Developing the Pharyngeal Voice the Old Way

Developing the Pharyngeal Voice the Old Way

Developing the pharyngeal voice

Developing the pharyngeal voice

The sounds I am making in the attached recording will probably sound at once bizarre and comical to you. This is especially true if you’ve never heard an old-school advanced pharyngeal workout before. Developing the pharyngeal voice in a traditional manner is a process that takes many years.

Please remember, that I started slowly building the pharyngeal mechanism, daily, about 28 years ago. Be extremely careful before trying this type of workout on your own voice.

The “Third Voice”

Singers often think of their voices in terms of a duality:

1. “Head voice” (whoop, hoot, flute, airy, soft, resonant, high)

2. “Chest voice” (speak, call, yell, grounded, low).

Most singers are acutely aware of the inherent antagonism which exists between these two mechanisms.

These same singers are often NOT  familiar with the full use of the “third voice.” This middle voice can seem to act as a “mediating force” in the often challenging relationship between the head voice and chest voice. The blending action brings unparalleled power, warmth, versatility, vitality, resonance and flexibility to the vocalized sound.

How the pharyngeal voice was developed in the past

In several old singing traditions, the so called “pharyngeal” voice was ALWAYS developed (at first especially) as a very gentle downward extension of a falsetto voice. Often times, the falsetto voice itself was worked in isolation prior to even broaching the pharyngeal voice and its development.

No actual raw chest voice was EVER introduced to the student’s isolated pharyngeal practice until AFTER it had been fully developed. Although, some limited falsetto work could be used in the pharyngeal practice as a “starter sound.”

In the old school, the pharyngeal was gently worked for 5 or 10 minutes per day to begin with. Over the period of 1.5 to 2 years, the pharyngeal voice was slowly built. Eventually, the student would be commiting  an hour or more per day of isolated pharyngeal voice practice.

After the pharyngeal voice had been sufficiently built, the student would begin working on blending it into a full voiced tone using messa di voce singing. The Concone Op 9. etudes are exemplary examples of traditional methods of gently blending the middle into the full voice.

There’s pharyngeal, and then there’s PHARYNGEAL

In modern times, a so-called “pharyngeal” sound is often taught to give some twang, or bite to a tone, or to assist in the thinning out of a chest voice which is too heavy. In actuality, what is commonly called “pharyngeal” is really a thinned out and “nasty” sounding chest voice.

I am in no way discounting the effectiveness of the practice of using nasty sounding chest exercises in technical study. It’s just that these exercises are not the same as what I am referring to here as the “pharyngeal voice.”

Calling these types of methods “pharyngeal voice” is unfortunate, since it brings confusion as to what the pharyngeal voice actually is. In fact, from a traditional stand point, a “thinned out chest voice” is the exact OPPOSITE of developing the pharyngeal voice in the old-school manner.

Why make such ridiculous sounds?

The pharyngeal voice is often called a “witches cackle,” but, to me, it sounds much more like a squawk. Chickens, ducks, crows etc. are much more appropriate sound models for the pharyngeal voice.

When considering investing so much of your singing practice to developing such strange sounds, the key is in  remembering that you are building your middle voice in order to have a superior singing technique.

The developed pharyngeal voice brings resonant power to a voice. It gives great amounts of control over dynamics, registration, speed, tonal accuracy, vibrato rate, and flexibility.

The pharyngeal voice was also often employed in the old school as a way of revitalizing worn out voices.

A properly developed pharyngeal voice gives a literal “edge” over the technique of most singers.

Unless a student is careful in the manner in which developing the pharyngeal voice is approached, the mechanism has limited artistic or technical value.

Dedication and a long term commitment were keys to excellence in the old school, and they remain so today.

Take it easy

You can’t rush developing the pharyngeal. When you first discover it, you may notice that it plays hide and seek with you for a while. The pharyngeal voice reminds me of a gopher afraid of its own shadow. Too much too soon will ALWAYS cause it to run scared and hide.

Any time you are having trouble accessing the pharyngeal, it is likely you are either going too hard, or are trying to practice it for too long a period of time. If you have tried to push the pharyngeal voice too far, too fast, you will need to take time off from it for a while, and learn how to build it properly.

Build a Versatile Voice

The pharyngeal voice can make the difference between a good voice and a GREAT VOICE.

Developing the pharyngeal voice is a very delicate process. It is not a a quick fix tool.

Find a teacher who knows how to develop the pharyngeal voice in the traditional manner, and work with them diligently each week, for several years.

The years are going to go by anyway. Why not take that time to develop a superior vocal technique?

Stop wasting your time with promises of  “quick” results, and commit to studying singing the old way. Slowly. Over time.


Isolated Pharyngeal Workout:


Gentle Blending:

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