Friday, November 19, 2021

Let's Talk Larynx

When hearing conspiracy theories about certain world events we won't discuss here, there are often two views: LIHOP and MIHOP, or "Let it happen on purpose" or "Made it happen on purpose". I think these two terms are very useful in discussing vocal technique.

I think most singers and instructors would agree that the best vocal result occurs when pharyngeal space is optimized by the position of the soft palate and the larynx.  The problem is almost always in how that is accomplished. I myself was taught early to force a low larynx (MIHOP), which resulted in excess tension, even if the resulting sound was temporarily slightly improved. The long-term result is more and more tension, growing barriers such as what I call the brick wall between me and any kind of a high voice, and a wobble.  I could easily manufacture a temporarily pleasing sound, but the end result was not good.

On the other hand, there have been times when fortune has favored me temporarily with enough ease and relaxation that the optimal pharyngeal space was achieved accidentally (LIHOP). I was a little disconcerted. In fact, there have been moments of vocal freedom when I was actually made dizzy by the sensations.  

Singers and teachers talk LOW LARYNX, LOW LARYNX, LOW LARYNX all the day long. Some very popular singers have a sound that seems manufactured to me, so I suspect they might have found a way to MIHOP while keeping a necessary degree of freedom. More power to them. On the other hand, there are successful singers who sound as if they have found a way to LIHOP, who receive criticism because some don't think their vocal sounds are dark enough--not enough manufactured sound. Where is the balance?

Manuel Garcia uses a laryngoscope
Where, indeed, is the balance? I think it is different for every singer. I could digress at length about pedagogical methods. (For the record, I think "Imitate me!" is a ridiculous method and those teachers who practice it should be tortured and then starved to death in the Tower of London. I do not exaggerate when I say this.) It is not an accident that some singers learn to associate pharyngeal space with bad tension and a larynx that is pushed down by conscious effort.  I am full of resentment that I was over 40 before someone taught me that a laryngeal position that is not ideal is the result of excess tension. Some teachers have told me that uncomfortable tension was a fact of life. 

Clearly I favor the LIHOP approach. I think the objective is to remove barriers to LIHOP rather than to MIHOP. There is a philosophy that works for me in most areas of life when I practice it: take the right actions and let go of the results. In fact, one of the best teachers I ever had taught her own version of that philosophy, stating that even judging by sensation over sound might not serve the singer consistently, because human bodies are not by nature consistent.  Those who are familiar with the Serenity Prayer might have a little practice in trying to determine which things they can or should control and which they can't. Remember that the last line of that prayer refers to the wisdom to know the difference.

Where am I going with all of this? What is my intention in writing this article? In truth, part of it is just to vent, but I also want people to talk about these things. I think there is too much "This is my method--either it works or it doesn't!" in this world. (Not to mention the often associated "If it doesn't work, the problem is you!") I think there is not enough discussion about finding what works for the individual student. In fact, I truly believe the most successful teachers are those who find the best way to connect with the student to communicate the principles of taking the right actions and allowing favorable results to happen. We are focused too much on product over process, when ensuring the most healthy process, although sometimes more difficult, often results in a greater, more consistent, and longer lasting product.

There it is. Take what you like and leave the rest.

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