Releasing the Muscles of the Throat

Manipulation, that is, the deliberate moving of the muscles deep within the throat is a bad idea. It is, however, how most people eventually learn to sing. Many people do not ever sing with free production, being taught from day one, to “do something”.

There is much talk about free singing…..singing on the breath (as if you could sing on something else?), singing with flow, singing with connection, with line, singing in a released sound, singing with no jaw (because it is useless?), singing as if the sound floated on wings, singing without holding, grabbing, squeezing, forcing, pushing, swallowing, muffling, tightness, stiffness, distortion or restriction. Sounds good, I agree. But most people don’t do any of these things deliberately. They do not try to constrict the throat, the throat is just constricted. Maybe on high notes, maybe on loud notes, maybe at the bottom, maybe all over the person’s range, but wherever that happens, the singer has no control over it. Most people would love to not have issues like this and look to the teachers to help them solve these problems. Mostly the teachers can hear, but they do not know what to do except to tell the poor vocalist, “You are squeezing your throat. Stop doing that”. Not useful at all.

If you manipulate the muscles of the throat, they cannot move easily and it is the movement that allows genuine emotion to roll through the throat on the sound. Without that, you end up being a sound-making machine, not a communicating vocal artist. Many people teach manipulation, which means they think that’s all there is. They realize that the throat has to change shape and response in order to generate “resonance” (like you could make a sound that did not have some resonance!). So, if you aren’t able to be “just there” immediately and easily, it follows that you have to put yourself there. Maybe you get used to it in good time and then it feels familiar and works itself to be loose over a period of time but that is not the same as having the throat line up in the proper configuration because the larynx has been allowed to gently rest there without any special doing, most especially while singing a song.

The way to get the “default position” of the larynx and vocal folds to change is to coax it gently, through exercise, to a neutral position in which the tongue can relax and the throat can follow suit. If you have been taught that you should not pay attention to what your throat is doing, or that you should have no throat (that’s a doosey), or that you should hold your larynx down at all times, you will find what I am writing here either crazy or very confusing.

Here is an example. Someone comes to you and you can see that this person’s shoulders are up and tight. They are caught in a kind of shrug. You say, “Did you know your shoulders look very tight? They are caught in a raised position.” Person responds, “No. They feel OK to me”. You say, “Well it would be better all the way around if we could get them to relax. Please put them down.” The person says “They ARE down”. You say, “That’s impossible, They are up and tight. You just need to let go more. Let your shoulders go”. The person says, “I am. This is it. They are down”. You say, “Well, I think you don’t understand what I mean, exactly. Here, let me draw you a diagram. [You take out your little pad and pencil and draw the shoulders you want and the shoulders you see.] The person says, “I can’t change my shoulders. I have always been this way. My father had this kind of upper body, too. I think I stand like this because it is genetic”. You say, “Well, perhaps you just didn’t try hard enough. Try one more time to put your shoulders down and relax them more”. The person says “OK. How’s this?” You don’t respond out loud but you think, “This is hopeless”.

What if you had different information. Someone comes to you and you can see the person’s shoulders are up and tight. They are caught in a kind of shrug. You say, “Did you know your shoulders look very tight? They are caught in a raised position”. Person responds “I didn’t know that”. You say, “That can interfere with the position of the larynx in the throat, which, in turn, can influence how you sing. Let’s see if we can help them”. Whereupon you get up and go over to the person and ask permission to place your hands on her body. She agrees. Gently, you begin to massage the shoulders, with various kind and easy strokes you move your hands over the shoulders, and then, when you are done, you ask the person to try a few shoulder stretches. You do them first as examples. Then, you do some more massage, a bit harder, gently putting pressure on the shoulders to help them stretch. Eventually, after 10 minutes you stop and you look again at the person’s shoulders. Low and behold, they are now hanging down further, loosely and the head is more aligned over the torso. The person isn’t holding them down, they have just fallen down, without further help. The person says, “Gee, this feels better. I can also see in the mirror that I look at bit different, too. I will find someone to do massages on me more often”.

If you work the muscles of the jaw, the mouth, the face, the tongue (front and back), and you work the neck muscles and the muscles in the front of the throat and those undernearth the chin, through massage, movement and gently singing, the muscles will do what the shoulders did — let go and relax. The exercises produce more relaxation and movement so the singers can experience this and, perhaps, be surprised that it is just easier to sing.

There are many vocal and physical exercises that will help the throat “let go” and “release” but you have to know what they are, how to do them, what they should effect and how that behaves when it shows up, and how long to do the exercises for, one at a time and together, and what to follow with in terms of sequence so that the difficult ones are avoided until such time as the person can do the basics with confidence and ease.

In a released position it is easier to breathe in, it is easier to sing smoothly (legato), it is easier to change from vowel to vowel and pitch range to pitch range. It is easier to be expressive without working too hard. It is easier to sing with energy that does not get “caught” or “stuck”.

You cannot deliberately relax. It takes time. It is only possible to relax at whatever rate the body responds. It is like planting a tomato seed, watering it and telling it to “grow!!” You can do that but you still have to wait and tend it every day, and then, in a while, you will have nice red fruit for your efforts. Relaxation is a slow response in the body and you have to patiently wait for the brain to send a new message through the nerves of the body to the throat and tongue and sometimes many repetitions are necessary before the relaxation response kicks in. After relaxation becomes more deliberate and the body responds more quickly to meditative stimuli, the sound can once again go towards a louder volume level.

Coaxing the throat muscles to relax takes time but the reward is significant. You can completely forget about the throat while you are singing and it will take care of itself.

So, if you do not understand how this happens, come to Virginia in July.

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7 thoughts on “Releasing the Muscles of the Throat”

  1. wonderfull!
    i study the Alexander technique plus muscle trigger point relaxing accupressure to aid my structure for Tai chi and kungfu practice, and your comments pull together much of what i am finding to be the case. i believe some postural muscles that are meant to be either totally or partially controlled by ones autonomous nervous system, are impossible to relax more than a certain amount deliberately unless mental/emotional/psychological techniues are applied. The art of ‘Not doing’ is very hard to do.

  2. This is one of the best articles I found on this subject matter. Thanks so much for sharing this with us; Jesus Christ Bless! :)

  3. Unbelievable what I have read and tried today is relaxing my throat, is so amazing I have had problems with voice throat breathing for longer than I care to remember,I hope this is the way to sanity and having a life as I have been so depressed and shunned through my lack of confidence and unable to socialise for so long I just hope there is life after all.

    1. This is the beginning of allowing yourself to come home to who you really are. Please go slowly, and allow your body to relax. It will start to breath and to feel and you will begin to “tell your truth” in the world and find your real voice, both literally and figuratively. The breathing will help your depression and your confidence will grow as you know that you deserve to be heard. Be brave, don’t give up, and let us know how you are doing.

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