Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Raising and lowering the Larynx - should you? UPDATED 2022


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How high or low should your larynx be when you sing? This question is steeped in controversy and misunderstanding. However, it's also vitally important. Get it too wrong and you'll have some big vocal problems.

The controversy


Voice teachers don't always agree on what's best. If I understand it correctly (and please note I am not an expert in this kind of training), the Speech Level Singing (or SLS) method of Seth Riggs teaches that you should always have your larynx at the same level that you speak.  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, from #1 which is very raised to #5 which is very lowered.
  • She suggests that some rock singing and saucy musical theater tends to use a slightly more raised position (#2),
  • while classical, cabaret jazz and some R&B singing requires a slightly lowered position (#4). 
  • She warns that no one should ever use positions #1 (very raised) or #5 (very lowered).
Vocal coach Molly Webb also advises a movable larynx, and discusses the possible origins of the 'stable larynx' training. Quoting her from her article:

The larynx does (and should) move when you sing, and not just for controversial techniques like belting. Even in classical singing, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies have confirmed that the larynx gently rises up on the higher pitches, and depresses on the lower ones.

Here's what I recommend, from my experience with my and my clients' voices: 


As long as you only raise or lower the larynx so that you don't feel your throat or experience strain or fatigue, what you're doing is fine. In fact, as a session singer (or stunt singer, as I call it), I have to do sometimes over-do this to blend with all kinds of voices and styles for recording. Changing the level of the larynx is a way to create more tone colors than usual. Various character roles in musical theater can require more unusual tone choices, too.

In fact, it's not just slight raising and lowering that we need to allow. To accomplish higher notes, the thyroid cartilage which comprises the largest part of the larynx needs to be free to tilt in your neck! Tension in and around the larynx from trying to keep the Adam's apple stationary can interfere with these movements. What's the Adam's apple you say? Officially named the larygeal prominence, it's the pointy front of the thyroid cartilage that sticks out as a bump right in the middle of the neck. It's very noticeable in a man but a woman has a small one, too. I like to call it 'Eve's apple'! The front end of the vocal cords are attached directly behind it.

However, and it's a great big 'however', you should not lower or raise your larynx to the point that you become aware of it. That will give you vocal problems. Most contemporary genre singing really should be in what Lisa Popiel would call #3, the middle position, with the larynx freely and comfortably floating and tilting in the throat.

What can you do if your Adam's apple and larynx are too stationary, not free to move?


Well, a real ninja trick that works here is to get your jaw dropping and moving more flexibly in a bit of a chewing circle. A freer jaw will let the base of your tongue relax so it relaxes its tense restriction on the movement of the hyoid bone, which is the top of your larynx. To paraphrase the old song 'the jawbone's (indirectly) connected to the hyoid bone...'

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 my 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 for sound, among other things, allows the larynx to determine it's best position with no outside interference. Also...

Here is a very effective exercise I adapted for my students from yet another great voice teacher, the late Jeannie Deva:

Lightly touch your adam's apple with the tips of your fingers. Feel for it in the middle of the front of your neck; and ladies it will just be a little bump. Again, this is where the vocal cords are attached at one end, inside the thyroid cartilage. Now, just let your fingers be "brain flashlights" and make a mental intention not to tense the area under your fingers as you sing. It's an amazing tactic when your larynx tries to lift for high notes. Notice how high notes, including higher middle voice notes, just float out almost effortlessly instead of strain!

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. It will help your lower notes sound rich, not hooty, and will feel better, too. Don't bend over or down to get the notes. Be aware of the vibration and keep your chest open.

In conclusion: Go with what WORKS:


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. Allowing it the freedom to move slightly lower or higher should give your voice a wider range without strain!

Want some incredibly effective vocal exercises to get this right? Either book a lesson with me or get one of my vocal training products, all of which include not only exercises, but how to do them.

Want to see more detail? 


Here's a great video tutorial put out by AnatomyZone. For shortcuts, go to:
  • 1:45 min for the hyoid bone.
  • 4:45 min for the thyroid cartilage and the laryngeal prominence (Adam's apple).

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11 Comments :

  • At June 27, 2008 at 1:00 AM , Blogger LA 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 Unknown 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

     
  • At January 24, 2021 at 6:08 PM , Blogger jim said...

    i have been told by specilists they felt i have spasmodic dysphonia. I have time again trying to lower my larynx for reading. Itsa constant thought but seams to be working with breath support.

     
  • At January 25, 2021 at 8:22 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Jim... I'm glad you've found something that seems to help your SD. I, too, have found that when I help someone with SD stabilize the larynx and diaphragm with posture and technique, it temporarily stabilizes the voice. I have written three blogposts on SD that might interest you. https://blog.judyrodman.com/2009/06/spasmodic-dysphonia-what-is-this.html
    https://blog.judyrodman.com/2009/06/spasmotic-dysphonia-causes-and.html
    https://blog.judyrodman.com/2009/06/spasmotic-dysphonia-causes-and.html

     

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