How to stop throaty singing – the ultimate guide
First of all, thank you SO much for all that you’ve done for me.
You’ve helped me get where I am today.
Having said that… it’s time to let go.
It’s not you, it’s me.
I gotta move on, expand my horizons.
Can we still be friends?
Hello, my darlings! Today, I want to explain to you my perhaps unusual but definitely effective way to stop throaty singing and start healthy singing (that feels gooood). A different approach, that is as much emotional as it is technical. Holistic, if you will. And just be warned: We’re gonna go pretty deep down the rabbit hole… Oh, and sorry for using such an epic clickbaity title like ‘the ultimate guide’. (But I actually think it is!)
K, here we go:
Throaty singing means: you let the throat carry the ‘weight’ of your sound, instead of letting it do its job, which is just to shape your sound. But the throat muscles are too small to do ALL of the work. It’s like asking a child to lift a grand piano. Now, granted, my kid is only 11 months, and can seriously manhandle me when she sees me wearing earrings that apparently look tasty, so I’m not sure what’ll happen when she’s 8 years old. But I’m guessing lifting a grand piano will still be too much to ask.
Thankfully, your throat doesn’t ~need~ to do all the heavy lifting! You have a whole vocal system, aka the rest of your body, at your disposal. A really good singer will use 5 parts of the body very efficiently. I’m gonna explain these 5 steps in 4 year old terms, not because I question your intelligence, but because I like to keep things supersimple.
Before we go into that, though, I want you to understand that it’s not just about knowing how that system works in the technical sense. Singing is an emotional activity, and it’s therefore tied to… your emotions (shocker, I know). That means if you feel any insecurity, fear, anger, stress, joy, excitement, love… that will translate into your singing! Negative tension in any way will in most cases lead to throaty singing, while relaxation & engagement in the right places leads to the voice of your dreams. Mastering vocal technique takes time & effort, we know that. But the real, deeper work is to master the ~emotional~ part of your vocal system, and that mainly takes courage & patience with yourself.
No worries darling, I got you. We can figure out ~anything~ with the right tools, the right technique, and the right mindset.
So here we go, the 5 body parts (in toddler terms, just to keep things simple) that make up your vocal system, and the main reasons why they can feel blocked or inactive, leading to throaty singing:
With ‘nose’, I’m referring to your nasal cavities. It helps a lot to think of your nose as your speaker, instead of your mouth. This will give you very healthy placement! Think of your favorite artist. Maybe it’s Rihanna, or Stevie Wonder or Shawn Mendes or Bruno Mars. Stop reading this blog for a sec and listen to any of their songs. Listen if you can hear a nasal quality in their voice.
(Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)
Did you hear it? That’s right, all great singers really use all that nasal resonance space that you have, and that is quite a lot. It goes from your nose all the way to basically your ears. Open it up, and you’ll notice a positive difference in your voice immediately.
Try this: pretend you are a cow, a very musical cow. What sound do you make? No… not ‘moo’, an ACTUAL cow! (lol) Probably something like a metallic sounding ‘mmm’. Right? Does that feel easy? Does it sound open? Or blocked? If it’s blocked, you’ll most likely feel and hear something throaty.
If that is the case, start here:
- pretend that your vocal cords are located right behind your nose
- pretend your nostrils are HUGE
- pretend that instead of pushing your sound out, you actually pull it back
- make a little space in your mouth, as if you just took a bite of something delicious
Do you feel a difference when you do it like that? If you’re doing it right you should feel a lot of energy in your nasal cavities as well as a very relaxed throat.
What stops you from fully using your nose:
Now, I can hear you think: but I don’t want to sound nasal… Most people have a quite intense, emotional fear about sounding nasal, and therefore lots of people resist using the nasal cavities too much. However! The type of ‘nasal’ that you’re afraid of has much more to do with not opening up the mouth than anything else.
On the journey to your best voice, you will have to make a lot of weird noises and do uncomfortable things to basically open up certain spaces. The more you’re willing to do that, the faster you’ll get to the voice you want. Unwillingness (because you’re embarrassed, for instance) creates tension, and tension is the arch-nemesis of resonance. As in… more throaty singing (boooo!).
Wow, that’s a lot. Start here:
Get yourself in a state of…not taking yourself so seriously. I don’t say this in a judgmental way, I just SO understand how badly you wanna do this thing called singing the ‘right’ way. It takes effort, and focus and hard work, right?
Well… not necessarily. It should actually feel quite easy! 🙂 The hard work is mostly between your ears. In this case, the hard work is to convince yourself of the fact that singing is fun (remember?) and that the best way to get to healthy technique is to loosen up a little. Funny noises are part of this journey, and the more you enjoy them, the faster you will see progress. A great way to get a little loose? Put on some Beyoncé and dance it out 🙂 Then go back to pretending you’re a musical cow (lol).
As strange as it sounds, you should not consider your mouth your speaker. Seriously. Your ~nose~ is your speaker. But your mouth is a very essential resonance space. Once you start using your mouth consciously and intentionally, you will completely transform your voice.
For instance, like I said earlier: An over the top nasal sound is usually caused by not enough space in the mouth! If I focus on my nasal cavities and I keep my mouth very small, then I start to sound whiney and annoying. But when I focus on the nasal cavities AND use my mouth resonance space efficiently (aka use my OMG face), I just sound very open. Go watch a live performance of a singer that has one of those million dollar voices. Jennifer Hudson, Whitney Houston, Ariana Grande, Jessie J. Look at their mouths, especially on the big notes! Sometimes, almost like a whole hand fits in there! Well, it works.
Technically speaking, if you drop your jaw (in OMG or yawn position), and give every vowel that space (incl ‘ooh’ and ‘eeh’)…you’re going to stop that throaty singing a lot. Like, a LOT.
What stops you from fully using your mouth:
Do you have a minute? Ugh, SO MANY THINGS. Embarrassment, TMJ, stress, tongue tension… The list is long. But, we can cluster all the possible issues into one big category: tension.
By far the most common version of this, is jaw tension. I am not a doctor, so this is just my opinion based on the experiences I’ve had with my clients. From my perspective, jaw tension is usually caused by stress. Either physical stress or mental stress, or both.
Have you heard of the expression ‘grin and bear it’? That is no coincidence, I’ve noticed that most clients that deal with jaw tension tend to deal with a bit of repressed anger or anxiety. Something in life is not going the way they want it to go, but they feel like they should just ignore the way they feel.
This could be something like: “my husband never does the dishes, but I don’t wanna be a ‘nagging wife’, so I’ll just do it.” Or for instance: “I hate my job but I don’t know what else to do and I can’t afford to quit, so I’ll just keep dragging myself to work.”
These are just examples I made up to illustrate the type of situation that can cause jaw tension. Learn how to set healthy boundaries, and you’ll notice that the tension in your jaw will most likely diminish and your OMG face will come much more natural.
Wow, that’s a lot. Start here:
Write down all the thoughts you might have in a moment of jaw tension. What are you ‘chewing on’? What are you not saying or expressing? And what do you have to fight hard to hold back?
Then, try to reframe your belief! Think of a way to prevent the emotion that accompanies the belief in the future. You’ve heard the saying: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Ok, your hubs never does the dishes. But does he take out the trash, is he genuinely interested in how your day was, and does he contribute in other ways? Have you asked him to do the dishes? Can you find gratefulness in your heart for finding a life companion that loves you unconditionally for who you are? (By the way, I’m not saying you should do all the house chores, HELLO!)
Ok, your job sucks. Can you spend your Sunday afternoons going on a hike or talking to a friend or do whatever helps you to figure out your next steps and career options? Have you talked to your supervisor about how to make your job more interesting for you? Can you find gratefulness in your heart for having a secure income, even if it’s not ideal for now? (Uhm yeah, not saying you should settle for anything less that awesome, just offering a hopefully helpful perspective…)
How would the best version of you react to your current situation? 🙂
Wait…weren’t we talking about how NOT to use the throat? Yes, girl. You’re right. The throat does have a function, though, and is therefore part of what I like to call the 5 point vocal system. (Your vocal cords are literally in your throat, so duh.) Its function is to shape your sound, to regulate the air flow and a bunch of other essential things. But, ironically, it’s best to pretend that the throat shouldn’t do ANYTHING.
You see, your throat is kinda like this overzealous workaholic. Can’t sit still and always wants to bite off more than she can chew. Constantly checking her e-mail when she’s on vacation. So give her as little to do as possible, and help her delegate stuff to the other 4 body parts.
In all seriousness, too much stress on the throat will lead to vocal nodules and other issues. Treat your throat like a queen, and your voice will reward you for it.
If you want to belt like a pro, one thing you need to do is open your chest. You basically keep your rib cage expanded constantly, and let your solar plexus come forward. This will also prevent throaty singing, since it’s waaaay easier to keep that throat open! So, the first thing you wanna do is pretend you are a bodybuilder with great posture, Stand up straight as if you’re very proud.
Then, let’s see if we can vocalize by connecting the nose, the mouth and the chest. My favorite way to do this quickly is by pretending I’m 4 years old, and I want to play outside. But… mom just told me: “you need to clean your room first!” My response would be: MOOOM! (‘Mom’ is a great word, because it starts and ends with a ‘m’, which is a very nasal sound and conducive to the ng tongue position. It also creates the exact right mouth shape, which is… the OMG face.)
Now, the key is to really mean the ‘mom’. You can’t be adulting too much right now, the more immature you can get for this, the better.
If you think of basically every breakup song, any emotional ballad, there is usually an element of ‘mom!’ in there. Granted, those songs are usually not about your mom (lol), but the frustration, the despair, the longing. All those emotions can be found in the word ‘MOM!’
What stops you from fully using your chest:
Still feel like you can’t quite get there? Don’t worry, it happens! It’s hard to open up the chest, because it’s a space of protection for most of us. If you somehow don’t feel safe, or you feel like you have to hide something, the chest will collapse. In my experience, the better friends you are with yourself, the easier it is to open up your chest. When you feel like you are enough just the way you are, you are much more willing to take up physical and emotional space.
This is not something you’ll master completely in one coaching session or after reading this one blog post. In fact, for many people this is a lifelong journey. However, you ~can~ take huge steps when you are willing to work with yourself, negotiate with your ‘demons’ and tell yourself some nice things instead of beating yourself up all the time. A little kindness goes a long way.
Wow, that’s a lot. Start here:
Every time you are feeling impatient with yourself, stop your ego (the part of you that is judging your inner self right now) for a sec, and tell her to wait in the car. Then, turn to your inner self (the part that is hurting) and ask her: what do you need right now? A glass of water? A 10 minute break? A nap? Some words of encouragement? (Usually, the requests that your inner self has, are laughably reasonable.) Give yourself what you need, and you’ll repair the relationship you have with that inner voice.
A healthy singing voice is supported by the core. (I call your core muscles your amplifiers.) Before we start: While we do this work, be very VERY observant when it comes to your throat. We do not want to be amplifying any tension there. If you feel anything uncomfortable here, stop immediately.
First we need to locate those core muscles. Not everyone knows where they are. The core muscles are the muscles you use when you do a plank, for instance. Or, when you cough. Or, when you pretend to be a dog in summertime. It’s not just in the front, it’s also the oblique muscles and your lower back muscles. Can’t find them? Pretend you’re buttoning some skinny jeans that are a size too small!
When you find them, here’s a great way to activate them in terms of your singing voice. Let’s say, you see someone stealing your car across the street. In a reflex, you say: HEY! Let it come from your belly, and not your throat. And keep that upper body open…
The core can (and should) take over a lot of the work that your throat is doing now. Your core muscles are very powerful!
What stops you from fully using your core:
If you suffer from voice cracks, not being able to sustain a note, or if your tone feels kind of wobbly, then you need to pay some attention to how use your core. It helps to do a bunch of planks. But usually, the reason that your core’s engagement is off-balance, is…you guessed it: emotional!
Here’s what I’ve noticed with people who have trouble engaging the core: It’s either the case that the core muscles are not active enough ~or~ that there is constant tension in that area, which means you can’t relax the core muscles (and therefore have no control over them). Any of that sound familiar?
In my experience, under-active core muscles belong to someone feeling a bit helpless. Or as Katy Perry once put it: like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind. There is not a lot of will-power, or that ‘Let’s gooo!’ feeling.
And on the opposite side: Core muscles that are constantly engaged, is ~from what I’ve seen~ very closely linked to fear, or anger (which is also fear). Built up tension that you’re trying to control and push down. A pit in your stomach that you can’t seem to get rid of. There is often a disconnect between the upper body and the lower body, and it’s hard to truly relax.
Wow, that’s a lot. Start here:
Make a daily habit of breathing consciously. Lay down, put on some meditation music and just…be….for as long as you can ‘stomach’ it. (See what I did there? No coincidence, baby!) Be an observer of yourself. What emotions and thoughts come up? Don’t judge whatever is there, just notice it. Get to know the deeper parts of you. Imagine a ball of warm light in your belly, that wraps around you like a waist belt. (Yeah, we’re getting a little crazy now.) Then, start singing from that belt. Keep the upper body open, and try to see the core muscles as the motor that drives your singing voice.
6) Above all else: Breath control
I know, I know. It was supposed to be a 5-point system, not a 6-point system. But the truth is: Your beautifully designed vocal system only works well if you apply breath control! See it as the fuel to make everything run smoothly. Man, I’m so not a car person so probably bad example, but pretend your body is a gorgeous Ferrari that’s worth a gazillion dollars. Would you fill it up with apple juice? (I probably would, so no judgment here.) Or the very best most premium gasoline known to man?? That’s right.
Singing happens on the exhale, which is when the diaphragm wants to relax. But for healthy singing, you need to keep the diaphragm as flat as possible when you vocalize. You need to resist the air that wants to come out, resist the exhalation. That resistance, is what we call breath control. We resist the breath that wants to come out, and you use that breath to resonate. Now, that breath control is done in both your upper body AND your lower body. You compress the air by pretending you’re….kinda… pulling it back through your nose instead of pushing it out of your mouth (which will definitely cause throaty singing). And also, you engage the core muscles to resist that air (this is the part that keeps your diaphragm flat.)
Another thing that I find helpful: I actually don’t like to think about breathing technique as inhaling and exhaling, I’d rather have you focus on engaging and relaxing muscles. When you sing, you engage (= apply breath control), and when you don’t sing, you relax. That’s it.
What stops you from managing your breath efficiently:
My guess is…. probably a belief that you need to prove your worth. Prove that you’re a real singer. Prove that you can create volume. Prove that you belong here. Any of that sound familiar? It makes most of us push our air out (causing… yup: throaty singing), instead of creating resonance.
Wow, that’s a lot. Start here:
A great way to practice is by singing in front of a candle.
Uhm, before we go into this: BE VERY CAREFUL!! If you’re under the age of 12, ONLY do this when someone else is in the room! (And probably if you’re over the age of 12 as well)
Hold the candle a few inches from your mouth, and sing. Start with just some vowels. If the flame waivers, or if you blow out the candle, that means that your breath control still needs some work. If the flame barely moves, you’re good! Make sure to not close your mouth. When you’ve got enough air compression, you can drop your jaw all the way and it won’t affect the flame. When you’ve nailed singing vowels, sing a whole song. You’ll notice that certain consonants will make it harder, think of an f or a p. See if you can still keep that flame alive, by ‘pulling the air back’ and keeping the consonants light.
Scared of burning your face? I hear ya. Check this blog post for 5 more breath control tips!
So…the key to stop your throaty singing:
If you feel your throat is straining or working too hard, that simply means some other body part (or parts) of your vocal system is not doing its job efficiently. Either something in the upper body is not open enough, or something in the lower body is not engaged enough, or both. And if fixing that still doesn’t do the trick, it’s 1000% a breath control issue.
Vocal technique is not rocket science. Really. But your technique is guided by your muscles, and your muscles are guided by your thoughts, and your thoughts are guided by your emotions. And navigating your emotional world can ~feel~ like rocket science. The keyword that seems to encompass all solutions is this:
Or as I like to call it: being your own BFF.
Easier said than done, I know. We all have our deep-seated ‘negative’ beliefs and fears. Things we don’t like to think about. That we can’t speak of. That we’d rather hide from the world. When you think of these things, do you feel your throat close up? Isn’t it interesting how all of this is tied together?
Ask yourself which specific parts of your vocal system are underperforming. And what that tension is all about. There IS an answer to throaty singing. And you already have that answer. Talk to yourself, and you’ll be amazed with what you’ll learn.
Understanding yourself better, and then forgiving yourself, will undeniably lead to more relaxation. And more relaxation will undeniably lead to better vocal technique.
Want to learn more about how to avoid throaty singing, how your beliefs influence your vocal system, and other ways to make the most of your voice? Check out our online Vocal Psychology® course or book a private online Strategy Session with Maru
Disclaimer: Vocal Psychology® coaching is in no way to be construed or substituted as psychological counseling or any other type of therapy or medical advice. I will at all times exercise my best professional efforts, skills and care. However, I cannot guarantee the outcome of coaching efforts and/or recommendations on my website/blog/email series and my comments about the outcome are expressions of opinion only. I cannot make any guarantees other than to deliver the coaching services purchased as described.