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.

Tilting is good, rising is bad

The ability to tilt the larynx happens at the thyroid cartilage and the cricoid cartilage (in the larynx) which are connected at the cricothyroid joint. There is a space in between that can be either open or closed. Tilting happens when the space is closed.

Working on the ‘ng’ sound through your break will work the small muscles that tilt the thyroid cartilage. If you are breathy as you ascend through your bridge, then you need to practise the thyroid tilt daily.

Another great sound that helps tilt is the puppy dog whimper. Again, key is ascending upward through your passagio without getting louder. (Use your breath control and body anchoring from your neck down to try and achieve this sound).

How did it go? Can you do it?

Focusing on sounds……not singing

Have you found your mix? Ladies who can siren or sing from middle C up to high C without strain or flipping….you are mixing. Men, if you can “mum, mum, mum”  (from the bottom up) from F# below middle C up to F# above middle C…you are mixing.

Now let’s work the mix!! Let’s get that thyroid cartilage tilting and your aryepiglottic sphincter narrowing! Let’s get control and variation in that mix.

The “nay, nay, nay” exercise (always from bottom up), will help you narrow the sphincter (tube). This is not intended to sound pretty.  It will be whiny, brassy, and annoying! The more annoying the better! Make sure you work this through the bridge….using the note range above. If the sound is breathy, then decrease your volume and work the “sound”.

The thyroid cartilage rotates when you do the puppy dog whimper. Try to think of a sob or crying (in your high voice) as you do this sound. This helps to get the cords to close.  This is a sweet sound. Think the vowel “oo” as in “cool” underneath the whimper.

Now….if you can join the “nasty” with the “sweet,” you have got a great thing going. Remember, you need to practise at the same volume on the bottom notes as the top notes.

BEWARE, if your larynx is “choking” you. These sounds should be made with a neutral larynx… other words, at the same height that you use when you speak.

When doing this coordination correctly, it may appear as though you are singing with thicker cords (chest voice). In fact, you are stretching and thinning the cords as you ascend in pitch. Current research suggests the cords may actually stay closed longer when vibrating, thereby giving the illusion of a “thicker” sound.

Comments? Questions?  Please leave them below.