Matt Edwards

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

Mix it up Monday: The Silent Laugh

CCM Bannder no dates

LaughThe false vocal folds (FVF) are located above the true vocal folds and are a point of interest in the Estill Voice Model. In “The Estil Voice Model: Theory & Translation” the authors describe the FVF as “pads of muscular and fatty tissue that run parallel to and above the true vocal folds…. Normally, the false vocal folds are not actively squeezing shut during speech. Closure plays a vital, life-sustaining role in the protective functions of the larynx. Both true vocal folds and false vocal folds close tightly during swallowing, throat clearing, and coughing. In addition, they close in the laryngeal reflex triggered in any freeze-fight-flight situation. Their tight closure is also recruited in strenuous activities that need breath-holding to generate the high pressures required for heavy lifting, voiding of bowels, and delivery of babies.” (p. 63). The authors break down the positioning of the false folds into three options.

“The three options for the False Vocal Fold control in Estill Voice Training are Constrict, Mid, and Retract. These three options lie in a continuum along which the distance between the false vocal folds can be varied. Performers, voice coaches, and clinicians use many different terms to describe the sounds or feelings associated with each option.” (p. 61)

  • Constrict (as in grunting). In this position, the FVF are close together. Some may identify the sound as constrained, distorted, trapped, throaty, tight, pushed, muffled.
  • Mid (as in quiet breathing). In this position, the FVF are in a comfortable speaking/singing position, mid-way between squeezed and open. Some may describe the sound as speech-like, relaxed, natural, untrained.
  • Retract (as in laughing). In this position, the FVF are moving away from the center into a wide open position. Some may describe the sound clear, free, trained, resonant, open-throat, well-placed. (p. 62)

Gillyanne Kayes also addresses this in “Singing and the Actor.” She shares the following awareness exercises:

  1. Constriction
    1. Sit on a chair, place both hands under the chair and lift your feet off the floor.
    2. Now try to lift yourself and the chair off the floor and notice what happens in your throat. What you are feeling is the constriction of the false vocal folds.
  2. Retraction
    1. “Think of a funny situation that makes you want to smile inside. Hold the feeling of that inner smile.
    2. Allow the sensation of the inner smile to develop further down in your vocal tract. Let it move from the inside of the mouth down to the inside of your neck where your larynx is.
    3. Add sound to the feel of inner smile, allowing yourself to giggle or chuckle.
    4. Let the sensation grow into laughing. Laughing out loud on ‘hee-hee,’ ‘hah-hah,’ or ‘ho-ho,’ whatever works for you.
    5. Now visualize being in a silent movie. Laugh silently, working just as hard as you did before.
    6. As you continue to laugh silently, notice the physical work involved. Where do you feel it? To help monitor these sensations of effort, give them an effort number – a score between one and ten. What is your effort number when you laugh silently.” (p. 12)
  3. Auditory Monitoring Using Silent Breath
    1. “Sitting in a relaxed position, breathe in and out through your mouth as if asleep.
    2. Put your fingers in your ears and listen to the sound inside your head. (Some people hear more on the out-breath, others more on the in-breath).
    3. Keeping your fingers in the ears, continue to breathe in and out, allowing the sound of the breath to decrease gradually. You can use one hand to check that you are still breathing (place one hand on the abdomen or close up against the mouth to feel the out-breath).
    4. Continue until there is no sound at all inside your head. Make sure you are gently breathing throughout. This is the retracted position.
    5. What is your number now on the scale of effort? Repeat stages 1-4, and then sing a note.” (p. 13)

Since this approach is outside of traditional pedagogy, I highly recommend reading more in the “Estill Voice Model” book (Chapter 5) and “Singing and the Actor” (p. 10-14).

While I do not use this full series on a regular basis, I do find it helpful when a student has no idea what I mean by constriction and/or if the problem is not improving through registration re-balancing and/or articulation exercises. I have the student place their thumb and first finger around the space between the thyroid cartilage and hyoid bone. I first have them alternate between a grunt and laugh several times and ask them to describe the difference. I then have them find a silent breath with their fingers still in place. Then I have them find their grunt, their laugh, followed by a silent breath, and then perform a 1-2-1 or 1-3-1 glide on /a/. I then use those three primary modes to coach them away from tension and towards freedom. I say things like “that’s starting to sound like a grunt” or “imagine you are laughing, it is a positive /a/” or “breathe silently and keep it that simple when you sing /a/.” This process will often produce great results as they begin to identify excess effort in their throat and re-learn how to initiate tone without constriction. I then have them laugh a phrase on pitch. When they are successful with that step, I have them laugh then sing a phrase on /a/. If they constrict, we stop, laugh, and then try again. When they can sing extended phrases with freedom on /a/, we go to the words. In this step, we stop monitoring since the end goal is not rigid positioning but rather flexible freedom in the throat.

Do you use the silent laugh or other similar Estill exercises in lessons? Do you have other exercises for achieving the same goal? If so, please share below. If you are not yet following the blog, please submit your name and email address in the comment form (no comment necessary) and you will be added to the mailing list, ensuring you receive each new post in your email. If you enjoyed this post, please share it on social media to spread the word about Evidence-Based Voice Pedagogy.

Want to learn more about Evidence-Based Voice Pedagogy? Consider joining us at the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute this summer in beautiful Winchester, VA. Our faculty includes experts from a wide range of backgrounds who respect the work that has gone into all methods of vocal training and love helping other teachers learn how to apply science to tradition while also teaching new approaches. Best of all, it is a fun, positive, and supportive atmosphere where teachers are encouraged to find their own pedagogical voice to help keep the world singing.

Thanks for reading and have a great week of teaching!


Matt Edwards is an Associate Professor of Voice/Director of Musical Theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA, and Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute. He is the author of “So You Want to Sing Rock ‘N Roll” and dozens of articles and book chapters on functional voice training for non-classical styles. For more information visit 

2 comments on “Mix it up Monday: The Silent Laugh

  1. Pato Podo
    July 31, 2019

    Please add me to your mailing list.


  2. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: How to allow placement to reveal itself (pt. 2) | Matt Edwards

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This entry was posted on March 25, 2019 by in Misc. Thoughts.

Ranked the #1 New Release in "Vocal and Singing" on (October 2014), "So You Want To Sing Rock 'N' Roll?" covers voice science, vocal health, technique, style, and how to find your artistic voice in a way that is beneficial to both singers and teachers. Order your copy today!

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