How to train your throat to stay open at the top of the breath

  • 97% + 3% Exercise

The Top of the Breath is the most common place within the breath cycle where we unconsciously close our throats (larynx).

Here, before we even make a sound, we may try to control or manage the building pressure in the body by clamping the air off at the larynx.

The closing action of the larynx is so habitual that we don’t often even notice the inward motion. It is critical that you become aware of this small motion, as it determines the success of the rest of your vocal study.

Remember, your vocal cords only stretch and contract to change the pitch. They do not control your breathing or the volume of your voice.

The vocal folds have to be free to stretch and contract to make high and low pitches. They can’t stretch or vibrate to make sound if they are also being used to control the breath. However, we all close our throats when we become uncomfortable with greater air pressure in our bodies. It happens so quickly, so invisibly, that we often don’t even notice.

The biggest improvement in your voice will come when you unwind the inward pressing motion in your larynx and throat, especially during the breathing cycle

We practice breathing exercises to save stress and wear and tear on the vocal cords. If you find that you are using tension during the breathing or still points, you will transfer those unhealthy habits to the voice.

This is what we mean when we say that voice study is “all about the breathing."

Exercise: 97% + 3% = 100%

The Top of the Breath is one of the most common places in the breathing cycle where we tend to unconsciously close our throats. The pressure builds when we contain more air and the old habits of throat tension return before we notice. The "97% + 3%" exercise is one of the most helpful exercises to help us learn to keep our throat and larynx open at the top of the breath.

There are three great uses for this exercise:

  • How to sustain the open larynx when you are full of breath pressure.
  • How to contain more air pressure. 

  • How to determine whether the breath is still.


This exercise requires that you find your home position before beginning. 

  • Head rests in a level position and does not move with the breathing. There is a horizontal line between the ears.
  • Eyes are open in soft focus. Eyebrows are relaxed.
  • Lips are closed without tension or grimacing.
  • Jaw falls from the face and creates space between the upper and lower teeth.
  • Tongue rests on the floor of your mouth.
  • Larynx is at rest. Breath is silent.
  • Chest rises and falls without effort. Shoulders don’t move.

Breathing Exercise

1. Find your "home" rested position (as described above).

2. Draw your focus to your breathing cycle and be sure that none of the points of the vocal core close. You should be able to maintain a free and open breathing cycle.

3. Establish a consistent size of your breathing cycle: 

  • Notice that your inhale tends to be about the same size.
  • Determine a “top” of your breath capacity where you are comfortable.
  • Name that comfortable capacity “100% comfortably full."

Step One: 100% Comfortable Full

  • Establish a comfortable 100% full air capacity.
  • Be still, at the top of the breath with your throat open.

Part Two: Slowly release 3% of your air

  • Slowly and silently release 3% of your air. (Three per cent of 100% is very little air. 

Step Three: Observe the 97% capacity of your breath cushion 

It’s quite common to gradually deflate below the 97% with this exercise. One of the purposes for this exercise is to learn how to repeat a consistent breathing pattern.

  • Slowly release 3% of your air to 97% capacity.

Part Four: Return to 100% - Comfortable Full

  • Return to the 100% with each inhale. 
  • Try not to exceed 100%.

Part Five: Circle the top 3% of your air out and in

1. Reestablish your 100% comfortable full capacity.

2. Circle the top 3% of your air in and out without decreasing the lower 97% of your breath cushion.


  • Head and shoulders don’t move with the breath motion. 
  • Jaw remains in its dropped position.
  • Tongue remains on the floor of your mouth.
  • Larynx is relaxed and open, and breath is silent.

With all this in mind, note how small 3% is!

Breathe Freely

1. Take a rest when you feel like you're too full or empty with air Breathe in and out in a comfortable pace and amount. Non-coached breathing.

2. Rest for a moment. Allow your body to adjust to your new size of breathing cycle.

Repeat exercise until you can comfortably circle only the top 3% of your air

Do not gradually deflate. Always inhale to 100% Comfortable Full!

One of the reasons we run out of breath is because we don't inhale to a consistent level of fullness.  

This exercise helps you remember to inhale fully. Repeat this exercise until you build the habit to always return to full.  


Breath Cushion = Breath Support

Your vocal sound is made in the upper ⅓ of your body, the vocal core. The lower ⅔ of your body supports the actions in the vocal core. The air pressure builds in the lower part of your body and creates a cushion of “breath support” for your voice.

Breathe Freely 

Non-coached breathing at a comfortable size and pace for the student.

Comfortable Full

Inhale to a comfortable level of breath with ease. You can’t see your breath, but you can feel a sensation of the size of your capacity. You should be able to return to this destination consistently without stress; it is a constant, easy inhale destination.

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