Pharyngeal sounds

For those of you familiar with speech level singing exercises, the nasty “nay” sound is probably all-too-familiar. This is a sound that many singers do wrong. The goal here is to feel the resonance behind the cheek bone and nasal area, not in the mouth or at the back of the throat.

In Estill Voice Technique this sound is the schoolyard sing-song taunt. Again, it can be done incorrectly if you are using the wrong coordination.

The challenge is making this sound above the first passagio.

I suggest starting with a puppy dog whimper in your head voice. This will get your cords thinned out. Close your mouth and work this whimper in a hum. Raise your cheeks and think a “cry-like” sound.  If you are having trouble, take your volume down to a level where you can manage a simple light coordination of a whimper sound in your head voice. Keep your mouth closed……now you have thin cords.  Your larynx may want to rise, and certainly the ideal condition is for it to remain neutral. Take note of this. To counter the raising of the larynx, consider what is going on inside your mouth at the back of your throat. Lift your soft palate as best you can.

I suggest making this your home base. Men, this will be around F or F# above middle C, and ladies, this will be around high C or C#.

Once you can master the puppy dog whimper in your head voice, then you need to work the whimper through the first passagio. For men, you need to master the whimper from F# below middle C to F# above middle C.  Ladies, middle C# to high C#. If you feel a “catch” in your voice, then you simply need to do it over and over and over every day until that “catch” evens out. (If you practise everyday, it will eventually even out).

Consider taking the volume down to the point where you can master this.  Do the whimper both ascending and descending. You can turn this into a continuous whimper siren if you like. Notice your head voice is clearly present. Try to coordinate a balance that works for you. In other words, the lowest notes are predominantly chest voice and your head voice needs to allow this transition. The high whimper is mostly head voice, so again you need to allow this transition. If you find this challenging, then consider your volume again. There will definitely be a level where you can coordinate this transition. You might not be happy with the sound…..but that doesn’t matter. It’s not about the sound! It’s about the coordination. This is your starting point. Do not increase your volume until you can master this transition of puppy dog whimper through your first passagio.

So, now that you have good cord closure and you are mixing well through your first passagio, you can actually begin to work on your pharyngeal sounds like the nasty “nay” or “meow” sounds.

The “Mariah Carey” Voice

Mariah is a fabulous singer! She can do acrobatics with her voice! She has managed to sing strong and consistently for over two decades while enduring the typical stressful life indicative of a top-selling recording artist in the 21st century.

Even a balanced voice like Mariah Carey’s can run the risk of vocal damage such as nodes and calluses when over-used. No “one” voice is perfect all the time, and no “one” singer will exhibit the same limitations of what can be done with their voice at any given time. Every instrument is unique and different, and will change daily with the conditions that are present at that time.

Does that mean a singer shouldn’t sing or talk when they are not at their absolute best? Well, yes, I suppose it does. But how is that possible? If singing is your living then you have a job to do. How can you possibly stop talking and singing when you feel the slightest problem arising in your voice? You must do your job and that means using your voice.

Bottom line is a singer needs to know their instrument, and how to keep it healthy and working when it needs to. Planning ahead and scheduling time off for recouperating is imperative in this music business. Keeping the body healthy and getting enough sleep is a must. Knowing how to vocalize daily is crucial. Singing is tough business.

That being said, we can’t expect famous singing voices to never show a sign of wear & tear.

And what about the fact that the music business actually puts voices that have a “wear & tear” sound on a pedestal! What is a singer to do?

Self-awareness is key. That is why I teach about the middle voice with special attention to bridging (mixing) at the first passagio. When singers learn how to control their breath, master their natural tone and resonance, and establish their baseline volume, they can avoid many problems that come with over-singing.