tract before professional speaking or singing engagements.
When applying this to singing, I begin with sustained pitches on /u/ after the second step. We then progress to glides on 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths as appropriate before advancing to stepwise motion and then arpeggios. I use the third step outlined above before introducing word phrases on pitch, such as “How are you today” on a 5-4-3-2-1 pattern.
It is important to mention that a low laryngeal position is not always desirable. For instance, famed voice researcher Dr. Ingo Titze has stated that a slightly elevated laryngeal position has an acoustic advantage for belters. However, there is a difference between a slightly elevated larynx and one that is locked high due to hyperfunction. As with all physical activity, it is important to work all muscle groups and stretch before and after exercise. There are seven laryngeal elevators and four laryngeal depressors. Knowing that the larynx is more likely to be pulled high than low, I find this exercise very helpful even for those students who may benefit from a slightly raised position when singing. By adding this to their warm-up routine, we ensure that the laryngeal depressors are not neglected and the laryngeal elevators do not become hyperfunctional.
Do you have similar exercises you use for finding a comfortably low laryngeal position? Do you have other ideas for cross-training your singers to make sure that their larynx does not get locked too high or too low? Feel free to share your methods in the comment section below. If you are not already following the blog, please sign-up on the bottom right of this page to receive an email each time there is a new post. If you would like to learn more about the style of fact based teaching that I discuss each week on the blog, please consider joining us this summer at the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah Conservatory. You will learn dozens of exercises for optimizing vocal production, but most importantly you will learn how the voice functions so you can create individualized exercises for every student that enters your studio, no matter what genre they sing (even classical).
As always, thank you for reading! ~ Matt