What's small, well-connected, and hard to say five times fast? It's the hyoid bone!
Count this bone among the small but incredibly mighty. The hyoid bone is a floater, meaning it doesn't connect (fancy word: articulate) with any other bone directly, but has lots of muscle and tendon connections. In fact, it's connected to your tongue, the jaw, the larynx, and even the scapula. This little U-shaped bone seems to be the anchor for a lot of muscles to do some really important things, and if it is damaged or dysfunctional in some way, it can really mess things up. So let's get to know it better!
The hyoid bone sits just under the tongue, kind of tucked up into the junction of the chin with the neck. If you want to feel it, put your fingertips in the corner of that junction, push in just a tiny little bit, and swallow. You'll feel the body of the hyoid bone roll down over your fingertips as it descends to meet up with the top of the larynx.
The back of the tongue connects to the hyoid bone, as does the muscles along the floor of the mouth, which gives the tongue an anchoring point. That offers some stability for the tongue as it moves around for articulation and swallowing. In fact, if the hyoid bone is damaged, it can sometimes lead to problems with speech!
It also connects to the top of the thyroid cartilage via the thyrohyoid membrane and the thyrohyoid muscles. When you swallow, in particular, the structures in your pharynx bunch up to decrease the space the food or liquid needs to travel, making it easier for stuff to get to the right place. The hyoid bone provides the anchoring point again, so that the muscles that contract to decrease the space have a hard structure to work against. Because the hyoid floats, it can be pulled down toward the larynx, or the larynx can be pulled up toward the hyoid. It's really kind of neat the flexibility the floatiness gives it. And just like speech problems can occur because of it's connection to the tongue, some people with damaged hyoid bones have reported issues with swallowing or breathing.
Something I'd forgotten is that the hyoid bone isn't really a completely solid structure until about mid-life. (Thanks to the video from Sam Webster for reminding me of this!) The bone is really in about three parts, connected by fibrous tissue between the body (middle) of the bone and the greater cornu (those long arms that run toward the back). This gives the bone some flexibility until the fibrous tissue hardens and becomes bone. As Mr. Webster pointed out, that flexibility can make it hard to damage until the ossification is complete, and after that, it is easier to break or damage.
Why should singers care about this bone? Well, it's a cool little thingie that does a whole lot for our articulation and the "space" we feel in the throat while singing. Our speech and diction would be a lot less clear without this bone. And the muscles that we are usually asking students to relax when their larynx is too high are attached to this bone, too. Because all of these muscles work against this bone, you could consider it the anchor of the voice, or the pivot point between the throat and the mouth. However you think about this funny-named bone, it deserves our thanks and respect for what it allows us to do. And I hope learning a bit more about it can increase your wonder and appreciation for the miracle of singing. It never ceases to amaze me how many things work together to allow us to make pretty noise. And if we can be inspired by how it works, I think that joy can infect our teaching and singing, too.
Did you learn anything new today? I'd love to know about it! You can send me a DM through my socials or contact me through my website. Hearing what you are learning about and excited by is really helpful for me to know what content is most helpful and fun to read. And if you found it fun and helpful, share it with a colleague or with your students! Our bodies are amazing, and the voice is a wonder. I hope you celebrate your voice today!