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More on the Pharyngeal Voice

An excellent look at a still misunderstood concept.

Petersen Voice Studio

I thought I’d throw in a couple of historical connections regarding the pharyngeal voice.

The first person to coin the actual word in print was Edgar Herbert-Caesari, but he also acknowledged in May 1950 in the Musical Times that there was no such thing as a pharyngeal voice. (Semantics, semantics!)

Herbert-Caesari asserted the idea came from the Italian term voce faringea and was taught to him by Riccardo Daviesi. According to Herbert-Caesari,

The discovery of the pharyngeal dates back about three hundred years (c. 1650) and was employed by church tenors all over Italy. Subsequently, it was taught by all exponents of the old Italian school. Riccardo Daviesi, my singing teacher in Rome, was the greatest Sistine Chapel ‘contralto’ of the nineteenth century.
Herbert-Caesari goes on,
When properly developed, either as a natural gift or as a result of considerable exercise, the pharyngeal mechanism dovetails perfectly into the basic or chest mechanism-just like…

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A Black Thing 


I got a text from a friend yesterday morning. She’s young, beautiful and talented, so young that she was really a baby when George Michael rose to prominence. She wanted me to know that she thought he was corny in a New Kids On The Block kinda way. She had no idea how hurtful she was being. When a true Soul Man dies all of us in the community feel the loss. She knows a lot about music so her opinions are usually informed, but in this case, she’s just too young to know that George Michael was one of the most special artists who broke through during the MTV era. Michael benefitted from the star making power of MTV and along with Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Duran Duran, Culture Club and a few others, he became a poster boy for the music channel’s ability to make household names out…

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Open Up and Say ‘AGH”!

In recent months, I have been drawing my students’ attention to the merits of the rogue vowel sound ‘agh’. Early on in their training, they often perform pharyngeal sounds in an effort to establish some level of mix. For some, it has even allowed them to find elusive head voice tones as well as taking off undue pressure off of chest voice. Plus it can be fun to make such a bratty noise- even the adult students like it!!


I now want my students to realize that ‘agh’ has great value beyond the exaggerated ‘witch’s voice’. I am emphasizing the importance of the wonderful ring we get from even a normalized production of this vowel that is so important for healthy voice production, regardless of the style they sing. We are using ‘agh’ as a centering vowel to establish openness and an awareness of resonance before connecting it with another vowels. I am finding it helpful in keeping singers’ ‘ah’ vowels from becoming overly dark and the ‘oh’ from being overly rounded, especially for my classical students.


Here are the exercises that I am currently using:


  1. ‘Agh’ vowel with tongue extension- Students are asked to let the tongue hang out of the mouth. This heightens the sense of openness and is a great way of sneaking a tongue stretch into the exercise routine. The octave and a half pattern or octave arpeggio are the patterns I employ most often here, but an octave down arpeggio may be good if the student still pulls chest a bit. I really like for students to watch themselves in the mirror for this one to be aware of mouth shape and tongue activity.
  2. ‘Agh’ with tongue extension to ‘ah’ or ‘oh’- After evenness is found with the previous exercise, we then move to another open vowel. I use ‘oh’ most often. The tongue is again extended on ‘agh’, but then is allowed back into the mouth for the following vowel. The ring established on the first vowel should remain on the second. Students are moving to ‘oh’ with less tendency to go a bit nasal or to round the lips too much, allowing them to keep a more consistent tone. They tend to stay with a more pop mix approach instead of a more covered choral sound. I again use the octave and a half pattern mostly.
  3. ‘Agh’ without tongue extension to ‘ah’, ‘oh, or, ‘uh’- I now move to a five tone scale, which tests the waters of the mix further, since it adds more resistance to the vocal folds. I urge students to change mouth shape very little as they move from vowel to vowel.
  4. ‘Agh’ to close vowels- Using either an octave arpeggio or the five tone scale, ‘agh’ will now go to ‘ee’ or ‘ooo’. I save this for last because there will be a bigger adjustment in mouth shape now. Again, the hope is that the ring of the first vowel will be maintained in the second.

I have been having students to employ what Lisa Popeil refers to as ‘belter’s bite’. It’s the posture of preparing to bite into an apple. It can be very helpful with students when singing with an edgier approach like in gospel, rock, and belty musical theater.


For my more classical choir kids as well as my powerhouse pop and gospel singers, this approach has been extremely beneficial. They are finding more consistency in their mix and more aware of the sensations when singing in their middle voice.
Happy Singing- MIX RULES!!!!!

Your Voice is Enough

This really gets to the heart of the matter- finding your unique gift and boldly sharing it with the world.

Petersen Voice Studio

Modern ideas of vocal training are too heavily weighted with sophistication. They lose sight of the fact that singing is a purely natural function of the voice, and that Nature is a reliable guide in the performance of every natural act. Owing to this sophisticated view of the voice, present systems have opposed themselves to that which is natural and instinctive. A feeling of distrust is exhibited toward Nature, and this feeling can be removed only when the purely instinctive scheme of vocal control is under stood. Along with the problem of vocal management Nature has furnished us with a complete solution of the problem.

Taylor, David C. “New Light on the Old Italian Method.” (1916).

The ‘unspoken’ theme for the month of September in my studio has been ‘Finding Your Authentic Voice.’

What is an authentic voice?

An authentic voice is a voice that is free to express itself in music, unfettered by ideas of how…

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Developing Your Vocal Style

The goal of every singer should be to establish that unique, singular quality that sets him apart from the rest of the pack. Though the development of good vocal technique is crucially important, its purpose should be to facilitate free access to your artistic ideas. The process of mining the elements that make you a one of a kind singer should not be rushed taken lightly. 

In the following video, I will share ideas to help in developing your own particular style. 


Background Vocals- The Soul Behind The Stars

I love, love, LOVE background singing and background  singers!!! I think it is a fine art in and of itself. I have always been drawn to the sounds that vocally support the lead vocal. Those singers are the ultimate vocal athletes. I have found as much inspiration in my craft from them as from the stars they have supported.

Check out my latest video blog (because saying ‘vlog’ is still strange to me) where I talk about my passion for backing vocals and the necessary skills to be successful in that career path.

The World NEEDS Your Song

Yes!!! This is so inspiring and true.

Petersen Voice Studio

Wherever you are in the world, and no matter the style of music you love to sing – the world needs your song.

Your voice is the only one of its kind in the whole world. Throughout all of time for millions of years, the particular sound of your voice has never existed before this moment in time. The universe has NEVER HEARD your voice. Your voice is the flower of an amazing human evolution.

What a shame it would be to not share and develop that with a caring and sympathetic teacher. Or share it in a church choir, or a classroom, or a hospital room, or a senior living center.

One of the saddest occurrences to me in life has been those wonderful singers I’ve worked with who have stopped singing for some reason or another: the ‘career’ didn’t work out, kids came along, other interests vied for…

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