Finding the Pharyngeal Voice – Conclusion

This is the conclusion of my discussion regarding the Pharyngeal Voice.  Part one dealt with applying the technique for the female voice and part two dealt with applying the techniques to the male voice.  Today we’ll discuss the results these techniques and how they improve a young voice within a more traditional Choral environment and a modern or musical theatre environment.  If you missed Part one, CLICK HERE OR

Pharyngeal Voice – The results of these techniques

When these techniques are applied to a young voice, the singer can then create different colors in the voice that fit the style or genre of the role or piece. This is accomplished by modifying the vocal tract in length and width. When the female singer has mastered this, even the more difficult high belt roles can be accomplished with ease, while not giving way to vocal issues such as laryngitis, a problem many younger female singers encounter when attempting to take on music that in some ways is contrary to their typical experience or training. When the male singer does this, genre hopping is very easy.

The sound of the pharyngeal voice is often described as bright, brassy, or witchy in nature.  By imposing a “witchy” quality on voice and using phonemes such as /ne/ or /nae/, the female singer experiences a fully connected, acoustically strong sound from E♭3 to A♭5. The male voice can take this quality from their lowest note up to E♭5, or higher. The pharyngeal quality encourages a unique coupling of the vocal tract by encouraging the pharyngeal wall to assist in a longer vocal closed phase (the vocal folds staying adducted longer) and shaping the space above the folds to emphasize certain overtones to create a very loud, bright sound. This sound is very serviceable in rock, R&B, funk, and gospel, along with the higher belt roles. For other types of singing it is not as serviceable. However, by making slight adjustments in the vocal tract the singer can still keep the registration and firmness the pharyngeal voice creates in place while “warming” up the sound. This is created by using certain devices and exercises that help the larynx stay at a more neutral, or lowered position, whereas the pharyngeal voice encourages a slightly raised position.  Initially the pharyngeal voice can prove confusing to the singer and listener not familiar with it.

After the presentation of a study on pharyngeal voice that I did at a Midwest Voice Conference, one attendee expressed her amazement and cognitive dissonance in a blog:

“By some accounts, we’ve opened a can of worms and I can understand if it seems a bit strange to you. If I hadn’t heard it for myself, I’d have questions about it too, however, for our part, there was a demonstration later in the afternoon with a young soprano who has been coached using the pharyngeal voice and it was astounding to hear the steadiness, power and focus in her voice, with her head and chest voice connected seamlessly. The male voice works this way already and the female voice, using this method, could also be trained to have a fully connected head and chest voice.”

“I wasn’t trained using this technique, but with Bel Canto, the standard technique in conservatories and universities that has been used for hundreds of years to train singers of opera, art song, musical theater and those who want to engage in beautiful singing in general.”

“To go from what I knew to hearing what I heard took me aback and was puzzling as I tried to wrap my head around the concept and the sheer power of the sound at all times on any pitch. It’s like turning the fire hose on full blast.”

At this point, I am sure some readers are wondering how the approaches being discussed would then be used for singing in a choral setting. The singer needs to learn to decrease the closed phase in a vocal cycle to create a sound that is not as firm and pick up head resonance a bit lower in the voice, especially in the female voice. This is usually accomplished by adjustments in the vocal tract that have an impact on the vibration of the vocal folds and change the emphasis on which overtones are energized.

With the approaches described above, you have the ability to create very versatile singers who will not only be able to serve your needs in choir, but also help them towards their goals outside of choir that may be more non-classical in nature.