What is laryngeal tilt? Many singers do it unconsciously because it is sort of built-in in classical vocal technique. What happens when you tilt? What is actually tilted? Can you lose this ability?
Let´s try to answer some of these questions.
The larynx consists of three main cartilages: the thyroid, the cricoid and the arytenoids. The thyroid cartilage sits on top of the cricoid and they are connected to each other with a paired muscle, the cricothyroid. When the cricothyroid muscles contract they pull the thyroid a little forward and down thereby tilting the thyroid. While the arytenoids also rotate towards each other closing the glottic chink, the vocal cords close while stretching and lengthening at the same time. This means we can sing different pitches; the more the folds stretch, the higher the pitch. IF there is no tilt we can still sing higher pitches but not as easily and the sound retains a speechlike quality. With thyroid tilt we can really SING!
Thyroid tilt is therefore very important. How can it be taught? Usually it happens quite automatically and classical teachers ask for it from the very beginning when they show and have students imitate head and mixed voice. This terminology is confusing again – it is not produced in the head but by the vocal cords – but we FEEL it in the head. That´s why it has been named head voice long ago. It is the result of function, not the cause of it. If we don´t have anyone to demonstrate tilted voice sound, we can also imagine crying or sobbing. They are natural human responses and primal sounds that we can take advantage of when learning to sing. Crying means the tilt happens naturally; adding even more cry with sob also lowers the larynx. This enables us to vary the colours of the voice depending on the emotianal contexts of songs.
If you have never been conscious of thyroid tilt it is possible to lose it. That can happen unfortunately for a number of causes. If too much pressure is used in singing the vocal fold vibration may become too thick and the lengthening / stretching of the cords gets more difficult. The fine edges of the cords that should be innervated and touch each other gently and firmly lose their sensitivity and thicken. That calls for even more pressure which of course exacerbates the situation. We hear this kind of forced singing all the time. The tilt that would enable the cords to stretch may be reduced. There are also cases where trauma to the neck or whiplash may cause deterioration of the laryngeal coordination, thus making singing very effortful.
How to tilt? Gently moan and cry, do the siren exercise (sing on –ng). You might palpate the front of the neck gently and feel the tiny forward rocking motion. Tilting adds sweetness to the sound as well as healthy vibrato. Tilt can be used in all genres, not only classical and it makes singing more comfortable and easier.