Updated: Mar 25
In this post, I want to explain why a strong yawning muscle is essential for a capable voice.
First of all, let's cover some anatomy basics. The vocal cords are situated inside the thyroid cartilage in your throat. They are attached to the frontal tip of your thyroid cartilage.
In order to have a flexible range and sounds, your vocal cords need to be flexible, which means your thyroid cartilage and the muscles around it need to be flexible too.
To accommodate a wider range, your Thyroid Cartilage needs to move; it has to be flexible enough to stretch the vocal cords.
However, the stiffness of the Thyro-Hyoid Muscle, also known as the Swallowing Muscle, can hinder the flexibility of the thyroid cartilage inside the throat for many people. The swallowing muscle is attached to the thyroid cartilage and goes up to the hyoid bone, the origin of the tongue.
When the swallowing muscle is so tight and stiff that it cannot loosen up and provide space, the thyroid cartilage is always very high in the throat and cannot offer the flexibility required for a flexible range and sounds.
But, you cannot grab your thyroid cartilage, pull it down and stretch that muscle, as it is potentially harmful and won't yield the desired outcome.
Instead, you need to use the antagonist of the swallowing muscle, which is the yawning muscle, to stretch it.
In order to stretch the swallowing muscle, your yawning muscle needs to be stronger than your swallowing muscle. Therefore, I will share an exercise that strengthens the yawning muscle.
With many people, the thyroid cartilage is very far up in the throat due to a stiff Swallowing muscle, which leads to the yawning muscle constantly being overstretched.
When a muscle is overstretched, it's hard to contract it. However, if you can get the muscle out of the overstretched position into a relaxed state, it's much easier to contract the muscle. This exercise will help you bring your yawning muscle out of a position where it is constantly being overstretched into a relaxed position.
Here's how to do it: you need to bring the sternum and the thyroid cartilage closer together. Bigger muscles are easier to control than smaller muscles, and many bigger muscles around the sternum can help raise it up. Therefore, you need to learn how to raise your sternum towards the Thyroid Cartilage so that there is little to no distance between the two.
When you put your sternum up like this, it's going to be possible for your yawning muscle to contract because it is out of a position where it's constantly overstretched.
One important thing to consider is not to arch your back to achieve this. Arching your back tilts your sternum and stretches the Sterno-Thyroid (Yawning-) Muscle even more. You don't want to stretch the yawning muscle; you want to shorten it. Therefore, you need the sternum to go up vertically, not tilt.
The movement feels like this: Your sternum goes slightly to the diagonal front up, but your back is extending to the back.
Once your sternum is up there, you get into an authentic yawn. The high sternum ensures that the yawning muscle is not overstretched but rather relaxed, allowing it to contract easily. This exercise will improve the ease with which you can yawn, which, in turn, will optimally strengthen the yawning muscle.
By the way, this is also what happens naturally when you yawn: your sternum comes up. Try it out and see the difference it makes!
However, keep in mind that it's an exercise, it's not that you have to sing like this. It's not an end-product, it's merely one step of working out your muscles in order to make your voice stronger. I hope this exercise will help you a lot! It helped me tremendously to build my voice.
If you want a bit more input, check out my YouTube video that explains how to practice putting your sternum up and why it's so important:
PIC 2.0 (Vocal cords attached to the thyroid cartilage)
Ro, T. (2013, 17 of February). Ch. 4 Part 3, Communication Disorders and Science 3100, Utah State University. StudyBlue. https://www.chegg.com/flashcards/ch-4-part-3-db6a6150-155c-4d21-a1e9-8d6acc012eb5/deck
The Rest: Wikimedia