Larynx control for singers, actors and voiceover artists: using your voice as a mixing table
Alena Dobrovolná EFP and I recently turned ourselves into Simpsons characters for a workshop called Find Your Unique Voice. It was a morning of giggles and silly voices as we explored different larynx heights.
Controlling your larynx height can give you vocal colours from bright to dark, essentially giving you the ability to turn your voice into a mixing table where you can play with the bass and treble balance of your sound.
Learning to consciously control your larynx height will help you to move effortlessly between different genres in singing. It is also one important part of acting through voice, especially for character voices.
Plus it’s great fun! But how is it possible?
The larynx moves when you swallow
Place your hand gently on your throat and swallow. Can you feel movement?
The larynx moves up and back down again as part of the swallow manoeuvre. This movement changes the length of the vocal tract; the distance between the true vocal folds and the tip of your lips gets longer or shorter, which in turn has a big impact on the brightness or darkness of your sound.
The larynx moves for vocal colour
In mid-position, the larynx isn’t raised or lowered. It sounds “natural”, like normal speech.
But is your larynx really in a mid-position when you speak? In the workshop we found that most people are slightly raised or slightly lowered as part of their habit when they speak.
Exploring the mid-position and how you relate to it is important for finding your unique vocal personality. It is also an efficient position for singing and speaking because it can easily make a clear sound without working too hard.
Two examples of artists who sing in mid-position are Adele and Frank Sinatra.
Put your hand on your throat again and try speaking like a child. Can you feel the larynx move up?
Your larynx is raised. This means the vocal tract - the filter - is shortened.
A shortened filter will favour higher frequencies, so your sound becomes brighter and more childlike. It can sound a little like you have swallowed helium!
Many voiceover artists use this position to create child characters (think Bart and Lisa Simpson or the Rugrats for instance). You often hear degrees of raised larynx in pop, bluegrass and country & western singers.
Place your hand on your throat again and do your best Santa Claus “ho-ho-ho”. Can you feel the larynx move down?
The larynx is lowered from the mid-position; the filter is lengthened. A longer filter will favour lower frequencies so your sound becomes darker. It sounds plummier, deeper and older.
A lowered larynx gives your sound depth. It is part of classical singing but also heard in jazz, blues and crooning.
Homer Simpson and the Swedish Chef are examples of character voices that use a lowered larynx.
The larynx moves for pitch
Put your hand on the larynx one last time and siren up and down. Can you feel the larynx move?
Pitching is easy if you give your larynx the freedom to move. When I trained as a singer I was told initially that the larynx should move down as the pitch goes up. This is not an efficient way to reach your high notes. Holding the larynx down when it wants to move will mean a restricted range and you will also work much harder than necessary to reach your top notes.
To conclude: let your larynx move freely for pitch and colour. This means your voice is ready to respond to both your musical and emotional imagination when you want to tell a story as a singer or speaker.
It is exciting to be in the audience when you use all your colours to tell a story. Don’t be afraid of conscious control - it gives you freedom to choose and truly communicate with your audience. Learn these skills, practise them carefully and see where it takes your artistry!