One of the most commonly overlooked components of good singing that I see in students as well as advanced singers already working in music is the position of the larynx.
The larynx is just another name for the voicebox or Adam’s apple and both men and women have one.
In order for you to achieve a singing sound that has great quality throughout your entire range (also called the tessitura), it’s vital that you learn to keep a low-to-neutral larynx position on every single note that you sing. I want to make something really clear – I’m NOT advocating jamming the larynx down forcefully. That’s a bad habit that engages swallowing muscles that aren’t involved in singing. In fact, you can let the larynx rise a little, and there’s an optimal range of laryngeal movement. How do you know what that range is? You’ll be able to both hear it in the quality of the sound that comes out as well as feel it in terms of how much or how little tension you experience in that part of your body while you’re singing.
So what’s the big deal about keeping the larynx low? Well, what it does is it literally frees up space in the pharynx (the larger area of your throat) which allows sound to resonate.
It’s also the way the voice was meant to function from a musculature perspective. Many singers experience high levels of tension in areas such as the tongue, neck, jaw, shoulders, etc. Part of this tension is a result of overcompensating when singing which is often associated with a high larynx position. Therefore, many vocal tensions can be eliminated partially or completely by keeping a neutral larynx position.
I used to tell people to depress the larynx with the back of the tongue, but now I’ve come to believe that it’s a harmful practice that trains swallowing muscles to engage when they have no business participating in your beautiful songs! Instead, you should pretend like you’re sniffing a bouquet of fragrant roses as you inhale through your nose and you’re really savoring the scented air coming in through your nostrils. You’ll notice that as you do this, your voice box gently sinks back and down, where it should remain, more or less, as you sing. But again, you have to give it a little liberty to move around, but not too much – find your optimum range!
The concept of keeping a neutral larynx is actually based on simple human anatomy. When the larynx rises it engages the sphincter muscles that close the throat, making sound production very difficult. This is a fundamental concept in Speech Level Singing, or SLS, and they greatly emphasize the position of the larynx as a major component in freedom of singing and freedom from tension during singing. The reason this works is because muscles have partnerships with one another to protect the body – these muscles are called “antagonists” of one another, and they’re the reason that you can’t sneeze and keep your eyes open at the same time.