Singing is a very primal thing people do. Still, John hears complaints from singers and aspiring singers feeling like their voices are trapped in their throats.

In an episode of the Intelligent Vocalist podcast, John Henny shared a crucial topic in the singing community. There, he talked about this frequent singing ailment of having the voice stuck in the throat, dissecting what's going on both physically and acoustically, and providing valuable suggestions to get you unstuck quickly.

We'll look into how you can get that voice out of you without damaging your vocal cords or creating an unpleasant sound. So, continue reading this article to learn more.

Singing from the Throat

photo of a man trying to make sound with a hand on his throat

One of John's associate teachers noted how some people think pushing will make their voices produce a stronger sound. That made him recall how often he hears others say, "I feel like I'm singing from my throat."

And he thinks this throat situation is funny because where else would your voice come from since that's where your vocal cords are? People will feel it in their throats when they're singing, talking, or making noise because it's connected to their vocal cords. The sound is produced inside the throat.

At the same time, he highlighted in the episode that the sensations change, and the sensations don't always reflect what's actually happening. Furthermore, there are sensations that a beginning singer might not even be able to imagine even if they were described to them, because the singer has to feel them for themselves.

You might hear vague descriptions like not feeling stuck in the throat, feeling like the sound is moving vertically, or feeling like there is no tension whatsoever. However, these descriptions don't even really make sense.

Is There Such a Thing as "Effortless Singing?"

photo of a man looking up with his arms out

There's no such thing as singing without tension. There needs to be tension in order to create sound. A complete lack of tension is silence. Even as we understand that truth, in the world of singing and in the understanding of the sensations of singing, sometimes we need to utilize "lies" to work for a greater truth.

For instance, if thinking that you are singing without effort helps you release tight throat muscles and helps train to you find greater balance in your voice over time, you can continue to focus on singing "without effort" for as long as it serves you.

However, it is important to be aware of what is actually happening with your singing voice - that your vocal cords are being stretched to a pitch, are being brought together to resist air, and then are being blown apart by that air to produce a sound wave - even as you are thinking that you're singing "without effort."

Furthermore, it may feel more and more effortless the more practiced you are and the more you develop your skill. But understand that the sensations that come with singing are really quite personal. This kinesthetic experience, the mind-body interaction, and how we feel the notes can change, and all these sensations are not the same for everyone.

Why is Your Voice Stuck in the Throat?

The best way to understand what's happening is to realize that this could occur on one or two levels: physical and acoustic.

Physical Level

photo of a hand tightly gripping a stress ball

When people complain about feeling like their voice is stuck in their throat, they're probably using too much force and muscle.

Even though singing is a very primal thing, it is a higher level skill. It requires coordinations and muscular balances and acoustics and sensations that don't occur in everyday speaking. As you learn to sing, and start acquiring greater balance and power in your upper notes, that is something that the average person will never feel.

As singers, we use our vocal cords in a very different way. And finding that balance and coordination is something that very many singers continue to struggle with. This physical sensation of the voice being stuck in the throat is something almost every singer experiences.

They can feel the strain, the lock, the throat tightness, and the inability to reach a higher pitch. This is because the vocal cords have a variety of things they need to be able to do. 

The vocal cords open and close hundreds of times per second, resisting, compressing, and releasing air to create a sound wave. They also need to shorten and thicken, or stretch out and thin and add tension, depending on the vocal pitch. Relax too much and you'll get an airy voice, but if you over-muscle and try to force higher notes, you'll leave your throat feeling strained and fatigued.

To make physical matters even more difficult, the muscles that control all these things are ones that we don't have direct conscious awareness of.

Acoustic Level

photo of stylized sound waves

As we consider acoustics, think about the difference in sound if you were to clap in a closet full of clothes, and then in an empty underground parking garage. The sound wave produced from your clap interacts with the space around it, and the sound that you hear from your clapping hands between the two locations will be drastically different.

We can also consider how the sound changes with any type of room, depending on the size and shape of the room, and what furniture, curtains, or reflective surfaces the room contains.

We can apply this understanding of room acoustics to our voice. In our body, we are looking at the resonance chambers of the throat and the mouth. Think of the throat and the mouth as two different rooms, and the back of the tongue is a movable room divider.

The sound wave produced from our vocal cords, or voice box, will interact with size and shapes we create in our vocal tract. How much room we have in the throat resonator or the mouth resonator, and where we place that tongue as a room divider will determine what kind of sound is ultimately produced.

If you are feeling your voice caught in your throat, you are likely not optimizing how the sound wave moves through these acoustic spaces.

How to Get My Voice Out?

There are four things John recommended in his podcast to help singers and their throats in terms of getting their voices out. It might take some time, but it's going to be worth it!

Look at the muscle of the vocal fold.

photo of woman touching her throat

The first thing to do is to check out the vocal folds. Some people believe they'll get better and louder sound quality when they begin to press harder when in fact, they may end up getting a worse sound quality. The sound might get a little louder, but for much more effort than it's worth.

This over-pressing and over-muscling will limit range, cause fatigue, and can ultimately damage the voice. It will also give you a steely, harsh, and unpleasant sound. However, you don't want to overcompensate to weak and breathy coordination.

Avoid taking it too far.

Mmmm written out in popcorn

A vocalist can't keep their throat healthy if they go too far with it. You want to find a medium level of compression to stay balanced.

To experience the different levels of muscle you can have at the vocal folds, John takes us through these three examples:


That breathiness and airiness means there is not enough vocal fold compression.

Pretend to lift something heavy.

The compressed sound means there is too much vocal fold compression.

Say "Mmm" like you're eating your favorite food.

That is the desired amount of vocal fold compression.

Keep your throat at ease.

photo of man smiling while touching his throat

Once you find balance with how much vocal fold compression you need, you can practice varying intensities within that balance.

The point is to maintain control of the coordination, otherwise you might begin to over-muscle again, which will cause that sensation of being stuck in your throat again.

Find the acoustic balance.

photo of balanced stacking rocks

You can refer to the following podcast episodes to learn more about vocal acoustics:

Basically, the way the sound wave interacts with the acoustic spaces of your throat and mouth resonators will have varying outcomes. This exchange of energies can create a weak, dull, or muffled sound, or go all the way into a shouty condition. It is again the latter that gives you that stuck in your throat feeling.

So you need to find an optimal alignment to the sound wave, which will change based on pitch, vowel, intensity, and emotion. Vowels will act differently on different pitches and intensities, and consonants may knock you out of balance.

However, when you find that acoustic balance, there will be this good energy that creates back pressure which assists the vocal cords in doing their job. This will actually allow the vocal cords to relax a bit, which then helps prevent that physical over-muscling, and so relieves that feeling of your voice being stuck in your throat.

Final Words

The sensation of having your voice stuck in your throat is very often caused from physically over-muscling or over-compressing at the vocal cords in conjunction with not being acoustically balanced.

Aside from gaining awareness to release excess muscle tension and find acoustic balance, John recommends revisiting Episode 50: Using SOVT Exercises to see if those can help you alleviate this feeling of being stuck in the throat.

Vocal lessons with an experienced voice coach can also help if you need further assistance.