Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
While a slightly raised larynx can provide a beneficial acoustic boost for some CCM singers, it can also become problematic. If you work with musical theatre performers who primarily sing contemporary rep, and are trying to learn how to sing “legit,” it is especially important for them to be able to find a neutral laryngeal position. And of course, choral and classical singers must be able to find a comfortably neutral to low position in order to create the desired chiaroscuro timbre that is a trademark of these styles. Dr. Scott McCoy offers a simple approach in his article “Five Things” in the March/April 2019 issue of the “Journal of Singing.”
“We begin simply by instructing the student to “pant like a puppy.” Once that coordination is accomplished, we alternate between the sound of a chihuahua and a retriever, inducing the air to move at two different apparent pitches. The student feels and hears the difference but might not immediately notice that the larynx is moving higher and lower in its position within the neck. Once that connection is made, we begin with a simple pattern of three to four ascending/descending pitches, preceded by the low panting breath while maintaining the sensation in the throat and neck. This exercise must begin at a pitch that is toward the bottom of the student’s range. Once s/he gets the hang of starting the tone from the panting position, it just becomes of matter of continuing the sensation with (slowly) ascending pitch. Don’t expect an immediate miracle – you are dealing with a deeply ingrained habit. But progress on which to build has been made.” (McCoy, p. 432-3)
I also find panting helpful if the student is struggling with straw phonation or blowfish. By alternating between small dog and large dog, you can help them find a relaxed throat instead of the narrow tube created by the smaller dog pant. When students find this quality, it may seem wrong because at first it is going to sound different to them. If they respond to placement sensations, the new production may not appear to be as “forward” to them. McCoy addresses this as well:
“There is a major obstacle at this point: your singer probably thinks s/he is producing an artificial tone that is far too dark. The reason for this perception is readily apparent; when the larynx is lowered, the vocal tract is lengthened, and all resonant frequencies drop in tandem. A quick field trip to a stairwell, restroom, or other hyper resonant space usually is sufficient to demonstrate that the fundamental voice quality has not changed.” (McCoy, p. 433)
I love the stairwell outside of my office and use it any time I encounter a doubting student. After they have alternated between the old and the new in the stairwell, they realize how much easier the relaxed position is and how much more bang they can get for their buck. My belters who access a strong head voice for the first time are especially surprised by what they hear in the stairwell.
Do you have other indirect ways to help your clients find a lower laryngeal position? You can add to the conversation by commenting below. You can also find other posts on the subject here, here, and here. If you are not yet following the blog, please sign up to ensure you receive each new post in your email.
Thanks for reading and have a great week of teaching!
Matt Edwards is an Associate Professor of Voice/Coordinator of Musical Theatre Voice 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 EdwardsVoice.com