Larynx In The Sky

There is general consensus from decades of research that belting raises the larynx in most people. The degree to which it is raised can be anything from a little to a whole lot. The position of the Speech Language Pathologists has always been that a raised larynx is by definition hyper-functional. That would be under all conditions and circumstances. The conclusion, therefore, was that belting was hyperfunctional.

This flies in the face of common sense life experience, however, since there are clearly people belting and not losing their voices or having other vocal health issues. And, there are clearly people who speak in a loud, brassy manner habitually (which is what belting should be) and who do not have vocal issues either.

The issue becomes then, COMFORT. How comfortable can you be if your larynx is riding just under your hyoid bone? The answer, of course, is quite comfortable. People do it every day.

How do you become comfortable? There are many possible answers. One would be that the larynx never descended to a normal level during maturation. Two would be that as a child you sang in a belting sound, got used to it, and kept it into adulthood. Three would be that you learned to belt gradually over time and your throat become acclimatized to that adjustment. Four would be that you took lessons with someone who taught you to do that through vocal exercises.

But what if you are not comfortable? What if you don’t feel good or sound good, even though you can make the sound well enough to function?

When the larynx sits very high in the throat and the throat is quite constricted, the tongue gets squeezed and the space in the back of the throat at the top of it, near the soft palate, is made quite small. All of these conditions contribute not only to general tongue tension and jaw tension (indirectly) but also to a shrill thin bleety sound. The remedy for that would be keeping the mouth very open (jaw dropped) for high and loud notes and open vowels like /a/ and /o/ (father and open). The closed vowels like /i/ and /u/ (free and true) become nearly impossible to sing with resonance of any kind so they sound thin or distorted or both, particularly as the pitch rises. None of this is optimal or even necessary when belting is done well, but it is typical of the behavior and the sound that one hears in all sorts of music and singers at this moment.

Further, the larynx riding very high increases the possibility of vocal fatigue, of flatting, of muscle tension dysphonia and of making the overall sound quality of the voice uneven and unpleasant. But guess what? Having the larynx ride  up as far as possible is a direct goal of a very popular method of singing training. It can work well enough if you want to do loud R&B riffs on super high pitches, but it absolutely doesn’t work if you want to sound good during any other kind of sound-making.

Further, if you want to breathe deeply and easily, so you could stay connected to your actual emotional expression, keeping your larynx tucked up into the highest place in your throat where it can go, will absolutely stop you from doing so. And, if you are typical, you won’t notice any of this until and unless you (a) have a vocal or musical issue or (b) someone points out to you another way to work with your voice. You might not have a clue in the world as to where your larynx is but you would have a sense of “something’s wrong” even if you can’t explain what it is.

Singing is not yelling. Yelling is yelling. Singing and yelling are not the same. Yelling, however, on a sustained pitch on a single vowel often passes for singing these days, and it does so because it is impressive and “exciting”, although perhaps not very moving. Or maybe not even a little moving.

If you want to sing like you are yelling, there are hundreds of people who will help you get there. If you don’t want to sing like that, but you still want to belt, and to sing CCM styles well, you need to look into training that takes you to a better place. It exists, but it’s up to you to find it.

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