Vocal style: Exploring the larynx

larynx and vocal style

Learn how to stabilise your larynx to improve your vocal style, vocal health and range with top singing coach Collena Masuku.

The larynx plays a crucial role when it comes to singing because it can influence the length of our vocal tract (the area of resonance that consists of the nose, mouth and throat), which in turn influences the overall character and tonal quality of our voice. 

Understanding and learning how to stabilise the larynx is essential for vocal health, increasing range and smoothing out register breaks. It is also so much more! Excuse me for a moment while I get a little bit over excited as we delve into the world of “Larynx and Style”! 

There are differing views on whether the larynx should be in a high or low position for singing. I prefer to keep an open mind as I think it can be quite limiting to keep the larynx in only one position for singing. 

I believe that when you begin to explore how to use the larynx for stylistic purposes, it will open up a whole new world of possibilities, co-ordinations, sounds and colours in your voice. 

What is the larynx?

The larynx, also known as the voice-box, houses and protects the vocal cords. It can be located by placing a finger lightly on the front of the neck around the Adam’s Apple. There are muscles above and below that move it up and down. If you swallow with your finger on your larynx, you will feel the Adam’s Apple moving up and down. When the larynx is in a higher position, our vocal tract becomes shorter, and when in a lower position our vocal tract becomes longer. 

How can the larynx influence vocal style?

The changes in the vocal tract shape and size are what influences the character and tonal quality of our voice. If we opt for a lower larynx position when singing, we’re going to get a darker, deeper, richer tonal quality. This is the typical vocal setup for classical and operatic styles of singing (e.g. Pavarotti). Though it is less common, a lower larynx position can also be used in contemporary styles of singing (e.g. Cher, Anita Baker).

If we opt for a neutral larynx position when singing, we’re going to get a well-balanced, rounder, warmer tonal quality.  This is a common vocal setup for contemporary styles of singing especially pop, R&B and country. (e.g. Michael Buble, Daniel Caesar and Carrie Underwood).

If we opt for a higher larynx position when singing, we’re going to get a brighter, thinner, intense tonal quality. This is a common vocal setup for contemporary styles of singing especially rock, gospel and musical theatre. (e.g. Chester Bennington, Mary Mary, Idina Menzel).

How to find high, low and neutral larynx positions

To find the high, low and neutral larynx positions. You can place two fingers on the Adam’s Apple and say ‘AY’ (as in Day) for high, ‘UH’ (as in mother) for low and ‘AH’ (as in father) for neutral.

The larynx provides the tools we need to sing a multitude of different styles and as singers we can experiment and explore these styles. When performing a song, we may want to take our tone a little darker, richer, brighter, lighter, thinner, louder or softer in order to effectively portray the story of the song. Ultimately, it is up to the singer to decide what serves them best based on what they are trying to achieve, and communicate. Questions we could ask ourselves in order to decide about larynx position include: What style do we want to convey? What emotions do we want to evoke? 

Exploring the larynx for style 

In conclusion, I would encourage you to explore and experiment with different vocal styles and vocal qualities to find what works best for you. If you sing classical and operatic styles, try singing some contemporary styles. And if you sing contemporary styles, try singing some classical and operatic styles. There is no harm in trying, in the words of Dr Pepper, “What’s the worst that could happen?”. If anything, experimenting might just give you a few extra tools for your singing tool box!