Day 25 Alexander Technique & Singing Tip: the Omoyhoid, or easy shoulders for easy vocal production

Our neck is in an information and muscular high way between our brains and the rest of our bodies. Countless nerve endings, blood vessels, and muscles make up what we call “our neck”.

The Hyoid Bone

One very interesting bone for singers is the horseshoe shaped bone called the “hyoid” where the tongue root attaches above, and the larynx, vocal cords, and trachea are suspended below. The hyoid is not directly connected to another bone, and is a rare muscles that truly floats in our body, suspended by our muscles.

Elevators and Depressors

Some of those muscles are called “elevators” and help to elevate or lift the larynx. You can feel this happen when you swallow.

Other muscles are called “depressors” and help to lower the larynx. You can feel this happen when you take a deep inhale of a smell you love, or when you yawn.

An Easy Throat

In general, classical vocal technique encourages a slightly lower suspension of the larynx in order to encourage a rounder, more spacious and resonant sound that can be heard in an auditorium without the aid of microphones.

In general, other styles of vocal technique encourage a neutral or slightly raised suspension of the larynx in order to make sure that words are clear and sound more like speech. (When the larynx descends, the quality of our vowel sounds changes or can change a bit)

The key is that all styles of singing encourage SUSPENSION of the larynx, or a healthy, dynamic, antagonistic balance between the muscles elevating the larynx and depressing it. At no point do we want one of those muscle sets to “win out” and the larynx to be SQUEEZED up or PUSHED down. Our throats should always feel easy, and available for movement, so that the intricate adjustments necessary for singing up and down a scale are allowed to happen, and singing can feel easy.

Today’s Focus on the Omohyoid

The omohyoid, colored in pink above, gets its name from where it attaches. “Omo” comes from Greek for shoulder, where the omohyoid attaches at the inside of the top of the scapula or shoulder blade. Hyoid comes from the attachment to the hyoid bone which floats at the front of your throat, and from which the larynx is suspended.

The omohyoid, colored in pink above, gets its name from where it attaches. “Omo” comes from Greek for shoulder, where the omohyoid attaches at the inside of the top of the scapula or shoulder blade. Hyoid comes from the attachment to the hyoid bone which floats at the front of your throat, and from which the larynx is suspended.

The omohyoid is a larynx depressor: it helps to lower the larynx. It’s a fascinating muscle because unlike many of the other muscles that move the hyoid/larynx, it does not just stay on the front part of our body, but travels from the hyoid in the front through our middle and into our back, attaching on the inside, top of our shoulder blade or scapula. Because of this wonderful incorporation of our front and back inherent in where the omohyoid attaches, this muscle can be a big help in maintaining a sense of our three dimensionality while singing.

Specific Awareness of the Omohyoid

1) Squeeze your shoulder blades tight against your back. What do you notice in your throat and larynx? How does it feel to breathe like this? Does some version of this, however slight, happen when you sing? This involves the Omohyoid contracting at the shoulder blade, which as we now know attaches directly at the hyoid bone.

2) If we want our voices to be easy, we need the anatomy which produces them to be easy, which helps if we have an accurate picture of our anatomy! We now know that the anatomy that helps to produce our voice includes our throats, and all the things that influence and attach to our throats, which we now know include our shoulder blades (and the omohyoid!).

3) See if you can leave your shoulder blades easy. Allow them to float above and behind your ribcage (which they do! They don’t attach with a bone there, so let yourself breathe by leaving room for the ribs to move underneath your shoulders!) Do you notice anything change in your breath from when you were squeezing them? Do you feel any urge to grab onto or squeeze your shoulder blades, either on the inhale or exhale? See if you can pause before you squeeze and inhibit that squeeze. What do you notice?

4) Feel across the top of your shoulder blade, out to the end of your shoulder. Notice that the shoulder joint is where your scapula/shoulder blade meets your clavicle/collar bone. Allow both of these bones and the muscles around them to feel easy and have their full length. Staying easy in your pectorals, especially at the upper corner near the front part of your shoulder joint can help this sensation.

An Omohyoid and Singing Exercise

1) Find a doorway where while standing in the middle you can gently, with as much ease in your joints as you can find, touch both side of the door with your palms.

2) Pause here and find your feet on the floor, and whatever tips have helped you so far: find your feet on the floor, breathe with a sense of inhale, easy at the top of your spine where your head balances, etc.

3) Gently apply a little bit of pressure into the door frame, thinking of coming from underneath your arms and through the heel of your hand.

4) Pause here and see if anything has grabbed or squeezed. See if you can release that while gently maintaining pressure into the door frame. What do you notice in your shoulder blades? Are they lightly engaged and floating outwards towards your hands and the door frame? Can you allow them to be?

5) While maintaining this easy contact with the door frame, with an easy neck, shoulders, elbows, and wrists, exhale on a long “hsss” or “ffff”. What do you notice? Do your arms and shoulders want to retract at all? Do you lose consciousness of the gentle contact with the door frame? See if you can inhibit any “pulling away from the door frame”.

6) Think about singing, but don’t do it. Check back in. Maybe regroup and start over from the beginning. Run through all the instructions above, and re-find ease in your whole body.

7) When you’ve gotten back to applying gentle pressure to the door frame from the heels of your palms with an easy neck, shoulders, elbows, and wrists, think of singing your favorite vowel on a comfortable midrange single pitch for a sustained few seconds. Did just thinking of singing make you lose contact with the door frame, and your hands? Did you pull in on your arms and shoulder blades (and therefore larynx?). Can you release that?

8) Now sing. Pay special attention to the moment you instruct yourself to sing but haven’t sung yet, and the moment of the onset of the sound. Did you lose contact with your hands? Did your shoulders (and larynx, thanks omohyoid!) tighten, pull-in, squeeze? Can you leave them easy?

9) Try to go slow enough, that you can have a moment of awareness before your habit: before you squeeze or lose contact with your hands on the door frame. At that moment, ask yourself to stay with the positive thing. It’s much easier to stay with a positive process than to cancel a negative one once it’s already started.

10) See what you notice! When you leave your arms and shoulders easy and in contact with the door frame, does that help your throat stay easy? How does this affect your breath? Your voice? Your contact with the ground? Your idea of support?