Using Registration to Strengthen the Throat

One component in working registration is the positive effect it has on all the surrounding musculature of the vocal system. It’s truly amazing to see the interrelationship of function throughout the voice when its parts begin to function properly. Inversely, it is also fascinating to see how a voice can collapse because of the improper action of ONE set of muscles.

In discussing these positives, let’s take as an example the chest register.

When the chest register is operating correctly without constriction, not only does it strengthen the interior musculatures of the thyro-arytenoids, it also has a corollary effect on the action and development of the throat (the resonator) itself.

The role of the throat in singing has always been important. Historically, two major faults of the singing voice were ‘throatiness’ and ‘nasality.’  Both are due to incorrect action of the throat itself, either from rigidity or flaccidity. The Old Italians used such pithy phrases as ‘l’italiano non ha gola,’  – The Italian [singer] doesn’t have a throat -, but conversely they admonished singers to sing with a ‘gola aperta’ – an open throat.

How do we help the singer attain an open throat without recourse to direct throat manipulation? I am against such direct control methods of tone control entirely! Teacher jargon such as “open the throat” only causes more problems  – especially when the pharyngeal constrictors activate and set the throat in a rigid position – hello, throaty singing! Many masterclasses with celebrated singers and teachers are filled with such unwise jargon, and the resulting tone sounds throatier, stiffer, and manufactured. The audience, however, thinks something positive has happened because the SOUND has changed. Well, of course it has – it has been loaded with constriction!!

Training and exercising a very strong chest register can help the throat and relieve issues of throatiness as well as nasality. I have never had a student who suffered with nasality that DID NOT improve as a result of exercising a very strong chest register on lower and medium tones, and then carrying that quality up throughout the range with comfort.

Here is one a particular exercise I’ve found useful.

I have every student define a volume scale for themselves in training. I ask the student, “How loud is that for you on a scale of 1-10?” I ask this question because a) I am not in their body, and b) I am experiencing the sound in a way that accepts THEIR experience of making it. If I feel the voice is capable of more (or less) then I guide the choice of number accordingly. In the following exercise I’m usually looking for a volume in the range of 8-10, with 10 being a rarity. If they can manage a GOOD 8 or 9, then we’re on the right track.

The exercise is an open-mouthed ‘ah’ at a very forte volume in the lower and mid-range tones of the voice.

The scale pattern can be a rising third, a five tone scale, or a triad. It is VERY important that the vowel and intensity be constant throughout. This is a very important part of the execution of the exercise. Many singers will ‘back off’ the volume as they ascend either due to muscular weakness, or fear. They may also change the quality of the vowel with their lips or jaw – the result is a collapsed throat. Personally, I have found resistance to loudness in my quiet-natured female students who are unaccustomed to vocal power and volume.

While this exercise is performed I also have the student open the mouth down as far as it can comfortably go without strain. I have found this to counteract any tensions that encroach around the jaw and tongue. It helps to disengage them, and assists the singer to find a more pharyngeally-resonated tone. (Sidebar: Garcia II “The true mouth of the singer should be considered the pharynx.”)

When the exercise is successfully performed, it results in a more open-throated resonance adjustment – but the STUDENT will only be aware of an increasing strength, and an increasing feeling of throat openness. They have not directly ‘opened’ the throat.

It must be remembered this is a VOICE BUILDING exercise. It is only one little exercise in the functional arsenal. All training sessions should move around the different areas of the system to keep them in balance. The folds, the suspensory mechanism, the breathing, and the posture are all major areas of attention. Were I to accentuate this behavior it would cause eventual tension and tightness as the muscles fatigue, and muscle compensation.

To those afraid of more pronounced volume I would say it is very difficult to develop a strong voice by singing consistently at piano dynamics. In the same way, it is difficult to build strong muscles if you only pick up a 2 pound weight. Yes, you can use the 2 pound weight, but how many repetitions need to be performed to get a sizable increase in bulk of the muscle using that weight? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Do we have the time to move that slowly?

Unless the singer has vocal pathologies, reduced volume singing should be limited to an occasional excursion to keep the voice functionally regulated. I do not believe that quiet singing builds the voice until the chest register is operating well. All voices need strength and this should be exercised from the start. SAFELY and WISELY goes without saying. Once the voice has been ‘drawn out’ as Tosi says, then piano singing without constriction or throat collapse becomes a distinct possibility. It does not, however, mean that we just sing loud for the sake of loudness alone.