In one of the previous articles, we talked about the importance of singing with an open throat. It gives your voice more room to resonate, so creates a warmer and rounder tone with more timbre. A tone’s steadiness is the result of singing with an open throat and the correct use of breath support.
But if you don’t sing with an open throat and use breath support, you run the risk of singing with constriction. That is something you definitely want to avoid because it’s stressful, harmful for the voice, and doesn’t sound good!
How constriction arises
Constriction is a thing almost every singer, including me, had to deal with at some point. It mostly takes place in the upper chest voice, around the flip/break to head voice, so in the area where both voice registers can be used. This is due to the fact that the higher you sing, the more air pressure is needed. And in order to regulate this air pressure, you need to use proper breath support.
If that isn’t the case you quickly lose a lot of air and your larynx (voice box) comes up. You automatically tense up the jaw, the tongue partly closes off the throat and thus the throat muscles tense to compensate for this loss of breath support and air. The combination of a high larynx and closed-up throat produces a very constricted and tense sound that is often out of tune. Furthermore, it impairs the sound, the volume, and the timbre of the voice. Some untrained singers sing louder to offset the poor volume and timbre, but this is tiring and straining the voice and can be damaging.
The Tongue, Jaw, and Larynx
It’s clear that the tongue can’t just lie on the floor of our mouth when we sing, but it also shouldn’t be too active. However many singers move the tongue too much, which creates tension. I want to underline that the tongue should be relaxed because it is connected to the jaw and larynx, so can influence their condition. If the jaw and larynx are tensed, due to the tongue’s movement, constriction arises, and that’s what we want to avoid. To prevent constriction it is important to start with the root of the problem which is often a tensed tongue. Let’s check out some exercises that can help you to have a relaxed tongue, an elastic jaw, and a resting larynx.
When the tongue is relaxed it just lies on the floor of the mouth. To be able to really feel the difference between a tensed and a relaxed tongue, one can do the following exercise.
🏋🏾EXERCISE. Relaxed tongue
To experience the feeling of a relaxed tongue, push your tongue against your lower teeth as hard as possible, count to 10, and release. Repeat this movement a couple of times and try to feel the difference in tension.
A relaxed jaw is a dropped jaw. But the Jaw shouldn’t be actively pushed down or to the front, we want to let the jaw drop open using gravity, rather than muscle. When you let the jaw drop open, it’s important, that it also swings towards the back. This is a natural movement you also do while yawning.
🏋🏾EXERCISE. Relaxed jaw
Let your head drop back into your neck and pretend you fell asleep with an open mouth. Now bring the head forward to a normal position and keep the jaw position.
High larynx – swallowing
Low larynx – yawning
But how do we get a neutral larynx?
💡 TRICK. Neutral Larynx
Put your thumb underneath your chin, you will feel a soft area between the chin/jawbones and your larynx. Now swallow once. You will feel this soft part getting tensed while swallowing. As soon as you´re done swallowing and it is relaxed again, try to keep it relaxed and sing a note. It is important that the muscles you are touching with your thumb, stay inactive! Don’t tense up! Now sing a little melody keeping these jaw/chin muscles inactive and relaxed. This is how a neutral larynx should feel like.
A habit many singers have is that their neck and with it, their head, moves forward when they sing. To really hear how this affects your voice you can do this exercise:
Move your head back – and forward as if you would be imitating a chicken. Do this a couple of times. Now add a note in a comfortable pitch and continue doing the movement, how does the sound change?
When your head and chin go forward, the sound gets softer, and the timbre gets weaker. Through the forward movement of your head, the throat space gets smaller, and there’s less place for resonance to take place. You can compare your vocal tract to a garden hose, just that instead of water, air comes through it. When you bend a hose, the water stream gets interrupted and less water comes out. The exact same thing happens when you bend your head forwards, the airflow has to go through a tighter opening, the sound gets softer and has fewer overtones. So instead of bending your head forward out of some old habit, try to keep your neck aligned to your body.
📌TIP. Neck alignment
One way to get rid of the habitual forward motion of your head is for example standing against a wall while vocalizing and focusing on your head continuously touching the wall.
- Best exercise for a low larynx – Mark Baxter
- Jaw Position Singing – Victoria
- Singing From The Inside Out – Ineke van Doorn
- How to eliminate jaw, throat and neck tension for singers – Marnell Sample