If you took some singing lessons or read some “singing” books, I am sure you have come across a concept of an “open throat” – a concept that may be very baffling for new singers.
There is so much conflicting and confusing information out there:
Some teachers recommend yawning; some are against it.
Some sources tell you to open your mouth; some tell you that a wide mouth is not the way to go.
Some singing programs teach you not to focus on widening the throat; some programs insist on it.
So what is the truth?
What is an open throat and how to achieve it?
In this blog post, I am going to give you some basics and “how-to-s” about this topic.
Just remember, there is no one way to achieve beautiful singing. So if something else works for you, go for it!
The only part that is not negotiable is raising your awareness and self-discovery of different sensations during the learning process.
BONUS: Do You Breathe Correctly for Singing? Download a FREE Breathing Checklist. Discover Your Strengths and Areas for Development. Transform Your Breathing and Sing With Ease and Confidence. Click Here to download it NOW!
What Does it Mean to Sing with an Open Throat?
Many of us were told to “open the throat” or “sing with a bigger space”.
But what does it really mean?
In reality, you cannot “open your throat” even if you wanted.
However, you can manipulate some parts of the vocal tract to achieve a “bigger sound”.
To sing with an open throat basically means to shape the vocal tract in order to achieve a maximal resonating space to create sound.
To open one’s throat also means to release tension from the vocal mechanism in order to create space free of any obstacles.
Some singers create more tension in an attempt to open their throats.
Sometimes, paying too much attention to “opening the throat or pharynx” leads to tension in the vocal tract or results in an unwanted voice quality.
If this is the case, the singers complain about fatigue and strain when attempting to “widen their pharynx”. Any feeling of pain or tension is counterproductive and it means only one thing: a closed and tensed throat.
If you experience this, you know that you have to approach the task from a different angle and try something else.
Think about an open throat more in terms of “tension free singing”.
One more consideration: the genre of singing.
The classical style will require more “open” throat than contemporary styles of music, with musical theatre lying somewhere inbetween.
The concept of an open throat includes:
- lifting soft palate
- lowering the larynx
- widening the pharynx (retraction of the false vocal cords)
- positioning articulators (jaw, lips, tongue, and mouth).
When an ideal shape and position of the vocal tract is achieved, the vocal mechanism is free of tension.
Singing with an open throat is one of many techniques used by experienced vocalists who can effortlessly produce rich and warm tones with full resonance.
One of the most prominent differences between trained and new singers is the ability to shape their throats and mouths, in other words the ability to sing with an open throat.
An experienced singer is able to “open” his throat in a way that it functions as an effective resonator.
A trained singer is able to lower his larynx, widen his pharynx, raise his soft palate and soften the muscles in the throat. In this way, he or she is able to amplify the sound made in the larynx (voice box) and to add quality to it with little effort.
On the other hand, a new singer uses more effort to produce less sound.
Open throat should be one of the first goals of vocal training.
Did you know that an open throat can be accomplished even before you start singing?
By maintaining ideal posture for singing, an open throat can be achieved during inhalation.
Proper posture – a prerequisite for an open throat – allows the vocal mechanism to function well.
The larynx is suspended in a balanced way allowing the vocal cords to come together naturally and produce clear tones.
To read more about good posture while singing, read my blog post called How to Sing Well: Singing Posture.
(To learn more about a great book about proper body alignment for healthy and effortless sound production, read my review of Your Body, Your Voice by Theodore Dimon. It is a fantastic resource for those who struggle with aligning their bodies to achieve natural sound.)
Opening of the throat happens somewhat automatically on inhalation – the larynx lowers and the soft palate lifts. You cannot directly open the phraynx (throat) so a singer needs to use “tricks” to open it.
How to Sing with an Open Throat?
In order to understand what singing with an open throat means and how to open your throat, a new singer has to be familiar with the anatomy and function of the vocal mechanism as well as singing terminology.
To familiarize yourself with the basic vocal structure and function, you can visit this blog post or watch the following video.
Bear in mind that singing is a discovery process and good habits require time and patience (this definitely applies to the concept of an open throat).
As mentioned previously, the prerequisite for a free and open throat is a proper posture for singing.
Develop a habit of aligning your body in a way that creates ideal conditions for singing.
To read more about proper posture, read my blog post How to Sing Well: Singing Posture.
Creating a pleasant look on your face is one of the techniques that helps create a resonating space.
A pleasant look does not mean a big grin, smile from ear to ear or an unnatural facial expression.
Some teachers may call this trick an “inner smile”.
A pleasant look involves lifting of the zygomatic muscles. These muscles are attached to the zygomatic bones (cheek bones) on one end and the corners of the mouth on the other end. The zygomatic muscles move the lip corners back and up.
The zygomatic muscles raise during inhalation, which helps to open the throat.
When crating a pleasant look on your face or inner smile, you actually feel the muscles around your mouth pull gently upwards without an actual smile. It may take some time to teach your facial muscles to achieve and keep this posture automatically. A mirror will be your best friend when practicing.
It cannot be simpler than this: inhalation prepares the vocal tract for singing.
When you inhale, your soft palate raises and your larynx lowers. This elongation of the vocal tract creates a resonating space.
The soft palate or velum is the back of the roof of the mouth. The soft palate is movable – it closes off the nasal cavity (nose) from the oral cavity (mouth) during swallowing and production of oral sounds (all sounds except M and N, which are nasal sounds).
Some teachers use imagery to achieve a raised soft palate.
Imagery works for some students, so you should try it too.
Instructions such as “inhale your breath” or “drink your breath” may help to lift the soft palate and lower the larynx.
Other suggestions include “sing behind your ears”, “sing to the crown of your head”, “think about the space behind you”, and many more. You can also try “smelling the roses” that often raises the soft palate and creates an open space in the pharynx.
If imagery is hard for you, try to inhale while saying a soft K sound.
Watch yourself in the mirror and feel!
Once you discover the sensation of lifting your soft palate, just imagine that you are inhaling on the K sound without actually producing the sound. The thought will raise your soft palate and elongate the vocal tract.
The hardest part in this exercise is to keep the position of an ”open throat” during singing without creating tension.
To practice this, you can use a neutral vowel like “uh” to establish the feeling of an open space in the throat. Then you can transfer this feeling to other vowels or consonants.
Myths about Open Throat
Some of the following techniques are used by inexperienced singers to create more resonance when singing. However, these techniques cause just the opposite – a closed and tensed space with little resonance.
Wide Open Mouth
To sing with an open throat does not mean to open the mouth excessively. A very low jaw position creates undesirable tension in the vocal mechanism.
Many teachers and their students use yawning to achieve open throat.
Yawning can lead to an overextended jaw opening and retracted tongue that pushes down on the larynx. This posture actually creates an unnatural sounding voice. If you want to use this technique, just imagine yawning, which could raise your soft palate and lower your larynx.
Moving tongue backwards in order to create space in the mouth does not achieve an open throat!
Quite the opposite: the tongue base pushes down on the larynx and creates an obstacle in the vocal tract.
The best place for your tongue tip is right behind your lower teeth. The back of your tongue will be shaped depending on the produced vowel.
Exaggerated Facial Expressions
Trying to create an open throat through exaggerated facial expressions (such as a “surprised face”) is not a good technique. You don’t want to practice facial expressions that you would not use in public. Exaggerated expressions do not look pleasant and do not create a natural sounding voice.
Click here to see an infographic about this topic.
And that is all for now. But you do not need to leave right away!
If you are ready to learn more about singing, you can start by visiting the following pages:
I hope you enjoyed this article.
BONUS: Do You Breathe Correctly for Singing? Download a FREE Breathing Checklist. Discover Your Strengths and Areas for Development. Transform Your Breathing and Sing With Ease and Confidence. Click Here to Download it NOW!