Resonance in Singing and Speaking
by Thomas Fillebrown
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[Transcriber's Note: Text in bold is surrounded by =. Text in italics is surrounded by _.]





Efforts to develop my own voice, and the voices of my patients after operations for cleft palate, aided by anatomical study, resulted in a plan for the focusing and development of the human voice quite different from any other yet published, or, so far as I know, yet proposed. This plan has proved so successful in my later life that I feel emboldened to offer it for the consideration of speakers and singers.

While twenty-five years ago few of the principles here described were acknowledged or even recognized, within the last decade almost all have been advocated separately by different teachers or writers. At the present time, therefore, originality consists only in the classification of the principles into a systematic, progressive whole, and in arranging a simpler and more practical method of applying them, thus making the desired results much more quickly attainable.

It is attempted in this volume only to describe the value of each element in the production of the perfect tone and to demonstrate the principles which, if properly and faithfully applied, will develop the best that is possible in each individual voice and prepare the pupil to enter upon the more advanced arts of speaking and singing.

In 1903 I prepared a series of papers on The Art of Vocalism, which were published in The Etude in May, June, and July of that year. These articles are incorporated in this work. In connection with different organs and conditions, important principles are stated and restated. This repetition is thought desirable in order that the fundamentals may be kept prominently before the mind and impressed upon the attention.

I believe that a careful study of this volume will prove of essential service to teachers and advanced pupils of singing and oratory, especially to young teachers just entering upon their duties. Its method will be found adapted to the instruction of pupils of all grades, from the kindergarten to the Conservatory of Music and the School of Oratory.

I shall be gratified if this outcome of years of experience, constant study, and tested methods shall prove helpful to those who seek mastery of the art of beautiful speaking and singing.

Thomas Fillebrown]





















When a youth it was my lot to be surrounded by examples of faulty vocalism, such as prevailed in a country town, and to be subjected to the errors then in vogue, having at the same time small opportunity for training in the application of principles, even as then imperfectly taught. At middle life I had given up all attempt at singing and had difficulty in speaking so as to be heard at any considerable distance or for any considerable length of time. Professional obligations to my patients, however, compelled me later to take up the subject of vocal physiology. This I did, guided by the ideas current on the subject.

About 1880 I became satisfied that many of the current ideas were incorrect, and determined to start anew, and to note in detail the action of each organ used in vocalization and articulation. To this end I sought vocal instruction and advice, which, modified by my own observations, have produced the most gratifying results.

Up to that time it had been held that the nasal cavities must be cut off from the mouth by the closing of the soft palate against the back of the throat; that the passage of ever so little of the sound above the palate would give a nasal twang, and that the sound was reinforced and developed only in the cavities of the throat and mouth. My practice in Oral Surgery, coupled with my own vocal studies exposed this fallacy and revealed to me the true value of nasal resonance.

The late Mme. Rudersdorff had begun to recognize the effect of nasal resonance, but she left no published record of her conclusions. It does not appear that she or her contemporaries realized the true value of the nasal and head cavities as reinforcing agents in the production of tone, or appreciated their influence upon its quality and power.

There are perhaps few subjects on which a greater variety of opinion exists than on that of voice culture, and few upon which so many volumes have been written. Few points are uncontested, and exactly opposite statements are made in regard to each.

Formerly great stress was laid upon the distinction between "head tones" and "chest tones," "closed tones" and "open tones." The whole musical world was in bondage to "registers of the voice," and the one great task confronting the singer and vocal teacher was to "blend the registers," a feat still baffling the efforts of many instructors.

Many teachers and singers have now reached what they consider a demonstrated conclusion that registers are not a natural feature of the voice; yet a large contingent still adhere to the doctrine of "register," depending for their justification upon the unreliable evidence furnished by the laryngoscope, not realizing that there will be found in the little lens as many different conditions as the observers have eyes to see. Garcia himself, the inventor of the laryngoscope, soon modified his first claims as to its value in vocal culture.

On this point we have the testimony of his biographer, M.S. McKinley:

"As far as Garcia was concerned, the laryngoscope ceased to be of any special use as soon as his first investigations were concluded. By his examination of the glottis he had the satisfaction of proving that all his theories with regard to the emission of the voice were absolutely correct. Beyond that he did not see that anything further was to be gained except to satisfy the curiosity of those who might be interested in seeing for themselves the forms and changes which the inside of the larynx assumed during singing and speaking."

Of similar purport is the word of the eminent baritone, Sir Charles Santley, who, in his Art of Singing, says:

"Manuel Garcia is held up as the pioneer of scientific teaching of singing. He was—but he taught singing, not surgery! I was a pupil of his in 1858 and a friend of his while he lived;[1] and in all the conversations I had with him I never heard him say a word about larynx or pharynx, glottis or any other organ used in the production and emission of the voice. He was perfectly acquainted with their functions, but he used his knowledge for his own direction, not to parade it before his pupils."

[Footnote 1: Garcia died July 1, 1906, at the age of 101.]

The eminent London surgeon and voice specialist, Dr. Morell Mackenzie, says of the laryngoscope, "It can scarcely be said to have thrown any new light on the mechanism of the voice"; and Dr. Lennox Browne confesses that, "Valuable as has been the laryngoscope in a physiological, as undoubtedly it is in a medical sense, it has been the means of making all theories of voice production too dependent on the vocal cords, and thus the importance of the other parts of the vocal apparatus has been overlooked."

Not only in regard to "registers" but in regard to resonance, focus, articulation, and the offices and uses of the various vocal organs, similar antagonistic opinions exist. Out of this chaos must some time come a demonstrable system.

A generation ago the art of breathing was beginning to be more an object of study, but the true value of correct lateral abdominal breathing was by no means generally admitted or appreciated. It was still taught that the larynx (voice-box) should bob up and down like a jack-in-a-box with each change of pitch, and that "female breathing" must be performed with a pumping action of the chest and the elevation and depression of the collar bone.

Fortunately, teachers and singers recognized a good tone when they heard it, and many taught much better than they knew, so that the public did not have to wait for the development of accurate knowledge of the subject before hearing excellent singing and speaking. Yet many singers had their voices ruined in the training, and their success as vocalists made impossible; while others, a little less unfortunate, were still handicapped through life by the injury done by mistaken methods in early years. Jenny Lind's perfect vocal organs were quite disabled at twelve years of age by wrong methods, and they recovered only after a protracted season of rest. As a consequence her beautiful voice began to fail long before her splendid physique, and long before her years demanded. Singers taught in nature's way should be able to sing so long as strength lasts, and, like Adelaide Phillips, Carl Formes, and Sims Reeves, sing their sweetest songs in the declining years of life. Martel, at seventy years of age, had a full, rich voice. He focused all his tones alike, and employed deep abdominal breathing.

The whole matter of voice training has been clouded by controversy. The strident advocates of various systems, each of them "the only true method," have in their disputes overcast the subject with much that is irrelevant, thus obscuring its essential simplicity.

The "scientific" teachers, at one extreme, have paid too exclusive attention to the mechanics of the voice. The "empiricists" have gone to the other extreme in leaving out of account fundamental facts in acoustics, physiology, and psychology.

The truth is that no purely human function, especially one so subtle as singing, can be developed mechanically; nor, on the other hand, can the mere ipse dixit of any teacher satisfy the demands of the modern spirit.


The positions here advocated, because they seem both rational and simple, are:

1. That the singing and speaking tones are identical, produced by the same organs in the same way, and developed by the same training.

2. That breathing is, for the singer, only an amplification of the correct daily habit.

3. That "registers" are a myth.

4. That "head tones, chest tones, closed tones, open tones," etc., as confined to special parts of the range of the voice, are distracting distinctions arising from false education.

5. That resonance determines the quality and carrying power of every tone, and is therefore the most important element in the study and training of the voice.

6. That the obstacles to good speaking and singing are psychologic rather than physiologic.

7. That, in the nature of things, the right way is always an easy way.



Since the vocal organism first became an object of systematic study, discussion has been constant as to whether the human vocal instrument is a stringed instrument, a reed instrument, or a whistle. Discussion of the question seems futile, for practically it is all of these and more. The human vocal organs form an instrument, sui generis, which cannot be compared with any other one thing. Not only is it far more complex than any other instrument, being capable, as it is, of imitating nearly every instrument in the catalogue and almost every sound in nature, but it is incomparably more beautiful, an instrument so universally superior to any made by man that comparisons and definitions fail.


The human vocal instrument has the three elements common to all musical instruments,—a motor, a vibrator, and a resonator; to which is added—what all other instruments lack—an articulator.

1. The respiratory muscles and lungs for a motor.

2. The vocal cords for a vibrator.

3. The throat, mouth, and the nasal and head cavities for a resonator.

4. The tongue, lips, teeth, and palate for an articulator.

These elements appear in as great a variety of size and proportion as do the variations of individual humanity, and each element is, moreover, variable according to the will or feeling of the individual. This susceptibility to change constitutes a modifying power which gives a variety in tone quality possible to no other instrument and makes it our wonder and admiration. The modification and interaction of these various parts produced by the emotions of the singer or speaker give qualities of tone expressive of the feelings, as of pain or pleasure, grief or joy, courage or fear.


The minute differences in these physical conditions, coupled with the subtler differences in the psychical elements of the personality, account for that distinctive physiognomy of the voice called timbre, which is only another name for individuality as exhibited in each person. The same general elements enter into the composition of all voices, from the basso profundo to the high soprano.

That the reader may better understand the proportion and relations of the different parts of the vocal apparatus, a sectional drawing of the head is here produced, showing the natural position of the vocal organs at rest. As the drawing represents but a vertical section of the head the reader should note that the sinuses, like the eyes and nostrils, lie in pairs to the right and left of the centre of the face. The location of the maxillary sinuses within the maxillary or cheek bones cannot be shown in this drawing.

The dark shading represents the cavities of the throat, nose, and head. The relations of the parts are shown more accurately than is possible in any diagram. It will be noticed that the vibrations from the larynx would pass directly behind the soft palate into the nasal chamber, and very directly into the mouth. The nasal roof is formed by two bones situated between the eyes; the sphenoid or wedge-bone, which is connected with all other bones of the head, and the ethmoid or sieve-like bone. The structure of these two bones, especially of the ethmoid, consists of very thin plates or laminae, forming a mass of air cavities which communicate by small openings with the nasal cavity below. Thus, the vibrations in the nose are transmitted to the air spaces above, and the effective qualities of the head vibrations are added to the tone.


The larynx or voice-box contains the vocal cords. Just above the vocal cords on each side is a large, deep cavity, called the ventricle. These cavities reinforce the primary vibrations set up by the cords and serve to increase their intensity as they are projected from the larynx. The larynx is the vibrating organ of the voice. It is situated at the base of the tongue and is so closely connected with it by attachment to the hyoid bone, to which the tongue is also attached, that it is capable of only slight movement independent of that organ; consequently it must move with the tongue in articulation. The interior muscles of the larynx vary the position of its walls, thus regulating the proximity and tension of the vocal cords. The male larynx is the larger and shows the Adam's apple. In both sexes the larynx of the low voice, alto or bass, is larger than that of the high voice, soprano or tenor. The larynx and tongue should not rise with the pitch of the voice, but drop naturally with the lower jaw as the mouth opens in ascending the scale. The proper position of the tongue will insure a proper position for the larynx. The less attention the larynx receives the better.


The vocal cords are neither cords nor bands, but instead are thick portions of membrane extending across the inner surface of the larynx. On account of familiarity the name vocal cords will still be used. They are fairly well represented by the lips of the cornet player when placed on the mouthpiece of the instrument. The pitch of the tone is fixed by the tension of the vocal cords and the width and length of the opening between them. Their tension and proximity are self-adjusted to produce the proper pitch without any conscious volition of the singer. They can have no special training, needing only to be left alone. The work of the vocal cords, though essentially important, is, when naturally performed, light and consequently not exhausting. If the larynx and all of its supporting muscles are relaxed as they are in free and easy breathing, then when the air passes out through the larynx, the vocal cords will automatically assume a tension sufficient to vocalize the breath and give the note the proper pitch. The normal action of the cords will never cause hoarseness or discomfort. The sound should seem to be formed, not in the throat,—thus involving the vocal cords,—but in the resonance chambers.


The epiglottis is the valve which closes over the upper opening of the larynx. It not only closes the mouth of the larynx when food is swallowed, but aids materially in converting into tone the vibrations set up by the vocal cords.


The pharynx extends from the larynx to the nasal cavity. The size of the opening into the nasal chamber is controlled by the soft palate and is frequently entirely closed. The size of the pharynx is varied by the contraction and relaxation of the circular muscles in its tissue; when swallowing its walls are in contact. The pharynx acts as does the expanding tube of brass instruments. It increases the force and depth of the tone waves. The wider the pharynx is opened, without constraint, the fuller the resonance and the better the tone.


The under jaw furnishes attachment for the muscles of the tongue and hyoid or tongue bone. It also controls, owing to the connections of the larynx with the hyoid bone, the muscles that fix the position of the larynx.

The pterygoid muscles, which move the under jaw forward and backward, do not connect with the larynx, so their action does not compress that organ or in any way impede the action of the vocal apparatus. A relaxed under jaw allows freer action of the vocal cords and ampler resonance. The under jaw should drop little by little as the voice ascends the scale, thus opening the mouth slightly wider with each rise in the pitch of the tone. In ascending the scale it is well to open the throat a little wider as you ascend. The delivery will be much easier, and the tone produced will be much better. At the highest pitch of the voice the mouth should open to its full width. At the same time care must be taken not to draw the corners of the mouth back, as in smiling, because this lessens the resonance of the tone and gives it a flat sound.

The under jaw must have considerable latitude of motion in pronunciation, but by all means avoid chewing of the words and cutting off words by closing the jaw instead of finishing them by the use of the proper articulating organs, which are the tongue and lips.


Writers on the voice have almost universally claimed that the principal office of the soft palate is to shut off the nasal and head cavities from the throat, and to force the column of vibrations out through the mouth, thus allowing none, or at most a very small part, to pass into the nasal passages.

This contention implies that the vibrations are imparted to the upper cavities, if at all, through the walls of the palate itself, and not through an opening behind the palate. This is entirely at variance with the facts as verified by my own experience and observation and the observation of others who are expert specialists. The true office of the soft palate is to modify the opening into the nose and thus attune the resonant cavities to the pitch and timbre of the note given by the vocal cords and pharynx. To develop the vowel sounds, the soft palate should be drawn forward, allowing a free passage into the nose; it should be closed only to form the consonants which require a forcible expulsion of breath from the mouth.

The uvula, the pendulous tip of the soft palate, serves as a valve to more accurately adjust the opening behind the soft palate to the pitch of the voice. In producing a low tone the soft palate is relaxed and hangs low down and far forward. As the voice ascends the scale the tension of the soft palate is increased and it is elevated and the uvula shortened, thus decreasing the opening behind the palate, but never closing it. In fact the larger the opening that can be maintained, the broader and better the tone. The author was himself unable fully to appreciate this until he had become able to sense the position of the soft palate during vocalization.


The hard palate and upper teeth form in part the walls of the mouth. As they are solid fixtures, nothing can be done in the way of training. They furnish a point of impingement in articulation, and play their part in sympathetic resonance.

The bones which form the roof of the mouth serve also for the floor of the nasal cavity.

The under teeth also serve as walls of resistance to support the tongue during the performance of its functions.


The nasal and head cavities are resonating chambers incapable of special training, but their form, size, and the use made of them have a wonderful effect upon the resonance of the voice. If the vibrations are strong here, all other parts will vibrate in harmonious action.

When responding to the perfectly focused tone the thin walls of the cavities and the contained air vibrate with surprising force, often for the moment blinding the singer when sounding a note intensely.

Having in my surgical work demonstrated the existence of a hitherto unrecognized connecting passage or canal between the air cavities of the face and those of the forehead,[2] the play of resonance in the cavities above the nostrils is more easily understood. The function of the cavities known as the frontal sinuses (see Fig. 1) has long been a mystery, but now that their direct connection with the lower cavities is proven, and the great significance of resonance is also beginning to be recognized, the mystery disappears. The same may be said of the other sinuses—ethmoidal, sphenoidal, and maxillary, and their interconnection.

[Footnote 2: Dr. Fillebrown's paper, A Study of the Relation of the Frontal Sinus to the Antrum, was read before the American Dental Association, at Saratoga, August 5, 1895. His investigation showed that the funnel-shaped passage known as the infundibulum extends from the frontal sinus directly into the antrum or maxillary sinus. This was afterwards confirmed by Dr. W.H. Cryer and others.]


In instruments changes in the length and form of the resonance chambers affect the pitch as well as the quality of the tone. This is demonstrated in the trombone, French horn, and other wind instruments. The lengthening of the tube of the trombone lowers the pitch of the tone, and the projection of the hand of the performer into the bell of the French horn has the effect of raising the pitch of the sound. If the variation in length or form is only slight, the result is sharp or flat, and the instrument is out of tune. In the human instrument all the organs act together as a unit; so the fact that the cavities alone may affect the pitch is practically of no great significance.


The tongue and the lips are the articulating organs, and the former has an important part to play in altering through its movements the shape of the mouth cavity.

The tip of the tongue should habitually rest against the under front teeth. The tip of the tongue, however, must frequently touch the roof of the mouth near the upper front teeth, as when pronouncing the consonants c, d, g or j, l, n, s, and t. The back part of the tongue must rise a little to close against the soft palate when pronouncing g hard, and k, and hard c, q, and x. The soft palate comes down so far to meet the tongue that the elevation of the latter need be but very slight.

When speaking, the demand is not so imperative, but when singing, the body of the tongue should lie as flat as possible, so as to enlarge the mouth, especially when giving the vowel sounds.

If the tongue is sometimes disposed to be unruly, it is the result of rigidity or misplaced effort in the surrounding parts. This tendency will only be aggravated by artificial restraint of any kind. The true way is to dismiss tongue consciousness, let go, and a normal flexibility will easily manifest itself.


The lips, equally with the tongue, are organs of articulation. The upper lip is the principal factor of the two; the under lip seems to follow the lead of the upper. The lips need much training, and it can readily be given them. While practising to educate the lips, both lips should be projected forward and upward, at the same time pronouncing the word "too." Bring the edge of the upper lip as high toward the nose as possible in practice. This will bring the corners of the mouth forward and lift the lips clear and free from the teeth, and thus add one more resonance cavity. This position of the lips also gives freedom for pronunciation. "The upper lip plays the most active part in the shaping of the vowels. It should never be drawn against the teeth when producing vowel tones; indeed, there should be often a little space between the upper lip and the teeth, so that the vibrations of the sound-waves can have free play."


The nostrils should be dilated as much as possible, as a free, wide, open nose gives a free, well-rounded tone, while a contracted nostril induces the nasal tone so much dreaded. A proper training of the facial muscles makes this dilation possible. Lifting the upper lip and projecting it forward aids the action to a great degree.

There is a strong tendency to unity of action between the nostrils and the lips and the soft palate. The soft palate moves downward and forward when the upper lip protrudes and the nostrils dilate, and moves backward and upward when the nostrils are contracted and the upper lip allowed to rest upon the teeth.

As a rule the best singers have full, round, wide, open nostrils, either given by nature or acquired by practice.


Not only must the lips and nose be trained, but the muscles of the face also. These muscles are capable, if educated, of doing important service.

The artist on the operatic stage or the speaker on the platform, without facial expression begotten of muscular activity, may lessen by half his power over an audience. To train the facial muscles is a complicated task. To do this, stand before a mirror and make all the faces ever thought of by a schoolboy to amuse his schoolmates. Raise each corner of the lip, wrinkle the nose, quilt the forehead, grin, laugh. The grimaces will not enter into a performance, but their effect upon it will be markedly beneficial.



A generation ago the speaking voice was even less understood than the singing voice. That the two were intimately connected was but half surmised. Only an occasional person recognized what is now generally conceded, that a good way to improve the speaking voice is to cultivate the singing voice.

In 1887 I published a paper in the Independent Practitioner defining the singing voice and the speaking voice as identical, and contending that the training for each should be the same so far as tone formation is involved, a conclusion at which I had arrived several years before. Subsequent experience has only served to confirm this opinion.

The past has produced many good speakers, among them Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Edwin Booth, Wm. Charles Macready, and Edward Everett. Of the last Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: "It is with delight that one who remembers Edward Everett in his robes of rhetorical splendor, recalls his full blown, high colored, double flowered periods; the rich, resonant, grave, far-reaching music of his speech, with just enough of the nasal vibration to give the vocal sounding-board its proper value in the harmonies of utterance." These examples of correct vocalization, however, were exceptions to the general rule; they happened to speak well, but the physiologic action of the vocal organs which produced such results in those individual cases was not understood, and hence the pupil ambitious to imitate them and develop the best of which his voice was capable had no rule by which to proceed. Few could speak with ease, still fewer could be heard by a large assembly, and sore throats seemed to be the rule.


In singing the flow of tone is unbroken between the words, but in speaking it is interrupted. In singing tone is sustained and changed from one pitch to another by definite intervals over a wide compass that includes notes not attempted in speech. In speaking tone is unsustained, not defined in pitch, is limited to a narrow compass, and the length of the tones is not governed by the measure of music.

Notwithstanding these differences, singing and speaking tones are produced by the vocal organs in the same way, are focused precisely alike, have the same resonance, and are delivered in the same manner. It has been said that speech differs from song as walking from dancing. Speech may be called the prose, and song the poetry of vocalization.

During the past decade the knowledge of the speaking voice has been greatly broadened, and the art of cultivating tone has made progress. The identity of the singing and speaking voice is becoming more fully recognized, and methods are being used to develop the latter similar to those in use for the training of the former. As Dr. Morell Mackenzie says: "Singing is a help to good speaking, as the greater includes the less."

The recognition of this truth cannot fail to be a great aid to the progress of singing in the public schools, since every enlargement of exercises common to both speaking and singing helps to solidarity and esprit de corps in teaching and in learning.

An accurate sense of pitch, melody, harmony, and rhythm is necessary to the singer, but the orator may, by cultivation, develop a speaking voice of musical quality without being able to distinguish Old Hundred from The Last Rose of Summer.


It is a matter of common observation that American singers, although they may be painstaking in their French and German, are indifferent, even to carelessness, in the clear and finished enunciation of their native tongue. Mr. W.J. Henderson, in his recent work, The Art of the Singer, says: "The typical American singer cannot sing his own language so that an audience can understand him; nine-tenths of the songs we hear are songs without words." Happily this condition is gradually yielding to a better one, stimulated in part by the examples of visiting singers and actors. In story-telling songs and in oratorio, slovenly delivery is reprehensible, but when the words of a song are the lyric flight of a true poet, a careless utterance becomes intolerable.

Beauty of tone is not everything; the singing of mere sounds, however lovely, is but a tickling of the ear. The shortcoming of the Italian school of singing, as of composition, has been too exclusive devotion to sensuous beauty of tone as an end in itself. The singer must never forget that his mission is to vitalize text with tone. The songs of Schubert, Schumann, Franz, Brahms, Grieg, Strauss, and Wolf, as well as the Wagnerian drama, are significant in their inseparable union of text and music. The singer is therefore an interpreter, not of music alone, but of text made potent by music.

Pronunciation, moreover, concerns not only the listener, but the singer and speaker, for pure tone and pure pronunciation cannot be divorced, one cannot exist without the other. In his interesting work, The Singing of the Future, Mr. Ffrangcon-Davies insists that, "the quickest way to fine tone is through fine pronunciation."

We cannot think except in words, nor voice our thought without speech. Vocal utterance is thought articulate. Therefore, instead of prolonged attention to tone itself, training should be concentrated upon the uttered word. The student should aim "to sing a word rather than a tone." Correct pronunciation and beautiful tone are so interdependent as to be inseparable.

The singer and speaker require all sounds in their purity. To seek to develop the voice along the narrow limits of any single vowel or syllable, as for instance the syllable ah, is harmful. Not only is this vowel sound, as Lilli Lehmann says, "the most difficult," but the proper pronunciation of all words within the whole range of the voice is thereby impeded. Diction and tone work should therefore go hand in hand. "The way in which vowel melts into vowel and consonants float into their places largely determines the character of the tone itself." Without finished pronunciation speech and song of emotional power are impossible. Gounod, the composer, says, "Pronunciation creates eloquence." Mr. Forbes-Robertson, the English master of dramatic diction, speaking for his own profession says: "The trouble with contemporary stage elocution springs from the actor's very desire to act well. In his effort to be natural he mumbles his words as too many people do in everyday life. Much of this can be corrected by constantly bearing in mind the true value of vowels, the percussive value of consonants, and the importance of keeping up the voice until the last word is spoken. There must be, so to speak, plenty of wind in the bellows. The great thing is to have the sound come from the front of the mouth.... The actor must learn to breathe deeply from the diaphragm and to take his breath at the proper time. Too often the last word is not held up, and that is very often the important word.... Schools for acting are valuable, ... but, after all, the actors, like other folk, must be taught how to speak as children in the home, at school, and in society."

In pronunciation the words should seem to be formed by the upper lip and to come out through it. By this method it will be found easy to pronounce distinctly. The words will thus be formed outside the mouth and be readily heard, as is a person talking in front of, instead of behind, a screen. A single, intelligent trial will be sufficient to show the correctness of the statement. Thinking of the upper lip as the fashioner of the words makes speaking easy and singing a delight.

To smile while talking gives to the words a flat, silly sound, hence the corners of the mouth should be kept well forward.


It may fasten this in mind to remember that at one end of the vowel scale is—me, at the other—you.

The teeth and lips are most closed at the extremes of this scale, and gradually open toward ah, with which vowel they are widest apart.

In the series 1-8 the tongue is highest in the centre for ee and gradually descends until it lies flat in the mouth for ah.

The upper pharynx is most closed in 1, most open in 8, and closes more and more in the descending series 7'-1'.

The lower pharynx gradually opens in the descending series 7'-1'.

The researches of Helmholtz, Koenig, Willis, Wheatstone, Appunn, Bell, and others have shown that each vowel sound has its own characteristic pitch. The Scale of Vowel Sounds given above corresponds closely to the order of resonance pitch from the highest ee to the lowest oo. In the natural resonance of the vowels ee is highest in the head, ah is midway in the scale, and oo is lowest in resonance.


Figure 2 shows the best position of the lips to give the sound of ee. Hold the under jaw without stiffness and as far from the upper teeth as is consistent with delivery of the pure sound of this vowel.

Figure 3 shows the best position of the lips to produce the vowel oo.

Figure 4 shows the position of the lips for the vowel sound of long o. The opening of the lips should be made as round as is the letter o. When preparing the lips to give the sound of o, the inclination is strong to drop the lower jaw; in practice, to develop action of the lips, the under jaw would better be held quite immovable. It will be found possible to produce all of the vowel sounds without any change except in the form of the opening of the lips. The vowel sound of i is an exception; for as a compound of ah and ee, the extremes of the vowel scale, it requires two distinct positions for its utterance with a movement of transition between; it is not, therefore, a good vowel for initial practice.

Figure 5 shows that the sound aw is produced from o by raising the edge of the upper lip outward and upward, and flattening the raised portion laterally.

Figure 6 shows the position for producing ah. It differs from the position assumed for aw in that the opening of the lips is larger, the upper lip is raised higher, the flat portion is wider, and the under lip is a little relaxed. The form of the opening to produce aw is oval; the form for ah is more nearly square.

Figure 7 shows the under jaw relaxed, as it should be in practice, to enlarge the throat and give roundness and largeness to the tone. The use of the word hung will accomplish this end.

The vowel sounds illustrated above are embodied in a series of vocal exercises to be found in Chapter VIII on Placing the Voice.



It has been said that "breathing is singing." This statement is equally applicable to speaking. While the aphorism is not literally true, it is true that without properly controlled breathing the best singing or speaking tone cannot be produced, for tone is but vocalized breath; hence in the cultivation of the voice, breathing is the first function to receive attention.

For singer or speaker, the correct use of the breathing apparatus determines the question of success or failure; for without mastery of the motive power all else is unavailing. For a voice user, therefore, the first requisite is a well-developed chest, the second, complete control of it.

It must not be supposed that a singer's breathing is something strange or complex, for it is nothing more than an amplification of normal, healthy breathing. In contrast, however, to the undisciplined casual breathing of the general public, the singer is a professional breather.


There are two sets of respiratory muscles, one for inspiration and another for expiration,—twenty-two or more in all. The principal muscles of inspiration are the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles that elevate the ribs. The chief muscles of expiration are the four sets of abdominal muscles and the intercostal muscles that depress the ribs. The diaphragm is not a muscle of expiration.


The diaphragm is in form like an inverted bowl (Fig. 8). It forms the floor of the thorax (chest) and the roof of the abdomen. It is attached by a strong tendon to the spinal column behind, and to the walls of the thorax at its lowest part, which is below the ribs. In front its attachment is to the cartilage at the pit of the stomach. It also connects with the transverse abdominal muscle. The diaphragm being convex, in inspiration the contraction of its fibres flattens it downward and presses down the organs in the abdomen, thus increasing the depth of the thorax. Expiration depends wholly on other muscles.

The muscles so far mentioned are all that need "conscious education;" the others will act with them voluntarily, automatically. The abdominal muscles relax during inspiration and the diaphragm relaxes during expiration, thus rendering the forces nearly equal, though the strength is in favor of the expiratory muscles. This is what is needed, for the breath while speaking or singing must go out under much greater tension than is necessary for inhalation. Inspiration should be as free as possible from obstruction when singing or speaking. Expiration must be under controlled pressure.


The lungs are spongy bodies which have no activity of their own beyond a little elasticity. They are controlled by the muscles of respiration.

Figure 8 shows the organs of the body in their natural positions. The diaphragm is relaxed and curved upward, as in expiration. During inspiration the diaphragm is drawn down until it lies nearly flat.


The intercostal muscles raise the ribs. The diaphragm is drawn down by contraction, thus adding to the enlargement of the chest by increasing its depth. The abdominal muscles relax and allow the stomach, liver, and other organs in the abdomen to move downward to make room for the depressed diaphragm. This causes a vacuum in the chest. The lungs expand to fill this vacuum and the air rushes in to fill the expanding lungs.


The intercostal, and a part of the abdominal, muscles depress the ribs and lessen the chest cavity anteriorly and laterally. The abdominal muscles compress the abdomen and force up the diaphragm which is now relaxed, thus lessening the depth of the thorax. This pressure forces the air from the lungs and prepares them for another inspiration.


That the lateral-abdominal—more accurately chest-abdominal—breathing is correct and natural for both male, and female, and that the shoulders should remain as fixed as were Demosthenes' under the points of the swords hung over them, is now so generally admitted as to need no argument here. If any one has still a doubt on the subject let him observe a sleeping infant. It affords a perfect example of lateral-abdominal breathing, and no one can have a suspicion of sex from any difference in this function. Among the lower animals sex shows no difference in breathing at any age. All the peculiarities of female breathing are the results of habits acquired in after life.

Chest and shoulder heaving are vicious and evidence impeded breathing. The singer who, forgetting the lower thorax, breathes with the upper only is sure to fail. Therefore breathe from the lower part of the trunk, using the whole muscular system cooerdinately—from below upward. In other words breathe deeply, and control deeply, but with the whole body—from below, not with the upper chest only, or with lateral expansion only, or abdominal expansion only.

Every teacher and pupil should remember that "singing and speaking require wind and muscle," hence the breathing power must be fully developed. Weak breathing and failure to properly focus the voice are the most frequent causes of singing off the key. They are much more common and mischievous than lack of "ear."

Dr. May tested the breathing of 85 persons, most of them Indians, and found that 79 out of the 85 used abdominal breathing. The chest breathers were from classes "civilized" and more or less "cultured."

Nature has provided that for quiet breathing when at rest the air shall pass through the nose. But when a person is taking active exercise, and consequently demands more air, he naturally and of necessity opens the mouth so as to breathe more fully. While speaking or singing the air is necessarily taken in through the mouth.


Firmness of tone depends upon steadiness of breath pressure. Steadiness of tone depends upon a control of the breath which allows a minimum volume of air to pass out under sufficient tension to produce vocalization.

The tension and flow of breath can be gradually lessened until the tone vanishes and not even a whisper remains.

Power and largeness of tone depend first upon the right use of the resonant cavities, and second upon the volume of breath used under proper control.

In producing high tones the breath is delivered in less amount than for the low tones, but under greater tension. Absolute control of the breath is necessary to produce the best results of which a voice is capable. Full control of the breath insures success to a good voice; without it the best voice is doomed to failure.

When muscular action is fully mastered, and the proper method of breathing understood and established, the muscles of inspiration and expiration will act one against the other, so that the act of breathing may be suspended at any moment, whether the lungs are full, or partly full, or empty. This is muscular control of the breath. Correct breathing is health giving and strength giving; it promotes nutrition, lessens the amount of adipose tissue, and reinforces every physical requisite essential to speaking and singing.


It cannot be too widely advertised that the surest remedy for that torture of singers and speakers, nervousness, is the great tranquillizer,—quiet, deep breathing, deeply controlled. The breath of nervousness is quick, irregular, and shallow, therefore, take a few, slow, deliberate, deep, and rhythmic inhalations of pure air through the nostrils, and the panting gasp of agitation will vanish. As a help toward deepening the breath and overcoming the spasmodic, clavicular habit, inhale quietly and slowly through the nose, or slowly sip the air through the nearly closed lips as if you were sipping the inmost breath of life itself.


To acquire control of breathing, proper exercises must be intelligently and persistently followed. In mankind, nature seems to have been diverted from her normal course so that we seldom find an individual who breathes correctly without education in the matter. What we have said on breathing is based on the premise that respiration involves cooerdinate action of the body from collar-bone to the base of the abdomen; that is, expanding and contracting the chest and abdomen simultaneously. This is called "lateral-abdominal" breathing; as the chest is the thoracic cavity, "abdomino-thoracic" has been suggested as brief and more strictly scientific.

Work on any other lines fails to develop the full power and quality of the voice. Weak breathing is a prime cause of throaty tones. In such cases an effort is made to increase the tone by pinching the larynx. But this compresses the vocal cords, increases the resistance to the passage of the breath, and brings rigidities that prevent proper resonance. The true way is to increase the wind supply, as does the organist.


The following figures show the outline of correct breathing. The inner abdominal line shows the limit of expiration; the outer line shows the limit of full inspiration.

Figure 9 shows the limit of full expiration and inspiration of the male, side view.

Figure 10 shows the lateral expansion of the ribs in both expiration and inspiration, front view of the male.

The expansion cannot be great at this part of the chest, as the side is so short a distance from the backbone to which the ribs are attached. The movement of the ribs in front is much greater, as Fig. 9 shows.

Figure 11 shows the front expansion and contraction in the breathing of the female, side view.

Figure 12 shows the lateral expansion of the chest in the female, front view.

These diagrams are made from photographs, and thus true to life. It will be noticed that there is no difference in the breathing outline between these subjects. The female subject, though a good singer, had had no training in breathing. She previously insisted that she used only the chest breathing, and did not use the abdominal muscles, but actual test revealed the condition to be that shown in Figure 11 and convinced her that she was mistaken.

It is not unlikely that many other singers who now think they are using only the high chest respiration would, if subjected to the same test, find themselves similarly mistaken.

The contraction incident to forced expiration is much more tense than the enlargement of forced inspiration. When singing or speaking, forced inspiration is not used. Experience shows that the change in size of the body during speaking or singing is usually small. Occasionally, long passages in music demand that the expulsive power of the breathing apparatus be used to its limit.


The quantity of air taken in with a single inspiration is, in quiet breathing, according to Prof. Mills,[3] from twenty to thirty cubic inches, but this may be increased in the deepest inspiration to about one hundred cubic inches. In forcible expiration about one hundred cubic inches may be expelled, but even then the residual air that cannot be expelled is about one hundred cubic inches.

[Footnote 3: Dr. Wesley Mills, Voice Production, 1906.]

It is not, however, the quantity of breath inhaled that is significant, it is the amount controlled. Get, therefore, all the breath necessary, and keep it, but without undue effort and without rigidity.

To test the amount of breath used in prolonged vocalization, a person skilled in the art of breathing, after an ordinary inspiration, closed his lips, stopped his nostrils, and began to vocalize. He found that the mouth with distended cheeks held sufficient breath to continue a substantial tone for twenty-three seconds.

While these experiments show that very little amount or force of breath is needed to produce effective tones, the impression must exist in the mind of the performer that there is a free flow of breath through the larynx; otherwise the tone will seem restricted and will be weak. The forced holding back of the breath begets a restraint that has a bad effect on the singer's delivery. While the breath must be controlled, there is such a thing as an exaggerated "breath control" that makes free delivery of the voice impossible.

It is quite possible to overcrowd the lungs with air. Do not, therefore, make the mistake of always taking the largest possible breath. Reserve this for the climaxes, and inhale according to the requirements of the phrase and its dynamics. The constant taking of too much breath is a common mistake, but trying to sing too long on one breath is another.


The breath force when properly employed seems to be expended in starting the vibrations in the larynx; the vibrations are then transmitted to the air in the resonance cavities, and there the perfected tone sets the outer air in motion, through which the tone vibrations are conveyed to the ear of the listener.


The correctly trained singer or speaker will never allow the breath power to be exhausted. Some breath should be taken in at every convenient interval between the words, according to the punctuation, but never between syllables of a word; this is correct phrasing. In this way the lungs are kept nearly full, and breathing is at its best.

The chief cause of breath exhaustion is wasted breath. This waste comes from exhaling more breath (more motive power) than the tone requires, and breath that does not become tone is wasted. This fault is largely induced by lack of proper resonance adjustment.

The singer should always feel able to sing another note or to speak another word. To sing or speak thirty or forty counts with one breath is useful practice but poor performance. Occasionally, long runs in singing may compel an exception. Half-empty lungs lower the pitch of the tone, lessen the resonance, and weaken the voice, rendering the last note of the song and the last word of the sentence inaudible. The breathing must not be forced, but enough air must be furnished to produce the proper full vibrations.


What then does perfect control of the breath mean?

1. Ability to fill the lungs to their capacity either quickly or slowly.

2. Ability to breathe out as quickly or slowly as the occasion demands.

3. Ability to suspend inspiration, with the throat open, whether the lungs are full or not, and to resume the process at will without having lost any of the already inspired air.

4. Ability to exhale under the same restrictions.

The above four points are common to speaking and singing, but singing involves further:

5. Ability to sing and sustain the voice on an ordinary breath.

6. Ability to quietly breathe as often as text and phrase permit.

7. Ability to breathe so that the fullest inspiration brings no fatigue.

8. Ability to so economize the breath that the reserve is never exhausted.

9. The ability to breathe so naturally, so unobtrusively, that neither breath nor lack of breath is ever suggested to the listener—this is the very perfection of the art.



Enough has been said in the preceding chapter to make clear the necessity of breath control, and to show what constitutes this control for the singer—the professional breather.

If the singer's breathing is nothing but an amplification of normal, healthy breathing, why dwell upon it, why not let it develop of itself?

Unfortunately, many teachers have taken this attitude, overlooking the fact that, although life is dependent on normal, healthy breathing, such breathing is, in civilized communities, not the rule but the exception, simply because normal living is rare; the artificiality of modern life forbids it. The high pressure under which most people live induces mental tension together with the consequent nervous and muscular tension. We are, without being conscious of it, so habituated to unnatural tension that automatic breathing is shallow and irregular instead of being deep and rhythmic.

The task, therefore, is to reclaim a neglected birthright—natural breathing—to make it habitual and amplify it.


1. Breathing exercises to be invigorating and purifying demand plenty of fresh air.

2. At first do not practise longer than ten minutes at a time, three times a day.

3. Gradually lengthen the time without overdoing. When tired stop.

4. The best time is before dressing in the morning, with the window open. The worst time is directly after a meal.

5. Maintain throughout an easy, flexible poise.

6. Breathe as deeply as possible without abdominal distention. The greatest expansion should be felt at the lower end of the breast-bone.

7. Breathe as broadly as possible, expanding the sides without tension.

8. Breathe as high as possible without shoulder movement or stiffness.

9. Use not the high breath alone, or the mid-breath, or the low breath, but use the complete breath.

10. Breathe rhythmically by counting mentally.

11. Breathe thoughtfully rather than mechanically.

12. Do not crowd the lungs or lay stress on the mere quantity of air you can inhale. The intake of breath is, for the singer, secondary to its control, economy, and application in song. Increase of lung capacity will duly appear.

13. When not singing, speaking or practising an exercise that demands it, keep your mouth shut.


Dress the neck and body loosely, so as to give the throat and trunk perfect freedom. Place the hands on the hips, so as to free the chest from the weight of the arms. Stand erect, evenly upon the balls of the feet; the body straight, but not strained. Raise the back of the head slightly without bending the neck. This action will straighten the spine, place the chest forward, and bring the abdomen backward into its proper relation.

The great majority of people are shallow breathers, chest breathers, who when told to take a "deep breath" do not know what is meant. It is therefore necessary for them first to learn what a deep breath is, and then how to take it.

Exercise I


Before rising in the morning, remove your pillow and while flat on your back place one hand lightly on the abdomen, the other on the lower ribs. Relax the whole body, giving up your whole weight to the bed. Inhale through the nostrils slowly, evenly, and deeply, while mentally counting one, two, three, four, etc. As you inhale, notice (a) the gradual expansion of the abdomen, (b) the side expansion of the lower ribs, (c) the rise and inflation of the chest, without raising the shoulders. Hold the breath while mentally counting four (four seconds), then suddenly let the breath go, and notice the collapse of the abdomen and lower chest. Remember the inspiration must be slow and deep, the expiration sudden and complete. Practise this preliminary exercise for not more than ten minutes each morning for a week. The second week hold the breath six seconds, instead of four, and gradually increase the time, without overdoing.

While, for a novice, the exercises may be taken at first in bed, this is but a preliminary to their practise standing in easy poise as directed in the preceding section.

Exercise II


Inhale as in I; hold the breath four counts (seconds) or more; then expel the air vigorously in one breath through the wide open mouth. The beginner is often helped in acquiring a deep breath by slowly sipping breath. Therefore as a variant to Exercise II practise:

Exercise III


Through the smallest possible opening of the lips, while mentally counting, inhale very slowly and steadily; hold two to four counts, then expel the air all at once through the wide open mouth.

Exercise IV


To more completely arouse dormant muscles that should play an important part in breathing, place the hands against the sides, thumbs well back, take, through the nostrils or the slightly parted lips, six short catch-breaths, moving the ribs out at the side with each catch-breath. Hold the breath two counts, and exhale through the mouth with six short expiratory puffs, drawing the ribs in at the side with each puff.

Exercise V


Inhale as in I, while mentally counting one, two, three, four, etc., until the inhalation seems complete. Hold the breath four or more counts; then exhale through the nostrils slowly and evenly while mentally counting to the number reached in the inspiration. With practice the number of counts will gradually increase. Do not, however, force the increase. The muscles that control inspiration are powerful; do not, therefore, make the mistake of seeking to control expiration by contraction of the glottis. Practise these exercises with an open throat and depend on the breathing muscles for control of the outgoing air. Remember that singing is control of breath in exit.

Exercise VI


Inhale through the nostrils quickly, deeply, and forcefully (one count); hold two counts; exhale through the nostrils evenly, steadily, and as slowly as possible while mentally counting one, two, three, four, etc. With practice gradually increase the number of counts for the exhalation.

Exercise VII


The Cavalier, Don Carlo Broschi, better known as Farinelli (1705-1782), the world's greatest singer in bravura and coloratura, was a pupil of Porpora and Bernacchi. There was no branch of the art which he did not carry to the highest perfection, and the successes of his youth did not prevent him from continuing his study, or, when his name was famous, from acquiring by much perseverance another style and a superior method. His breath control was considered so marvelous in that day of great singers, it is said, that the art of taking and keeping the breath so softly and easily that no one could perceive it began and died with him. He is said to have spent several hours daily in practising the following exercise:

As in Exercise III, sip the breath slowly and steadily through the smallest possible opening of the lips; hold it a few counts, then exhale very slowly and steadily through the smallest possible opening of the lips.

Farinelli's exercise is not for beginners.

Exercise VIII


For ventilating and sweeping the lungs, for quick refreshment after fatigue, and for use always at the close of your exercises, inhale through the nostrils slowly a complete breath; hold two to four counts, purse the lips tightly and expel through them a small puff of air, hold two counts, puff one, hold two counts, puff one, and so on until the exhalation is complete. A few trials should convince you that this simple exercise is of great value.


In both singing and speaking, the sustained delivery of long phrases or sentences sometimes makes unusual demands on the breath supply. It is a law of good singing that every phrase should end with the breath unexhausted. When the flow of text and music forbid the taking of a full breath, half-breaths must be quietly taken at convenient points. Instead of letting the whole reservoir of motive power exhaust itself and then completely refill it, we should, by taking these half-breaths, maintain a reserve. A notable advocate of the use of the half-breath in singing is that past mistress of sustained and smooth delivery, Marcella Sembrich.



The subject of registers has always been the bete noire of vocalists, a source of controversy and confusion. The term "register," as commonly used, means a series of tones of a characteristic clang or quality, produced by the same mechanism. The term "break" is generally used to indicate the point at which a new register with sudden change appears.

The advocates of registers lay stress either on the changes in laryngeal action, or the changes in tone quality. Before the days of the laryngoscope, registers were treated simply as different qualities of tone, characterizing a certain portion of the voice's compass.

Those who encourage the cultivation of register consciousness claim to do so for the sake of the differences in tone-color which they associate with the different "registers." The purpose of the following chapters is to show that the quality or color of a tone is altogether a matter of resonance, and not a question of laryngeal action.

Moreover, the mechanism of the larynx is not voluntary in its action, but automatic, and even if a singer knew how the vocal cords should act it would not help him in the least to govern their action. The fact is that the results of laryngoscopic study of the vocal cords have been disappointing and contradictory and investigators have failed to define what correct laryngeal action is. There are those who even deny that the vocal cords govern the pitch of the voice.

In her thoughtful Philosophy of Singing, Clara Kathleen Rogers, while upholding "registers," says that considered physiologically "the different registers of the voice should be regarded by the singer as only so many modifications in the quality of tone, which modifications are inherent in the voice itself." She then adds significantly: "These modifications are not brought about by conscious adjustments of the parts employed, as any interference with the parts will produce that obstacle to quality we call a 'break.'"

One of the greatest of modern singers, Mme. Lilli Lehmann, in her interesting work, How to Sing, says: "Do registers exist by nature? No. It may be said that they are created through long years of speaking in the vocal range that is easiest to the person, or in one adopted by imitation." She speaks of three ranges of the voice, or, rather, three sections of the vocal range, as chest, middle, and head, saying, "All three form registers when exaggerated." After speaking of the hopeless confusion that results from clinging to the appellations of chest, middle, and head register, confounding voice with register, she concludes:

"As long as the word 'register' is kept in use the registers will not disappear, and yet the register question must be swept away, to give place to another class of ideas, sounder views on the part of teachers, and a truer conception on the part of singers and pupils."

The trend of recent thought on this subject is further shown in Ffrangcon-Davies' important work, The Singing of the Future, where, having in mind "the useless torture to which thousands of students have been subjected," he characterizes "breaks" and "registers" as "paraphernalia supplied by credulity to charlatanism"; and adds: "How many a poor pupil has become a practical monomaniac on the subject of that break in my voice between D and D sharp!"

My own studies convince me that there is but one register, or, rather, no such thing as register, save as it applies to the compass of the voice; and that chest, middle, head, and all other registers are creations of false education. Training based upon the theory of many registers results in an artificial and unnatural division of the voice.


The organ of the voice has long been considered the analogue of every other instrument except in regard to registers. Investigation indicates that it is analogous in this respect also. Compare the voice instrument with the pianoforte, violin, and organ and the similarity will plainly appear. The artificial instruments undergo no change when making a tone of higher or lower pitch other than the attuning of the vibrator to the pitch desired. All other parts remain the same. So when the voice is correctly focused and delivered, the only change incident to altered pitch is that made in the vibrator so as to give the proper number of vibrations for the pitch required. If the scale is sung down, using the same vowel sound for the whole scale, the comparison will be appreciated; the pupil will not be conscious of any change in the vocal organ or experience any difficulty in descending the scale. Faithful advocates of the theory of many registers say: "Whenever in doubt about the production of a tone, sing down to it from some tone above it, never upward from a tone below," for they find that singing down "blends the registers." This we believe is because in singing down muscular and nerve tension is gradually relaxed and consequently there is no "register" change in the voice.

A study of the church organ will, I think, make this matter clear. The organ has many so-called registers, as the vox humana, flute, oboe, etc. These differ in the character of tone produced, because of the size and shape of the different sets of pipes and the material, wood or metal, of which they are made. But each similarly constructed set of pipes forms only one register, and the pitch of the set varies from low to high without any abrupt change in quality. All the tones are produced by the same methods and means, the bellows, the vibrator, and the pipe. In length and diameter, the pipe is proper to the tone produced: a short pipe of small diameter for the high tones, and a long, wide pipe for the bass tones.

The short vibrations of the high tones are perceived by the ear as affecting the air only, while the tones of the lowest bass pipes shake the solid foundations as well as the superstructure. So with the human voice. The coarser tissues cannot answer to the short vibrations of the upper tones, because they cannot move so quickly, while they can, and do, respond to the vibrations of the low tones. This may cause some difference in degree, but not in kind. With all tones focused alike, the low tones of the human organ may be regarded as head tones plus the vibrations of the coarser tissues.

It has been said of registers that they are "acoustic illusions which disappear in the perfectly trained voice." As soon as the singer has learned to use his voice normally all these defective changes disappear.


The following incident illustrates the fact that registers are an artificial creation: A young lady who had been a patient of the author since her childhood studied elocution in a metropolitan city, and to improve her voice took vocal music lessons of a teacher of more than local repute. He found no end of trouble in teaching her to "blend the registers," and she had utterly failed to acquire the art. One summer she came back for professional services and told her troubles. During the few weeks of her stay she followed the author's suggestions, and was fully convinced of their correctness and efficiency. Upon returning to her lessons, she followed, without any explanations, the method that had been outlined for her. Her success in "blending the registers" was a surprise to her teacher who heartily congratulated her upon what she had accomplished during the summer.

Another case is that of a young lady who was under the author's direction as to vocal culture from childhood. As early as four years of age she was taught by the use of a few exercises to focus the voice in the nose and head, and to recognize the head vibrations by a light touch of the finger. When about seven years old, she took ten lessons of a teacher on the same lines, and at fifteen years of age took another brief course. In the meantime she had only the practice obtained by singing with the pupils in the schools she attended. Later, of her own volition, she sang more, and carefully applied the principles she had been taught, with the result that her voice compassed nearly two octaves, evenly and smoothly, with no break or change of focus or quality, or other intimation of "register," and she developed a speaking voice of more than ordinary quality and resonance.

It has also been my lot to aid in the development of the voices of many patients after a surgical operation for cleft palate. Success has proven the correctness and efficacy of the principles set forth in these pages.

A majority of the more than fifty authors whose works I have examined have laid great stress on the distinction between head and chest tones, open and closed tones, pure and impure tones, have warned against the nasal tone, and have constantly advocated a natural tone. That there is no essential difference between a head tone and a chest tone has already been discussed and, it would seem, conclusively proven. Any tone, closed or open, is pure and musical if properly focused and delivered, and the singer is at liberty to use either upon any note of the scale if it will serve better to express the sentiment he wishes to convey to the hearer. The cooing of the love song, the cry of alarm for help, and the shout of the military charge require very different qualities of voice to express the feelings, yet each may be musical and will be so if properly delivered.



The intimate relationship existing between voice culture and the science of acoustics was formerly slightly perceived. The teaching of singing, as an art, then rested altogether on an empirical basis, and the acoustics of singing had not received the attention of scientists.

With the publication in 1863 of Helmholtz's great work[4] a new era began, although singer and scientist yet continue to look upon each other with suspicion. Teachers of the voice, casting about for a scientific basis for their work, were greatly impressed with Helmholtz's revelations in regard to vocal resonance—the fact that tones are modified in quality as well as increased in power by the resonance of the air in the cavities of pharynx and head.

[Footnote 4: Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage fuer die Theorie der Musik. (The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music.)]

Writing in 1886, Edmund J. Meyer speaks of the importance of a "study of the influence of the different resonance cavities as the voice is colored by one or the other, and the tuning each to each and each to all"; yet, he adds, "the subject is seldom heard of outside of books."

The basic importance of resonance in the use of the voice is still too little recognized, though obvious enough in the construction of musical instruments. With the exception of a few instruments of percussion, all musical instruments possess three elements,—a motor, a vibrator, and a resonator. The violin has the moving bow for a motor, the strings for a vibrator, and the hollow body for a resonator. The French horn has the lungs of the performer for a motor, the lips for a vibrator, and the gradually enlarging tube, terminating in the flaring bell, for a resonator. In the pianoforte the hammer-stroke, the strings, and the sounding-board perform the corresponding offices. Though improvements in other parts of the piano have done much to increase the volume of the tone, yet in the radical change of form, size, and other physical qualities of the sounding-board consists the evolution of the modern pianoforte from the primitive clavichord.

In all these instruments the quality and power of the tone depend upon the presence of these three elements,—the perfection of their construction, their proper relation as to size and position, and the perfect adaptation of each part. A split sounding-board spoils the pianoforte, the indented bell destroys the sweet tone of the French horn, and a cracked fiddle is the synonym for pandemonium itself.

The quality and power of resonance is well illustrated by a tuning-fork, which, if set in vibration, can, unaided, scarcely be heard by the person holding it. But if rested on a table, or a plate of glass, or, better still, on the bridge of a violin, its tones may be distinctly heard throughout a large hall.

The vibrating violin string when detached from the body of this instrument, although attuned to pitch, gives absolutely no musical sound; the lips of the player placed on the mouthpiece detached from the tube and bell of the brass instrument produce only a splutter; and a pianoforte without a sounding-board is nil. The air column in the tube of the French horn, and the sounding-board of the pianoforte develop the vibrations caused by the lips and strings into musical tones pleasing to the ear. The tuning-fork alone can scarcely be heard, while the induced vibrations it sets up through properly adjusted resonance may be audible far away.

The vocal cords alone cannot make music any more than can the lips of the cornet player apart from his instrument. The tone produced by the vibrations alone of the two very small vocal bands must, in the nature of things, be very feeble.

Ninety-and-nine persons if asked the question, what produces tone in the human-voice, would reply, "the vibrations of the vocal cords," and stop there, as if that were all; whereas the answer is very incomplete—not even half an answer.

A great deal of the irrational and injurious "teaching" of singing that prevails everywhere, and of the controversy that befogs the subject, is due to the widely prevalent notion that the little vocal cords are the principal cause of tone, whereas they are in themselves insignificant as sound producers.

It is the vibrations of the air in the resonance chambers of the human instrument, together with the induced vibrations of the instrument itself, which give tone its sonority, its reach, its color, and emotional power.

That this is not an empirical statement but a scientific fact, a few simple experiments will demonstrate.

Tone, in the musical sense, is the result of rapid periodic vibration. The pitch of tone depends upon the number of vibrations in a given period; the loudness of tone depends upon the amplitude of the vibrations; the quality of tone depends upon the form of the vibrations; and the form of the vibrations depends upon the resonator.

The fact that pure white light is a compound of all the tints of the rainbow into which it may be resolved by the prism is well known, but the analogous fact that a pure musical tone is a compound of tones of different rates of vibration, tones of different pitch, is not so much a matter of common knowledge, and not so obvious.

Analysis shows that a musical tone consists of a fundamental note and a series of overtones.[5] The ear is quite capable of recognizing many of these overtones and may be trained to do so. The most obvious can be readily separated from a fundamental by a simple experiment.

[Footnote 5: For fuller exposition see Tyndall on Sound, or the section devoted to Acoustics in any text-book on Physics.]

The overtones arrange themselves in a definite order, as follows: (1) the fundamental or prime tone; (2) an overtone one octave above the fundamental; (3) an overtone a fifth above No. 2; (4) an overtone a fourth above No. 3 (two octaves above the fundamental); (5) an overtone a major third above No. 4; (6) an overtone a minor third above No. 5. There are others in still higher range but those indicated are easily demonstrated on the piano. For C they would be as follows:

[Music illustration]

Experiment I

Step to your piano, noiselessly press and hold down the key of No. 2, then strike the fundamental No. 1, with force and immediately release it. As a result No. 2 will sound clearly, and if your ears are keen you will at the same time hear No. 6. In succession hold down the keys of 3, 4, 5, and 6, while you strike and release the fundamental No. 1. If your piano is "in tune" you will probably hear No. 6 when holding the key of any other note of the series.

In a musical tone of rich quality the overtones just indicated are present in their fulness, while tone that is weak and thin is made so by the absence or weakness of the overtones. I have stated that the quality of a tone depends on the form of its vibrations, and that the form of its vibrations is determined by the character of the resonator. We can now amplify this by saying that while the relative presence or absence of overtones determines the clang or color of a tone, their presence or absence is determined by the character of the resonance.

An English writer records that he was once in the garden at the back of a house while a gentleman was singing in the drawing-room. The tone-quality was good, and the pitch so unusually high he hastened to learn who sang tenor high C so beautifully. On entering the room, instead of the tenor he had supposed, he found the singer was a baritone, and the note sung was only middle C. The fundamental tone had not reached him in the garden but the first overtone, an octave above it, had. Concrete illustrations will make the subject still clearer.

Experiment II

If an ordinary tuning-fork when vibrating is held in the hand its intrinsic tone is too weak to carry far. Rest the handle of the vibrating fork on a bare table or the panel of the door, and the sound is greatly augmented. The vibrations of the fork have by contact induced similar vibrations in the wooden table or panel which reinforce the primary tone.

Experiment III

Place the handle of the vibrating tuning-fork on a small upturned empty box, or, better still, in contact with the body of a violin, and the sound will be stronger than in the previous experiment, because to the vibrations of the wood are added the vibrations of the air enclosed in the box or the violin. To the resonance of the wood has been added the sympathetic resonance of the confined air.

Experiment IV

Hold the vibrating fork over the mouth of an empty fruit-jar and there will probably be little or no reinforcement; but gently pour in water, thereby shortening the air column within the jar, and the sound of the fork will be gradually intensified until at a certain point it becomes quite loud. If you pour in still more water the sound will gradually become feebler. This shows that for every tone an air column of a certain size most powerfully reinforces that tone.

Experiment V

As a sequence to the last experiment, take two fruit-jars of the same size, and, having learned to what point to fill them for the greatest resonance, fill one jar (after warming it) to the required point with hot water, the other with cold water, and you will find that the resonance of the heated, therefore expanded, air is much less than the denser air of the cold jar. This shows that the degree of density of the air affects its resonance.

Experiment VI

To demonstrate the resonance of the oral cavity, apart from the voice, hold a vibrating tuning-fork before the open mouth. Vary the shape and size of the cavity until the sound of the fork suddenly increases in volume, showing that the right adjustment for resonance has been made. This intensification of the sound is due to the vibration of the air in the mouth cavity, together with the sympathetic vibration of the surrounding walls.

Experiment VII

As an illustration of sympathetic resonance without contact, sing forcibly a tone that is within easy range, and at the same time silently hold down the corresponding key of the piano. On ceasing to sing you will hear the tone sounding in the piano. This may be further illustrated by playing on the open string of one violin while another, tuned to the same pitch, rests untouched near by. Through sympathetic resonance the corresponding string of the second violin will vibrate and sound its note. The louder the first violin is played the louder will be the sympathetic tone of the second.

The deep pedal-tones of a church organ often induce sympathetic resonance that may be felt beneath the feet of the listener. One writer, a singer, speaks of living in the same house with two deaf-mutes. He lodged on the first floor, they on the third. One day, meeting at luncheon, one of the deaf-mutes told the singer that he had begun practice earlier that morning than usual. Surprised, the writer asked how he knew. The deaf-mute replied that they always knew when he was singing because they felt the floor of their room vibrate.

If tone vibrations can be transmitted so readily throughout a house, it is not difficult to understand how easily the vibrations of bone and tissue can be transmitted until the whole framework of the body responds in perceptible vibration.

It is said that Pascal at the age of twelve wrote a dissertation on acoustics suggested by his childish discovery that when a metal dish was struck by a knife the resulting sound could be stopped by touching the vibrating dish with a finger.

With this in mind it is not difficult to understand how compression of the human instrument by the pressure of tight clothing without, or by false muscular tension within, must interfere with its free vibration and so rob the produced tone of just so much of perfection.

From these experiments we can understand that, while the tones of the voice are initiated by or at the vocal cords, the volume and character of the tones are dependent upon resonance,—the vibration of the air in the various resonance chambers of the body, together with the sympathetic vibration of the walls of these chambers and the bony framework that supports them.

In respect to resonance, as in other respects, the human voice is far superior to all other instruments, for their resonators are fixed and unchanging, while the human resonator is flexible,—in Helmholtz's words "admits of much variety of form, so that many more qualities of tone can be thus produced than on any instrument of artificial construction."

We are now prepared to realize the error of the common notion that loudness of tone is due entirely to increase of breath pressure on the vocal cords. Simple experiments with the tuning-fork have shown that while the volume of sound it gives forth is due in part to the amplitude of its vibrations, its loudness is chiefly due to the character of the resonance provided for it.

The larger the resonance chamber the greater is its reinforcing capacity. The largest air chamber in the body is the chest, which serves not only as a wind-chest, but as a resonance chamber. The necessity for chest expansion, therefore, is not, as generally supposed, merely for air, but to increase its size as a resonance chamber.

In view of the laws of tone, how great is the common error of speaking of the larynx as if it alone were the vocal organ, when the principal vibrations are above the vocal cords in the chambers of resonance!

Since the musical value, the beauty of tone, as well as its volume, comes only from right use of the resonator, our principal business must be the acquiring control of the vibratory air current above the larynx. The acquirement of this control involves the proper focusing or placing of the tone, with the free uncramped use of all the vocal organs; power will then take care of itself.



Of the four component factors in the production of speech and song, the first, the motor, has been considered in Chapter III, and the second, the vibrator, in Chapter I.

In one respect there is marked contrast between these two factors. Until right habits are so thoroughly formed that the singer's breathing is automatically controlled, conscious effort is necessary, while the action of the vibrator, the vocal cords, is involuntary, not subject to conscious control.

The subtle adjustments of the delicate mechanism of the larynx belong to the realm of reflex action—to a spontaneous activity that, left unhindered, does its part in perfect nicety.

The vocal cords must, in their action, be free from the disturbance of uncontrolled breath action below them, or the hindrance due to misdirected effort above them. To direct consciousness to the vocal cords is to cramp them and prevent that free vibration and that perfect relaxation of the throat without which pure tone and true pitch are impossible.

As a surgeon I well know the value of thorough anatomical knowledge, but from the singer's standpoint I cannot too strongly emphasize the unwisdom of directing the attention of sensitively organized pupils to their vocal mechanism by means of the laryngoscope. This instrument belongs to the physician, not to the singer.

The importance of the third factor, the resonator, has been considered in Chapter V, on Resonance, but the fourth element in voice production, articulation, is so cooerdinated to resonance that the significance and primacy of the latter are too often overlooked.

Placing or "focusing the voice" I have found to be chiefly a matter of control and use of the resonator, consisting of chest, pharynx, mouth, and the nasal and head cavities.

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