It’s been a hot topic in the vocal community for a very, very long time: Should your larynx move when you sing? You’ll hear Speech Level Singing advocates argue that the larynx should stay in a neutral position. In fact, the whole method is based on this premise. You’ll also hear classical voice teachers (although certainly not all classical teachers) argue that the larynx should always remain low. You’ll hear many others argue that it should be allowed to move around. So what’s the correct answer?
What’s a Larynx?
Let’s start with the basics. In case you’re new to vocal anatomy, the larynx, or “voice box,” is the organ in our neck that houses our vocal cords. It’s made up of cartilages, intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, and a mucous membrane lining.
So Should the Larynx Move?
The quick answer is yes. The larynx does (and should) move when you sing, and not just for controversial techniques like belting. Even in classical singing, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies have confirmed that the larynx gently rises up on the higher pitches, and depresses on the lower ones. On a given high pitch, a female rock singer might be using a higher laryngeal position than a classical soprano, but both of these women are most likely using a higher laryngeal position than if they were singing a very low note.
Why All the Insistence on a Stable Larynx Then?
It’s the aesthetic ideal of a variety of vocal styles to sound like there’s a stable, consistent sound from low to high. A relatively low larynx is characterized by a warmer, more classical sound, so some classical teachers simply insist on “a low larynx.” In fact, the Singer’s Formant in classical male singers is created, in part, with a low larynx. Other styles, particularly musical theatre, are characterized by a speech-like tone, and from this ideal arose the myth of a perpetually neutral larynx. Given these ideals, the stable larynx myths aren’t crazy. They were created before we had access to the scientific information we have today and just kind of stuck around after the data came out.
Besides Hitting High Notes, What Else Can the Moveable Larynx Do?
The moveable larynx can help produce a variety of sound colors. As we discussed earlier, a relatively low larynx produces a warmer, more classical sound. German opera is famous for using lower laryngeal positions than many other forms of singing:
A relatively high larynx is characterized by a thinner, more strident sound. Who better to illustrate this tone than one of my old favorites, Alanis Morissette?
For a singer who illustrates a relatively neutral sound, between the extremes (please note that this does not mean she doesn’t move her larynx), listen to Liz Calloway’s crystal clarity:
The human voice is an incredible instrument capable of so many sound colors. The moveable larynx is only one of many ways the instrument can be played.