Positioning the Larynx, Moving the Soft Palate

If you are a teacher of singing and you are learning to “move your larynx” or “lift your soft palate” or constrict your throat in any configuration at all, in order to add to your tool box, please, please STOP!!!  You are wasting your time. You are doing things that do not need to happen and you are tying your throat in knots so you can “learn”. Do not practice things that interfere with the free use of your body’s own instincts. You may feel proud of the fact that you can wiggle your soft palate around like a little flag in the back of your mouth, but I seriously doubt that any great singer has ever done that while singing, even as an exercise.

It is literally painful to think that people who should know better  might still believe that “adding” to their teaching expertise would be enhanced by moving their larynx or positioning the soft palate, or doing any other deliberate activity that makes the muscles within the throat do things they do not need to do, things they should never do.  That is exactly not what Somatic Voicework™ advocates.

The body moves when it is free to move. It responds (eventually) to the mind. The mind and the body belong together. The idea that your body is a machine to be beaten into submission goes right along with Western thinking such as “no pain, no gain” and it feeds into the idea that if you do not force the body to “do things” it won’t be capable of doing anything. This is WRONG thinking.

If you trust your body, if you allow it to respond to your deep emotions in ways that human beings react naturally, you do not need to deliberately manipulate anything inside your throat at any time for any reason. Yes, in a skilled singer a lot of things move in a lot of ways. Or, they stay still because they stay still. You cultivate this behavior over time through exercise used as stimulus until the reaction becomes conscious and deliberate. Then you practice it until it becomes muscle memory and you forget about it even though you will use it every day. The way you measure movement or response is through the sound of the singing itself. 

Really, if you find that you treat your body as if it were dumb, you have completely missed the point of how the body operates. Your body is an amazing miracle. It is strongly programmed to stay alive by breathing. It has to go towards wholeness because the will to live is the strongest wiring we have. The body (and the brain) will unconsciously strive to keep your throat as relaxed as possible because that it the easiest way for it to take in oxygen.

THINK, people. THINK. Don’t just go to workshops and do whatever you are presented with. Question all of it. Do some outside study. Find out what the body does before you accept something presented, most particularly if it is presented by someone who cannot sing and sing well. If you are taking guidance from someone who is 40 instead of taking guidance from someone who has been teaching for 45 years, I ask you, “Why would you do that?”

You can do parlor tricks with the structures within your throat or you can learn to sing honesty, expressively and with skill and leave things alone. Your choice.

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5 thoughts on “Positioning the Larynx, Moving the Soft Palate”

  1. Thanks for another interesting post.
    Given all you’ve said, then what is it that lifting one’s palate is supposed to do? Does it change the resonance? Is it an appropriate “something” after the registers are balanced? Is it important in classical, opera, but not in CCM styles?

    1. It does change the resonance (harmonic/formant configuration). It is not necessary in most CCM styles but it may not even be necessary in some classical literature. Research indicates that some world class singers have the palate lifted and others do not. It isn’t meant to be something you lift like you would lift an arm, but it can actually stretch up and out like a proscenium curtain over time if the person singing goes toward a surprised happy feeling and mouth shape.

      1. Hi, thank you for your posts.
        I understand the body responses to emotional states and finally the voice expresses inner needs to the exterior. But in lessons and training, how do you think it’s better to include this premise? How could the activities stimulate emotion and natural needs? Or should the singer learn how to bring these feelings into vocal exercises, songs, performances, etc? How could we prevent a forced feeling getting a forced vocal response?
        It will be very useful to know your appreciation about this matter! Thank you!
        Best regards from Chile!

        1. There are many ways to help a student connect to the emotion of a lyric or of a melody. I don’t have room to go into those things here. It is possible to come from either direction — you can use the emotions to help free the throat to carry the feelings or you can work to release the throat so that feelings can pass out in the sound with no fatigue. In both cases, it is important that the breathing be as deep, full and easy as possible and that the exhalation is controlled by the volume and the quality of the sound itself.

  2. When the soft palate is lowered and does not contact the back wall of the throat, sound will exit through the nose (and mouth if it’s coupled to the vocal tract). This is the configuration for nasal consonants (m, n, ŋ) and the nasal vowels found in French, Portuguese and other languages. When the soft palate is lifted, it makes contact with the back wall of the throat, decoupling the nasal cavity from the rest of the vocal tract and allowing all sound to exit via the mouth which is the configuration for non-nasal sounds. We can choose to use a nasal sound with the soft palate lowered as a character choice.

    Because there are very few proprioceptive nerve endings on the palate, it’s difficult to know, without looking or listening, just how high or low it is. Over time it will arch higher if the tone that is produced in this configuration is the goal, but that takes time and is not something that we can accomplish by deliberately flexing the muscles in the tongue, palate and throat!

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