The Controversy Surrounding the Pharyngeal Voice

Weekly Teaching Tip – April 14, 2014
by Randy Buescher

As you may know, Dr. Steve Sims and I wrote an article called The Female Pharyngeal Voice and Theories of Low Vocal Fold Dampening. It was published in the NATS JOS, and we’ve gone on to present it at several high profile voice conferences including last year at the IVTOM conference.

While all who have read the article and attended our presentation have agreed with the findings, the term pharyngeal voice has proven to be troublesome.

When presented at the Voice Foundation conference in Philadelphia, the famous (or infamous) Jeanette Lovetri questioned the term. “Why the need for Seth Riggs to call it the pharyngeal voice, when I would just call it a high brassy belt?” Frankly, she was so worked up asking the question, I thought she might have a heart attack in the process. I explained that this term was originated long before “belting” became a way of singing, originated back to the bel canto period, and although it may have things in common with approaches used now to create a certain sound, the historical approach to the sound had never really been documented. It was possibly the case of something old is something new.

In private conversations with Dr. Ingo Titze, he agreed with the findings also but did not like the term. His take was, “All singing involves the pharynx.”

I guess words can be that controversial, but I do not see the big deal. It’s a historic term, that within a certain circle of pedagogy (including the one we teach) is used but had never been documented via observation. Now it has.

Teachers that come from an Estill background will say it is nothing but twang. However, which word came first? It was not twang. From the research we did, the traditional exercises we do to establish the pharyngeal voice which include /ne/ and /nae/ do show some similarities with twang, but when mastered and applied into a song there are distinct differences. When applied into a song what we do shows very little laryngeal elevation, not that much movement of the epiglottis, and is not that nasalized.

So why is there a problem with the term pharyngeal voice? Frankly, because everyone has an ego and wants to think they are right. That being said, I will stand by that term, because from what I can tell it is nothing new. The term and approach are nothing recent and it is the earliest description of the approach I have been able to find. If one can find an older one, please let me know. Otherwise, there is no need to rename something that has been around for a long time so you can claim it as your own.

Related Articles


  1. I think one major point is that the terms the others are using, ie. High brassy belt, Twang, are NOT the same thing as “pharyngeal voice” – the first two terms are describing a sound, not a function – and the creation of a sound effect can can be accomplished by a variety of functions – since the sound is subjective – and we know from Estill and Lovetri approaches that the larynx is considerably higher than in Rigg’s Pharyngeal Voice. There are some who maintain that the higher laryngeal position isn’t detrimental but the science is clear that a consistently higher laryngeal position ages the voice. Dr. Titze’s point that all singing involves the pharynx is a good one, however, it seems that the Rigg’s “Pharyngeal Voice” is an one in which the pharynx is positioned differently so, the name refers to that difference rather than just the fact that the pharynx is involved…..

    Linda Balliro

Comments are closed.