Larynx as a valve – Part 2 – the perils of “air flow”

Dandelion blowing in the wind


This is a follow-up to my previous post on “the valve”.

If the glottis is not closed enough, then large volumes of air can escape without making sound. This is not efficient, but it can give the singer a sensation of “flow”. Feeling the air moving out of the body can be a pleasant sensation in its own right, but as with the sensation of resisting the air in the throat, if you can feel it, you’re overdoing it.

In singing with a microphone, many variations in glottal closure can work, especially at lower volumes and pitches. As things ramp up, however, maximum vocal bang for the buck will come with efficient use of air. If you can actually feel the air moving through your throat, or make a candle’s flame flicker a few inches in front of your mouth while singing, you are leaking!

In classical voice teaching, some teachers are teaching a “flow phonation”. Yes, there is a passage of air through the folds, or else there wouldn’t be sound. However, the volume of air escaping should be tiny and imperceptible to the singer. Many modern classical singers have the syndrome of depressed larynx, loose glottis and blowing like crazy to make “big” sounds. This is abusive, and it sounds bad. Listen to what people do with their voices to imitate “opera singers”. The great singers did not sound like that. The greats had very efficient phonation that did not require vast volumes of air to be driven through a huge dark tunnel.

Both squeezing the throat to control the air and blowing large volumes of air are bad for singing. The balance point has to be found for each person, in his own body, over time. When efficiency starts to come in, it feels and sounds very good, and the singer is encouraged to continue on that path. Sadly, some singers get there, or even begin there, but after losing it, have no idea how to get it back. Then they retire and teach. Yikes.

2 Replies to “Larynx as a valve – Part 2 – the perils of “air flow””

  1. For sure. I can’t help but think that all this ‘flow phonation’ results in a WEAKENING of the mechanism as the larynx attempts to hold back the onslaught of air being hurled at it. I’ve not found a whole LOT of singers not trained in overt breath management that didn’t have breathy voices as a result. I also think the concept of ‘flow phonation’ is more descriptive of the choral experience, where singers need a homogenous blend. (This is something I picked up in Stark’s “Bel Canto,” where he advocates firm phonation à la Manuel Garcia.)

    Oh, and all that flowing breath won’t get you through the passaggio if the larynx isn’t properly functioning.

    Thanks once again for your great posts!

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