Being a Singer

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Understanding Throat Tension
(Part of thread "The Press")

Why do we need a stable throat?

Having learned in the previous article that the vowels are created in a very special way for singing, it is not hard to understand why we need to calm and eventually totally eliminate all involuntary changes, movements or stiffness which may happen in the throat. 

While the throat is tightening, lifting, stiffening or doing anything at all that is not totally under our artistic control, we are unable to sing freely and successfully. Singing is difficult and the required level of precision is enormous. A major part of the physical act of singing could be described as 'throat dancing' or 'making a series of specific and extremely precise movements in the throat and mouth'.

Clearly if a part of the throat is jumping about unpredictable or is tight and stiff, the above cannot be accomplished. 

The Rising Larynx

It is quite natural, although incorrect for singing purposes, for the larynx to move upward in the throat as we pitch our voices higher. A considerable part of a singer's training effort must go towards eliminating this action. 

A rising larynx is a bad thing for several reasons: As the larynx rises, the throat constricts, the shape of the vowel is compromised, the cords cannot function in normal singing mode, the singer feels discomfort ... among other things. Simply put, an uncontrolled, rising larynx destroys singing. 

Note that there will be some movement in the larynx during the production of different vowels. It is uncontrolled and 'reaching' movement that is the problem. The question of where, exactly the larynx should be positioned (as low as possible? in its neutral position?) is a complex one and one which opens the door to many of the more sophisticated stylistic effects. It is dealt with at Intermediate and Advanced level under the subject 'Foundation Vowel'. 

Rising larynx occurs for two main reasons. Firstly because we feel that we need to 'reach up' to the high notes, which induces the larynx to rise. Secondly the larynx rises under the influence of the air coming from the lungs and forcing through the closed cords. The pressure under the larynx causes it to rise. 

Throat Tension

A second major issue in the throat, allied to but separate from rising larynx is throat tension. 

A rising larynx will induce throat tension, but throat tension can arise in many other ways as well. It can also be quite hard to identify, especially if the singer is an individual who is prone to back and shoulder or facial tension. 

We may well achieve a correct vowel, but this does not mean we are free of tension. For example if you hold your arm out horizontally to the side, you can do it relaxed at first and then after a moment you can tighten all the muscles in your arm. The arm is still where it was, it looks the same, but inside there are muscles working away real hard and doing nothing useful. 

Tension in the throat is bad because it will make the movements of singing jerky rather than smooth. Both pitch movement and sonic movement will be clumpy and inaccurate. It will prevent or hinder the cords from entering the upper register, and will cause register breaks and sudden unasked-for shifts. It will cause the tone to be metallic, strident or nasal. 

There's more but it's clear by now, that throat tension, like rising larynx, destroys singing.