Sustainable Strategies in Vocal Technique

You might find a new way of doing something that gets you a result you like, but can you keep doing it healthily and happily?

Let’s look at one of the primary vocal domains in which this question arises: timbre, i.e., the type of sound you are making. Other names for this are: tone quality, sound quality, color, harmonic palette, overtone structure, and simply, “sound”. The vocal tract is quite malleable, and responds to our thoughts and underlying concepts, so we can get an infinite number of varying sounds from it.

Case Study:

I have learned that a longer tract seems to make a bigger sound with a stronger fundamental. I’m finding various things to try for this. One is to allow the inhalation to pull the larynx down. If I inhale a little, it goes down a little. If I inhale a large breath, it goes down further. If I focus on it, I can help it along and now the bottom of my tract is a few centimeters lower than it was. It’s boomier and I like that. It sounds richer to me when I hear it back on recordings. It is a sound I would prefer to make compared to the sound I was making before.

I “breathe my larynx down” for several days and see if constant use helps things. I like this new bigger sound, but I notice that it is a little tiring. I wait a few more days and realize that it is is still tiring and feels like a big production at the beginning of every breath. It doesn’t seem to go from “think very hard” to “an easy habit”, even after a lot of repetition. Time to re-evaluate! So I stop thinking about breathing the larynx down at every breath, and I notice that my sound is better than I remember it being before. What?

Here are some ideas about why that might have happened. (With my beloved bullet points, which an editor recently told me I over-use. Ha!)

  • I have let go of my attachment to a certain sound, and am more accepting of whatever comes more easily.
  • There is a helpful artifact from my “breathing the larynx down” exercise that has allowed my larynx to sit a little lower without any effort.
  • Having let go of a certain technical trick, I “go back to basics”. I am slightly wiser and more confident about what is right for me, by knowing yet another thing that is not right for me. I get my basics better.
  • I find another way to accomplish the original goal. In this case of wanting a richer sound, I might find it by a different vocal tract shape, or lifting at the top of the tract rather than stretching the bottom down, or some combination.
  • I am now gravitating toward a different kind of sound to emulate.
  • I stop caring and concentrate on expressing text and music for a while, and decide that “changing my sound” isn’t a priority at the moment. I actually like whatever sound I make when I am expressing something.

It’s only after experience that we can truly know what is right for us. If we don’t have much experience with a particular newness, we need to give it time before keeping it or leaving it. What makes singing both feel and sound better at the same time? I think this is the question that should drive all work on technique. It is a question that any singer at any level can work on.

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

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2 Replies to “Sustainable Strategies in Vocal Technique”

  1. Great points! Also I love bullet points as they quickly and clearly define the main thoughts when I go back to reread. ✅😉

    Question – do you think you may keep that lowered larynx breathing as a regular exercise? Is it a good technique for “teaching” the larynx to stay lower in a general sense?

    Thank you friend! Your posts always make me think! 🎵💯

    1. Hi Karen,

      Great question! I think “breathing it down” shouldn’t be anything more than paying attention to see how much it’s happening. If you try to “make it” descend, it can lead to getting in your own way. Is it where it needs to be? Different builds of singers singing different styles and even different parts of one song can all require a different larynx height. But the suspension of the larynx has to work with so many other variables that you can make yourself crazy trying to make one variable at a time change. It seems to me that in the majority of singers most of the time, the larynx needs to be supple and able to move. We can tell by how the singer is sounding whether things are working right, much better than comparing my Adam’s apple with another tenor’s Adam’s apple.

      For “staying lower in a general sense”, a grounded sense of breathing that lets the air drop into the body easily will usually help the larynx find its proper territory. When that is going well in middle range at medium volumes, then we can watch for sudden lurches when going for high or loud notes.

      But there are many interferences that can pull the larynx up, and they all need to be looked at.

      – Brian

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