Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Raising and lowering the Larynx - should you?


How high or low the larynx should be in your neck when you sing is steeped in controversy and misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it's also important. Get it too wrong and you have big vocal problems.

Voice teachers don't always agree on what is best. If I understand it correctly, the Speech Level Singing method of Seth Riggs (SLS) teaches that you should always have your larynx at the same level that you speak (#3).  However, vocal coach Lisa Popiel suggests that there are times you would be correct to slightly raise or lower the larynx. She names 5 laryngeal positions... that some rock singing and saucy musical theater uses the more raised position (#2), while classical, cabaret jazz and some R&B singing uses a slightly lowered position (#4). She admonishes that no one should ever use positions #1 (very raised) or #5 (very lowered).

Here's what I think and have experience: As long as you only raise or lower the larynx so that you don't feel your throat or experience strain or fatigue, this is fine. In fact, as a session singer (stunt singer, I call it), I have to do this to blend with all kinds of voices and styles in recording. It's a way to get more tone colors and emotions. Musical theater needs these choices, too.

In fact, it's not just slight raising and lowering that must be allowed. To accomplish higher notes, the larynx needs to be free to tilt in your neck! Tension in and around the larynx can interfere with these movements.

However, and it's a great big however, you must not lower or raise your larynx to the point that you become aware of it. That will get you vocal problems. Most popular genre singing really should be in the middle position, with the larynx comfortably floating and tilting in the throat.

What can you do if you are raising or lowering your voice box (larynx) too much?

Learning to PULL instead of PUSH your voice, as taught in Power, Path & Performance method, is the best way I've found to protect your delicate and precious vocal instrument, and will help you immensely. This pulling instead of pushing sound, among other things, allows the larynx to determine it's best position with no outside interference. Also...

I'm going to tell you about a cool exercise I adapted for my students from yet another great voice teacher, Jeannie Deva:

Lightly place the tips of two fingers on top of your adam's apple. For females, this bump is not so pronounced... feel for it in the middle of the front of your neck. This is where the vocal cords are attached at one end, inside the thyroid cartilage. Now, just let your fingers be "brain flashlights" and simply don't allow any strain there as you sing. It's an amazing trick when your larynx tries to lift for high notes. Keeping the larynx from lifting makes those high notes just float out!

For low notes, try this to keep your larynx from lowering too much: Stand tall and put your hand on your sternum and try to pull your voice from there. Don't bend over or down to get the notes. Be aware of the vibration and definitely keep your chest open.

These are great voice teachers I've named in this post. It can get confusing, I know, when experts differ. All I can be sure of is what I've experienced that WORKS, and this should be your criteria, too. From my experience, I say mostly just keep your larynx happily floating, actually rocking a bit, in the center of your neck. If you sing correctly, even with a SLIGHTLY lower or higher laryngeal position, you should not be aware of your throat at all.

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9 Comments :

  • At June 27, 2008 at 1:00 AM , Blogger Leigh Ann, MyFamilyDoctor Mag said...

    I loved that exercise of putting your fingers on your throat and feeling your larynx. That helped put all this into perspective for me.

    I think this was a great post, illustrating that even experts can differ, but the bottom line is: What gets the sound you want but doesn't hurt your voice? I like your position--that you shouldn't notice your throat. That's a practical way to put it.

    I also appreciate being given the freedom to raise and lower the larynx just a bit. This does allow for different sounds, like that musical theater one you mentioned.

    Thanks for this informative post.

     
  • At June 27, 2008 at 5:39 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Leigh Ann...I love it when people try what I suggest and give me feedback- it really does all come down to the question: Does it work - for YOU? Thanks for commenting and letting me know!

     
  • At September 26, 2013 at 12:50 AM , Anonymous Eisa said...

    The larynx has to be taught to be kept as low as possible, whether it's classical or pop. If the singer pushes and the larynx is allowed to rise, the vocal cords will become weak and the harmonics responsible for breathy and weak sound are always amplified. A person will sing with a high larynx position because they assume the vocal cords will have better compression at a higher texture, but in reality they are just hanging onto a extremely minimal amount of closure, after which a certain point, the voice will break because it can't do anything else in that position.

    This is unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with aspiring singers, and vocal coaches need to understand it more.

     
  • At September 26, 2013 at 7:04 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Elisa, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I respectfully disagree with your opinions. Nothing I have studied or experienced in 40 years of professional singing leads me to thinking the larynx should be kept as low as possible... in fact, I find it vocally unhealthy, stressful and sonically undesirable to do so. Your reasoning here seems unsound and inaccurate. Yes, 'vocal coaches need to understand it more'. You don't have to take my word for this; if you do some further research into the field, studying other top coaches and the findings of voice science, I think you'll find that the floating sensation of the larynx in the neck is the goal for best and most efficient the operation of the vocal mechanism throughout the range.

     
  • At September 27, 2013 at 1:09 AM , Anonymous Eisa said...

    It's me again. When I said the larynx should be lowered as much as possible, I didn't mean one should sing that way, just that one should train that way. I wouldn't and don't sing with a 100% lowered larynx because that would be ridiculous. Singing does indeed have a neutral laryngeal position like you've pointed out, But without controlling/lowering the larynx towards a neutral position, the lower high notes will lack power and the upper high notes will lack resonance. That's a simple fact of singing and no amount of actions with a larynx that's too high will ever fix those problems. So my point was, don't get in the habit of letting the larynx go too high, because that doesn't really accomplish anything.

     
  • At September 27, 2013 at 7:46 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Eisa... I completely agree with you here...I also find that an over- raised larynx is one of the most prevalent causes of vocal dysfunction in contemporary voice.

    I appreciate your thoughts about this very important subject. I enjoy the discussion, and I feel it helps us all to bat these concepts about and raise our own awareness as coaches, as you said!

     
  • At February 4, 2014 at 4:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Interesting.

    I would not disagree.

    But,as a singer with 25 years experience onstage doing classical roles, you would think I might have a strong opinion on this.

    I will add my two bits worth.

    I have heard singers with higher and lower and variable positions, all who have fine careers.

    So, we have to be careful about making any "rules". Louis Armstrong had the worst cheek control I have ever seen, but it did not stop him from playing the trumpet. Franco Bonisolli used a very low larynx, and he was the best Calaf I ever heard.

    What I have observed...a variable position allows for differing colours; a high position thins the sound but can make the top easier for some; a lowered position darken the tone, and requires more effort and caution, as the voice be over-driven, but it works for many singers.

    Myself, I have evolved into a variable floating posture, but mainly neutral. I find that suits me, as I have easy top notes and a bright tone.

    So, I suppose you could say that my own singing mirrors your thesis.

    Corelli started his career with a very low larynx, and ended it with a more neutral position. I liked both, as the former was great for Italian repertoire, and the latter suited the French.

    For students, I would say start with a slightly lowered position, as it will help strengthen tone. For professionals, whatever works is right, although extreme low is going to be very dark, and extreme high is going to be shallow and (for me)uncomfortable.

    But, in the end, if it works onstage with orchestra, then dare I say, it is right. And,in that case, you will find a wide range of right.

     
  • At February 4, 2014 at 8:14 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thank you for your important balance to this subject. We must indeed be careful creating 'rules' in the arts. I agree with everything you've said. I would add that it 'works' as long as it doesn't cause vocal strain and fatigue... OR ear strain and displeasure from the listeners to the singer's chosen genre. Thank you again for your thoughtful comment!

     
  • At April 9, 2014 at 2:22 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I have been singing for 30 years and have worked in shows such as My fair lady, Cats, etc. A couple of years ago I thought I would investigate Speech level singing, as it was something I thought may be useful. I paid a yearly joining fee and went to a few workshops with a SLS instuctor from Canada, ( which cost be a small fortune) as well as a trainer in Melbourne Australia. It was the biggest load of rubbish I have ever experienced. The trainer was constantly telling me to push my Larynx down, which really hurt!!! so much I lost my voice. With Classical technique low Larynx singing is fine, but trying to belt sing with this is impossible, I sounded like a dying cat. I found this very dangerous and the amount of money I had to pay was shocking. I am so glad i went back to my old method. I would love some feedback on this, Regards Jennie, Melbourne, Australia

     

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