(2) The Importance of a Balanced, Stable Larynx:... - Voice Soaring Studios | Jeff Alani Stanfill

The Importance of a Balanced, Stable Larynx: Part 2 Good morning everyone. Winter is here in the northeast with a chill factor of 4 degree celsius. That's mighty cold and a good excuse to stay in the warmth of my home, at least until I finish this post. As I mentioned yesterday, Leona Matthews began the process of unlocking my breath and relaxing my throat muscles, which allowed the larynx to drop into a more comfortable position. David Jones continued that work with a series of exercises that gave my voice and larynx more stability. One of the first things the Maestro asked me to do was to pronounce the 5 Italian vowels: ah eh ee oh and u. He was surprised that even after years of study with other teachers, my vowels still had a hint of diphthong in them, a holdover from a still evident southern accent. In fact, after I pronounced the vowels he said "Well Jeff, I can sure tell you are from the south!" He then proceeded to pronounce the vowels back to me the way he heard me say them. It was embarrassing to learn that years of study had done little to correct this issue. I left that lesson determined to master the correct pronunciation of the Italian vowels until there was no hint of a diphthong, or southern accent. As the vowels became clearer, I could once again feel my larynx dropping with each onset of sound. It was amazing and liberating to know that something so simple could do so much good. For years I had over-compressed my breath, so much so that the larynx was forced into a higher position. This caused a squeeze of the laryngeal muscles as they tried to hold my larynx down. The body is amazing like that. Even though the larynx will not pop out of the throat, the body reacts as if it will by engaging the swallowing muscles to hold it down. This creates not only tension in the throat, but pain as well. The next step in my journey to defining the correct position of the larynx was to add exercises that encouraged the larynx to stay neutral on ascending scales. One exercise that David gave which made the most difference was a simple scale built on: 5 8 5 3 1. In the key of C major this is G C G E C. The vowel used on this scale is u (ooh) with the consonant R in front of the vowel. The R needs to be rolled at the onset to release the tongue and the idea is to feel the vowel drop down onto the sternum as the scale ascends (laryngeal tilt). I remember how incredible this exercise felt in that lesson way back in 2000. David had me place my hand on my sternum to feel the tracheal vibration and to assist in sub-glottic compression. Placing the hand on the sternum during the scale forces the back rib cage to open, thus setting up resistance in the breath and just the right amount of compression to keep the vocal folds closed on the ascent. The exercise is at once aggressive and liberating. I was surprised how high I could take this exercise without feeling my larynx pop up, and without tension in my throat muscles. As David took the exercise higher and higher, he could see the look of fear and jubilance on my face, and he just kept giving me that reassuring look of "Everything will be alright. You're in good hands now!" At the end of that lesson my body was tired, but my throat was not. It was amazing. I began to incorporate this exercise and many similar ones into my daily vocal workout routine. Over a period of about 3 months, I began to explore music that I had previously been afraid to sing, mostly because I couldn't deal with the pain associated with singing anything above the staff. Suddenly the music of Journey or even arias from composers such as Donnizzetti and Rossinni no longer seemed out of reach. When the larynx is stable and in a slightly lower position (emphasis on "slightly lower"), the vocal folds are free to stretch and lengthen for higher pitches. When teaching this concept to my students, I often use the analogy of driving up a hill in a car and listening for gear changes on the ascent. In most cars the gear changes on a steep hill will be minimal at best. Any abrupt change could throw the car into reverse or strip the gears all together. I once heard a vocal coach say "We never want the larynx to follow us up the scale". She was right! The larynx needs to stay as neutral as possible for as long as possible for ascending pitches. Otherwise it will feel like a car making an abrupt gear change up a hill. At some point, the larynx will come up for the higher pitches as it has to. But that rise in the larynx needs to be as smooth and as un-jolting as possible to so that the audience does not hear the change. In my instructional DVD/CD "Let Your Voice Soar", the exercise described in this post is demonstrated and defined as are several other exercises to keep the larynx in a neutral position. The program is available from the website as a download at: www.voicesoaring.com. Have a great day everyone and stay warm! Peace and Harmony, Jeff


Jeffrey Stanfill