What is a Lowered Larynx?

Duo singers and doctor
“Lowered larynx” and “tilted thyroid” – I don’t know what these things are! Can you explain?

Dr. Jahn,

I have heard people talk about a “lowered larynx” and a “tilted thyroid” in relation to singing and achieving certain sounds. The problem is I don’t know what these things are!

– Kate

Dear Kate,

Although the voice begins when your lungs push air past your vocal folds and make them vibrate, almost every other aspect of vocal quality has to do with the resonating cavities above the vocal folds. The loudness, projection, color, the emotional qualities of singing depend on these spaces, which are in the upper vocal tract.

Consider the analogy of blowing across the top of an empty bottle: the air inside begins to vibrate, The pitch and loudness of that vibration depends on the size and shape of the bottle. In singing, we create these resonating spaces in various ways, such as raising the palate and lowering the tongue to increase the room in the back of the throat. 

One of the most important resonators is the space above the vocal folds. We can increase this space really in only one way – by dropping the floor, i.e. lowering the larynx. You need to learn to do this, however, without pushing the tongue back. You learn to control these muscles separately. By lowering the larynx, you elongate the resonating space above the vocal folds. This makes the voice sound louder, bigger (more harmonics) and more effortless. It’s something that classical singers learn to do, and work hard at developing. 

I’m not sure about tilting the thyroid, but I’m assuming that this refers to the thyroid cartilage (your Adam’s apple), which houses the vocal folds. I suspect they are describing another feature of the lowered larynx – if you can lower your larynx, the thyroid cartilage may appear more prominent. 

While you may not want the operatic sound, singing with a low larynx does increase the resonance and projection of the voice with less laryngeal effort. By contrast, singing with a high larynx usually involves more muscular effort, and produces a more squeezed sound with less projection.

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

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