Kashudo (歌手道): The Pitfalls of the "Open Throat," "Lowered Larynx" and Such…

I consider myself somewhat of an expert when it comes to the pitfalls of the “Open Throat,” “Lowered Larynx” theories. A student/colleague of mine recently said categorically that the open throat is rooted in dysfunction (I am paraphrasing). He is certainly not wrong. The excesses of “Open Throat” and sensations of space, etc, are legendary. But as always I would not reduce the ideas of the open throat completely to ridicule.

There are two issues that come to my mind relative to the “Open Throat” issue. And they are both relative.
1. The relationship between a high laryngeal position and, balanced laryngeal position, and a low laryngeal position as a direct consequence of variations in fold posture.
2. A use of laryngeal positioning for “coloring” the voice (i.e. seeking different timbres, i.e. varying resonance adjustments while maintaining a relatively stable fold posture. Relative to our purposes, this would be darkening the voice artificially or “depressing the larynx” with the back of the tongue.
We have already established in previous post a relationship between pressed phonation, shallow fold depth and a high larynx. The converse is also true that loose phonation (given a specific pitch) will be directly proportional to thicker deeper fold posturing and a lower larynx.
In the end, what is required is a “middle” position. Let us consider situation 1: low larynx as a consequence of loose phonation/deep fold posturing. I suppose that if excessive sub-glottal pressure causes the larynx to rise, low pressure when the tone is breathy would reduce pressure below the glottis and cause a laryngeal depression. This has been my experience as a baritone. The resultant sound is warm, hollow and lacking in presence. If we remember my old recording of “Di Provenza”, that I posted some time ago:

Verdi Di Provenza.mp3

One can find the sound attractive, warm, but recordings can be deceiving. If we compare my “loose”, heavier sound, to the well focused voice of Ettore Bastianini, then we have a good barometer, for Bastianini had a naturally darker voice, while mine was a hollow darkness that sacrificed efficiency for color:
Now consider the second situation! A balanced voice that is artificially colored. This is the case of the depressed larynx. Let us consider three performances on a continuum! Giuseppe Giacomini and then Corelli in two modes. One more covered and one more open. All three versions are muscularly balanced, at the glottal level to my ears, which is why the register rotations occur in the same place. However we can hear a slight darkening in Corelli’s first clip and a considerable darkening in Giacomini’s

It is a relative thing. It is possible to take the open throat too far as I did in my recording of “Di Provenza” but it might still be called “aperta”. However it loses closure and therefore lacks presence. In the case of the depressed larynx as in the Giacomini clip and to a much smaller extent the first Corelli clip, we would have to assign the term “voce ingolata” or “swallowed voice.” In the case of Di Stefano, his approach is called “voce spalancata” or “wide open”!

© 10/17/2009

5 thoughts on “Kashudo (歌手道): The Pitfalls of the "Open Throat," "Lowered Larynx" and Such…

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  1. In your approach, do modally produced high notes, if produced correctly, have the exact same laryngeal height as modally produced low notes? For example, if I (a baritone) sang a G4, would you consider it optimal if it were at the same larynx position as for a G2? Or could a slight to moderate laryngeal raising be considered useful for the high note? This assumes that phonation is balanced, and thus excludes laryngeal position variation due to incorrect fold depth. I do recall you saying that a belter using healthy technique has a high larynx in the middle/high voice because they want to for sound color choice, not because they have to as a result of vocal dysfunction. The only reason I would wonder about that is because a moderately high larynx for higher notes seems such a natural thing, and I wonder why it is often treated as dysfunctional when, as you mention, it can be healthy. Obviously, the larynx will be higher for a belter than for a lyric singer due to sound color differences (such as the need for the aryepiglottic sphincter's narrowing to produce squillo in the lyric singer rather than the brassiness of the belter), but it seems that to a degree, the larynx's position should be an engaged part of healthy pitch production regardless of style. There would just be less of an engagement for the lyric singer of either gender. What are your thoughts on the matter?

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  2. Thanks for the interesting comparisons!

    I think I have finally started to appreciate what you say about the fold depth. As someone who just recently has started to be able (sometimes) to properly turn the resonance above the passaggio, it feels like the vibrations are somehow located in a deeper and less distinct place when the voice is turned, at least in comparison to when I press up the middle voice.

    Talking about DiStefano, funny enough, before reading your post, I happen to come across this youtube video with DiStefano singing Un di Felice. In this one I think he handles the resonance turn around the passaggio in a fantastic manner! Listen from 1:21! He sings a beautifully wide open F4, followed by perfectly covered but strong A4 and G4! But I guess he started singing overly open only at a later stage in his career?

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  3. Dear Jaadamgo,

    My comment about the belter is relative. CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music) singers are not bound by the acoustic rules that the lyric singer is. So a little high larynx for a belter is not going to hurt him if the phonation mode is not too far from ideal.

    I would have to disagree about the lyric singer accepting a raised larynx. In my experience, the laryngeal position should not rise, but it should not be depressed int he beginning. If it were depressed in the beginning, the slight rise might feel normal. A rise to me constitutes an unacceptable increase in sub-glottal pressure usually associated with pressed voice. Even a mild form has consequences. My middle voice and passaggio have just grown a bit. By comparison my B4 and C5 are a bit thin and a little trickier than when everything was a little thin.
    I believe the secret to longevity is building a voice that has the exact fold depth for each note. Then the larynx never feels like it rises. The problem is there are many famous singers who sing a thinner sound on top. But watching some performances at the Metropolitan Opera on Metplayer (online) It is so palpable how the voice quality decreases among those who sing thin on top and those who are balanced.

    The slight rise feels natural because that is what you are used to. In fact to get appropriate fold depth in the upper voice requires work. It does not feel natural at first. But I can assure you it is worth it. It makes life so much easier once all notes are behaving with optimal glottal posture.

    JRL/TS

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  4. Dear Martin,

    I believe Di Stefano always had the tendency of singing open. In fact in the very clip you gave, there are many instances where the voice sounds wide open. I have said often to my colleague Don Miller that resonance should not be measured only in terms of which of the two vowel formants is dominant but to what degree. The two formants must be in a certain balance that is also based on fold posture. The upper part of Di Stefano's voice got progressively thin with time and so the larynx climbed more and more until wide open was the only choice above F4 and the squeezing became more and more problematic. I hear similar qualities in later Domingo.

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