How to sing with open throat technique
If there’s a more confusing and contradictory singing term out there than “open throat” – then I’m yet to find it. The concept of Open Throat Singing is all the rage recently, especially on YouTube where guru coaches say things like “all your troubles will be solved when you buy my Open Throat singing course”. Well, I’m here to tell you the TRUTH about open throat singing, what the term really means, and why you don’t actually need an open throat to sing powerfully.
What does it mean?
The modern term of “Open Throat” has descended from the Italian Opera term, Gola Aperta – meaning literally “Open Throat” and for me, conjures up images of a super wide mouth and a wide open neck. Of course, with everything handed down from archaic terms translated between languages, there is always a misunderstanding and misinterpretation when people take things to literally and pass it on to their students without a proper explanation. In essence, Open Throat is a figure of speak, and simply means “to sing without throat strain”. It has very little to do with actually being ‘open’, and in fact, involves CLOSING the soft palate, CLOSING your vocal chords, narrowing your vocal tract and shaping your tongue in various ways.
Great singing, in fact, often feels more ‘closed’ than ‘open’.
If you’re pushing and straining to hit your high range, and you’re belting without intent – then it’s likely your vowels are too OPEN and WIDE, and you’re straining your voice with the aim to sing more ‘open’, when in fact, the solution is to narrow your vowels, sing with a more focused placement and generally sing with a ‘neutral’ or even a ‘closed’ feeling in your throat.
How do I do it?
Lets break it down into something more practical rather than painting our voices with the same brush, singing with an ‘open throat’ involves the following;
- Close the soft palate
- RAISE your soft palate (while keeping it closed)
- Place your frequencies
- Shape your vowels using your tongue
- Articulate your delivery
- Release and avoid constriction
- Neutralise your larynx
- Tune your vowels with vowel modification
- Support your voice with Appoggio
So, you’ll see that not ONE of the aspects of “open throat singing” actually involves any sort of ‘opening’ or ‘widening’ in a literal sense. I believe a better term that covers the essence of what Open Throat Singing once meant, is “Neutral Throat” or “No Throat” singing – basically, articulating and resonating your sound AROUND your throat rather than in your throat. I’ve heard it said that “Opera singers have no throat when they sing” – which is actually a better way to describe the feeling and actions of a great singer rather than “Open Throat” – this also goes for contemporary and rock singers like myself, there is absolutely zilch going on in my throat when I’m singing a Soundgarden song or soaring into my high range.
Why do I keep hearing about the Soft Palate?
It gets tiring ‘hearing’ about things and having noone explain it to your properly, right? Well, controlling the soft palate (velum) corrrectly is intrinsic to any good singing technique, whether by deliberate action, or through exercise which encourage control. In short, your soft palate should be “open” (ie: air flowing into your nose) when you are singing resonant consonant sounds like M, N and NG, and it should be “closed” (but raised) while singing any vowel sounds. A fantastic way to develop control of your soft palate is to toggle your breathing between your nose and mouth repeatedly without using your fingers to block your nose – if you can breathe through your mouth ONLY, then this is a “closed” soft palate – if you can breathe through your NOSE only, then this is an “open” soft palate.
Raising a closed soft palate directs your resonance and airflow separately so that you support your voice without excess air, and your resonance lands in the nasal resonators rather than in your mouth or throat. It might be a weird feeling to start with, almost like you have a cold or the flu, but once you understand how to make it natural and toggle automatically between your vowels and consonants – it will feel as natural as walking, laughing or drinking a cup of coffee.
Why do I need to do it?
Getting past the term itself, singing with the elements of Open Throat singing is very important for many reasons, but most importantly so you don’t strain your voice, and so your voice resonates freely and naturally without any force or tension. Think of your voice as an accumulation of small moving parts rather than just one “big” voice that occurs in your throat – it’s more like an engine or motor with subtly moving parts that come together to make one motion or result, in our case, a singing voice!
The main moving parts of your voice are:
- The diaphragm
- The vocal chords
- The soft palate
The secondary musculature of your voice is:
- The digastric muscle
- The epiglottis
- The pharynx
The figurative parts of your voice:
- Registers (chest, middle and head voice)
- Singing Tone
- Delivery and articulartion style
Once you can control your diaphragm, soft palate and your vocal chords correctly by way of professional vocal training, you can them move on to troubleshoot and tweak the secondary elements of your voice – leading to the figurative ways we develop our ‘unique’ singing voices and unique singing tone. If you’re still not sure how to break down the elements of Open Throat into something tangible, I’ve put together a short tutorial on how and why an Open Throat can help, or ruin, your singing voice:
Do you have a singing routine that develops all of these elements, along with the aspects that make up Open Throat singing? You can book a session with me now and I’ll show you how it’s all done!
Is there an alternative to Open Throat singing?
And here we get to the point of this singing tutorial, I personally believe the term “Open Throat” is deceptive and confusing – and is often used more as a marketing term than an actual technique to help people get a better singing voice. The alternative is to break your voice down into the individual moving parts like I’ve done above, and develop each part of voice to work in tandem, rather than lumping it all together as ‘one’ and hoping for the best.
The first thing you need to do is build your foundation. This involves setting up your posture, breathing and register release – these are all covered in my complimentary short courses that you can sign up to for free here at Bohemian Vocal Studio. When you’ve developed your foundation and you’re breathing diaphragmatically and creating resonance, then you can start working on soft palate control by way of toggling between “closed” and “open” positions when using a N/M/NG and then a Vowel. You should be able to set your position and allow your vowel to resonate properly without the soft palate opening and releasing your air into your nose – the #1 cause of nasality and excess airflow in a singing voice.
When you’ve developed control over your soft palate, then you can start tuning your vowels properly by way of narrowing and widening the vocal tract into your higher range. It’s actually a pretty easy concept, but one you will need professional help with. If you need help tuning your vowels, you can book a session with me today and we’ll develop your resonance to ping through your full range well up into the higher register.
When you’ve built your range and you can tune your vowels properly over a healthy foundation, you can start to look at articulation and delivery by developing control over your registers – aka “Middle voice” or “Singing in Mix voice”. Did you know that you can actually sing the SAME pitch in different registers? Be it a light “heady” sound, or a full “chesty” sound by using your middle voice? Developing register control is also a super easy concept that does take a little bit of time and patience to build properly. I’ve released a number of videos coving Middle Voice on the BVS YouTube channel, so I reccomend checking them out and then getting in touch if you have any questions or you’re having trouble relasing your middle register.
Do I need to sing with an Open Throat?
If you’re referring to the intended original elements of “open throat” technique, like a closed soft palate, narrowed vowel, release of strain and proper support – then yes, absolutely. If you’re taking it literally and you’re trying to “open” your throat and drop your tongue as far as you can, then absolutely NOT, this is what is standing in the way of your voice becoming the POWERHOUSE that I know it can truly become.
If you’re ready to take your voice to the next level and build a POWERFUL singing range, book a session with me now and I’ll show you how it’s done!
Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.