Pharyngeal Voice . . . What Is It?

Pharyngeal Voice?  What is it?

Well, the old singing teachers used to call this voice the “witch’s cackle.”  To be sure, it can sound like a cackle, but it is a voice that finds its origin in the falsetto voice.  It is nothing more than a developed falsetto. When we hear and feel this texture there is more depth of cord vibrating than in a pure falsetto but less than in full voice.  There is more cord closure as well.

Pharyngeal is most operative from the F above middle C to the D above that F, roughly the span of a sixth (Do to La). It can be accessed by using certain vowels such as [eh] and [ae]. It is mostly exercised independently at first over short periods of time, with small half step movements. A teacher’s trained ear is necessary to guide the student in finding and developing this voice.

Many times we sing in falsetto and quickly move into a more full voice sound; bypassing the pharyngeal voice if we are not careful.  So, pay attention to a “feel” of slight downward thought that will accomplish a physical movement that is super small. If we try to do it directly, we do to much.

This pharyngeal voice can be thought of as the key to the development of a tenor’s top notes and a woman’s middle notes. It is like a bridge from the falsetto to the full voice.  It enables one to sing without: 1. either pulling up too much weight in that area and pushing to secure the pitch or 2. not engaging enough cord in vibrational depth causing a breathy falsetto.  

All of this testifies to the fact that there is a specific length, width, and depth of vocal cords vibrating to produce each and every pitch. We can access different layers of depth, different thicknesses, and different lengths in a variety of ways to make a variety of sounds – some healthy, some not.  

The “pharyngeal” is a healthy sound that is a helpful thinner for the guys at the top and a thickener for the ladies in the middle! Oh, and we notice as this voice develops, that by itself it is a pretty gnarly and piercing sound. Combined with falsetto or full voice, pharyngeal is like adding an exotic spice to the vocal meal.  There is sparkle and steely intensity. Best of all, this voice becomes really strong and effortless in production.

Allen Rascoe

about the author

Allen Rascoe Allen has been enjoying singing since he was a little kid. He officially studied voice at ECU and USC. However, he ran... Read More