Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Teaching Lower Laryngeal Position with EMG Biofeedback

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Teaching Lower Laryngeal Position with EMG Biofeedback

Article excerpt


BECAUSE OF THE RATHER COMPLEX AND DETAILED NATURE of the following research, data, and findings, it is expedient to lead the reader into the deep waters of initiation with a more lighthearted parable, lest s/he be frightened away from this exciting research by the dry, technical jargon that will necessarily prevail throughout most of the paper.

If singing were a religion, it would surely have many commandments: thou shalt stand uprightly before all men and maintain a noble posture; thou shalt drink water continually; thou shalt array thyself professionally and modestly; thou shalt not clear thy throat habitually; thou shalt release thine abdomen and keep thy shoulders relaxed when thou takest in the breath of life; thou shalt breathe silently; etc.

The Master Teacher would minister faithfully to his disciple voice students with the soberness and gravitas of a prophet. One can imagine if the Master were confronted by his disciples with the question, "Master, which of all the commandments is the greatest?"

He would probably answer something like this: "Thou shalt sing with a vibrant tone, and thou shalt sing with a focused, resonant tone. Upon these two great commandments hinge all of the law." Most classical voice teachers (priests and priestesses of the faith) can agree on these two basic principles. A vibrant tone sounds free and facile; a focused and resonant tone sounds clear, rich in color, and effortlessly strong. There are diverse paths (various breathing and breath management techniques) people traverse in search of these two great ideals, but ultimately the breath of life must pass through that strait (not straight) and narrow laryngeal gate to reach the expanse of heaven without the body. Then as it reaches the Master's ears, the singer is judged according to his sounds, whether they are good or bad, beautiful or ugly, strong or weak.

The focus of this article is that strait and narrow gate that leads to vocal sound-the larynx. More specifically, the following discourse explores a new and innovative way to teach singers how to maintain the lower laryngeal position while singing, a component of classical singing technique that many consider essential to achieving a vibrant, focused, and resonant tone.

Singing, like most things humans endeavor to do, is part spiritual and part physical. Learning to sing involves faith, works, diligence, trials, judgment, chastisement, repentance, and, occasionally, glorious transfiguration. Nevertheless, it is by small and simple physical works that all these vocal sounds are brought to pass. Therefore, components of singing can be measured and quantified to some extent. Though the methods employed in this research are admittedly cold and scientific, the results are statistically significant and even transformational for some of the participants.


One of the most significant physiological differences between the singing of a classically trained singer and an untrained singer is the position of the larynx. Untrained singers usually sing with a natural, speech-like laryngeal posture, which for most people is a neutral or slightly elevated laryngeal position. The neutral laryngeal position is easily maintained when one sings, so long as the sung pitch does not exceed the comfortable speaking range.

As an untrained singer ascends the scale and exceeds the comfortable speaking range, increased subglottic breath pressure pushes the larynx higher from beneath, while compensatory tension in the laryngeal elevator muscles reflexively pulls it up from above. The result is a shorter, more constricted vocal tract and a strained vocal tone.

It is very difficult to sing "high" notes with the high larynx posture because: 1) throat tension causes physical discomfort; and 2) the resonance properties of the vocal tract in its shortened and constricted state are not optimal for beautifying and amplifying the sung pitch. …

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