Years ago the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, came out clearly as being “against animal testing.” At the time, that was a radical thing for a company selling cosmetics and toiletries to do. Nevertheless, it became a battle cry and made The Body Shop stand out for a long time in a crowded field of similar businesses.
I hereby today, in this blog post, declare that am I against direct manipulation of the structures within the throat while attempting to sing. I am against it in every style, under all circumstances and for all reasons. It is a mistake. Further more, I have been against this for all the decades of my teaching. This is not a new conclusion on my part.
Vocal development is precipitated by vocal stimulation which begins in the mind as a desire to sing a pitch at a certain level of loudness or intensity on a sustained vowel for a specific amount of time using a specific type of vocal quality. The movements provoked by the exercise as a stimulus are spontaneous and occur as a response to exercise. The singer often doesn’t know exactly what will come out until it does. Often there is surprise.
Currently we are in an epidemic of vocal manipulation. Making odd and unnecessary movements of the vocal folds, the larynx and the throat is part of many popular methods of singing training and consumers (voice students) are oblivious to the negative effects such maneuvers have on their overall vocal responsiveness and well-being. Yes, you can, after a fashion, force your throat to do something it has no business doing and you can get used to it and even manage it well enough, but you cannot say such training has no cost. It is painfully costly.
Further, if you regard the throat and body as being “stupid” and in need of force in order for it “do what you want it to do” you can justify treating both badly. Over time, the movements of free vocal production will go away, making manipulation the only possible response to a stimulus to sing a specific tone. That is just awful.
The popular idea that the larynx must always remain down in classical singing is unfortunate. The larynx rides low in the throat because the throat is relaxed. Keeping the larynx down restricts natural movement and makes singing harder. In the end, you lose soft tones, high notes and soft high notes (both together). Bad choice? Just ask the throat of the vocalist.
Another one is that the larynx has to come up for belting. Well, maybe, but the less the better. And should anyone do that deliberately? Absolutely not.
What about singing in any particular place, adjustment or configuration just because you can? Does it help you express music? being alive? communicate something? Unless you are doing it as a “character” probably not.
Manipulation is what’s left when you can’t get your throat to do something you would like it to do so you make it happen. That is a bad idea but it is a very very easy and common thing to do. It makes for bad teaching, bad singing and no honest, unique sounds coming from a human being’s throat. If you are trying to imitate someone else’s voice or style and you have to force your voice to copy that model, you are making a mistake. If you are paying money for someone to teach you how to do that, stop. You are wasting both your time and your money, and, in a way, your life.
If your throat is giving you trouble, something is wrong. Singing should not be ridiculously hard. If it is, something is wrong. Even if it sounds impressive or important or “beautiful,” it’s still wrong. Trust your body. It has no reason to lie to you.