The Psychology of Singing - A Rational Method of Voice Culture Based on a Scientific Analysis of All Systems, Ancient and Modern
by David C. Taylor
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A Rational Method of Voice Culture based on a Scientific Analysis of all Systems, Ancient and Modern



New York 1922 All rights reserved

Copyright, 1908, by the MacMillan Company. New York—Boston—Chicago—Atlanta—San Francisco MacMillan & Co., Limited London—Bombay—Calcutta—Melbourne The Macmillan Co. of Canada, Ltd. Toronto

Set up and electrotyped. Published November, 1908. Norwood Press: Berwick & Smith Co., Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.

To My Mother



A peculiar gap exists between the accepted theoretical basis of instruction in singing and the actual methods of vocal teachers. Judging by the number of scientific treatises on the voice, the academic observer would be led to believe that a coherent Science of Voice Culture has been evolved. Modern methods of instruction in singing are presumed to embody a system of exact and infallible rules for the management of the voice. Teachers of singing in all the musical centers of Europe and America claim to follow a definite plan in the training of voices, based on established scientific principles. But a practical acquaintance with the modern art of Voice Culture reveals the fact that the laws of tone-production deduced from the scientific investigation of the voice do not furnish a satisfactory basis for a method of training voices.

Throughout the entire vocal profession, among singers, teachers, and students alike, there is a general feeling of the insufficiency of present knowledge of the voice. The problem of the correct management of the vocal organs has not been finally and definitely solved. Voice Culture has not been reduced to an exact science. Vocal teachers are not in possession of an infallible method of training voices. Students of singing find great difficulty in learning how to use their voices. Voice Culture is generally recognized as entitled to a position among the exact sciences; but something remains to be done before it can assume that position.

There must be some definite reason for the failure of theoretical investigation to produce a satisfactory Science of Voice Culture. This cannot be due to any present lack of understanding of the vocal mechanism on the part of scientific students of the subject. The anatomy and physiology of the vocal organs have been exhaustively studied by a vast number of highly trained experts. So far as the muscular operations of tone-production are concerned, and the laws of acoustics bearing on the vocal action, no new discovery can well be expected. But in this very fact, the exhaustive attention paid to the mechanical operations of the voice, is seen the incompleteness of Vocal Science. Attention has been turned exclusively to the mechanical features of tone-production, and in consequence many important facts bearing on the voice have been overlooked.

In spite of the general acceptance of the doctrines of Vocal Science, tone-production has not really been studied from the purely scientific standpoint. The use of the word "science" presupposes the careful observation and study of all facts and phenomena bearing in any way on the subject investigated. Viewed in this light, the scientific study of the voice is at once seen to be incomplete. True, the use of the voice is a muscular operation, and a knowledge of the muscular structure of the vocal organs is necessary to an understanding of the voice. But this knowledge alone is not sufficient. Like every other voluntary muscular operation, tone-production is subject to the psychological laws of control and guidance. Psychology is therefore of equal importance with anatomy and acoustics as an element of Vocal Science.

There is also another line along which all previous investigation of the voice is singularly incomplete. An immense fund of information about the vocal action is obtained by attentive listening to voices, and in no other way. Yet this important element in Vocal Science is almost completely neglected.

In order to arrive at an assured basis for the art of Voice Culture, it is necessary in the first place to apply the strictest rules of scientific investigation to the study of the voice. A definite plan must be adopted, to include every available source information. First, the insight into the operations of the voice, obtained by listening to voices, must be reviewed and analyzed. Second, the sciences of anatomy, mechanics, acoustics, and psychology must each contribute its share to the general fund of information. Third, from all the facts thus brought together the general laws of vocal control and management must be deduced.

Before undertaking this exhaustive analysis of the vocal action it is advisable to review in detail every method of instruction in singing now in vogue. This may seem a very difficult task. To the casual observer conditions in the vocal world appear truly chaotic. Almost every prominent teacher believes himself to possess a method peculiarly his own; it would not be easy to find two masters who agree on every point, practical as well as theoretical. But this confusion of methods is only on the surface. All teachers draw the materials of their methods from the same sources. An outline of the history of Voice Culture, including the rise of the old Italian school and the development of Vocal Science, will render the present situation in the vocal profession sufficiently clear.

Part I of this work contains a review of modern methods. In Part II a critical analysis is offered of certain theories of the vocal action which receive much attention in practical instruction. Several of the accepted doctrines of Vocal Science, notably those of breath-control, chest and nasal resonance, and forward placing of the tone, are found on examination to contain serious fallacies. More important even than the specific errors involved in these doctrines, the basic principle of modern Voice Culture is also found to be false. All methods are based on the theory that the voice requires to be directly and consciously managed in the performance of its muscular operations. When tested by the psychological laws of muscular guidance, this theory of mechanical tone-production is found to be a complete error.

Part III contains a summary of all present knowledge of the voice. First, the insight into the singer's vocal operations is considered, which the hearer obtains by attentive listening to the tones produced. This empirical knowledge, as it is generally called, indicates a state of unnecessary throat tension as the cause, or at any rate the accompaniment, of every faulty tone. Further, an outline is given of all scientific knowledge of the voice. The anatomy of the vocal organs, and the acoustic and mechanical principles of the vocal action, are briefly described. Finally, the psychological laws of tone-production are considered. It is seen that under normal conditions the voice instinctively obeys the commands of the ear.

In Part IV the information about the vocal action obtained from the two sources is combined,—the scientific knowledge of mechanical processes, and the empirical knowledge derived from attentive listening to voices. Throat stiffness is then seen to be the one influence which can interfere with the instinctively correct action of the voice. The most important cause of throat stiffness is found in the attempt consciously to manage the mechanical operations of the voice. In place of the erroneous principles of mechanical instruction, imitation is seen to be the rational foundation of a method of Voice Culture. The mystery surrounding the old Italian method is dispelled so soon as the possibility is recognized of teaching singing by imitation. Practical rules are outlined for imparting and acquiring the correct use of the voice, through the guidance of the sense of hearing. The singer's education is considered in its broadest sense, and training in tone-production is assigned to its proper place in the complex scheme of Voice Culture.

During the past twenty years the author has found opportunity to hear most of the famous singers who have visited America, as well as a host of artists of somewhat lesser fame. In his early student days the conviction grew that the voice cannot reach its fullest development when mechanically used. Siegfried does not forge his sword, and at the same time think of his diaphragm or soft palate. Lucia cannot attend to the movements of her arytenoid cartilages while pouring out the trills and runs of her Mad Scene. A study of the theoretical works on Vocal Science, dealing always with mechanical action and never with tone, served only to strengthen this conviction. Finally the laws of physiological psychology were found to confirm this early belief.

Every obtainable work on Voice Culture has been included in the author's reading. No desire must be understood to make a display of the results of this study. One citation from a recognized authority, or in some cases two or three, is held sufficient to verify each statement regarding the accepted doctrines of Vocal Science. As for the practical features of modern methods, the facts alleged cannot in every case be substantiated by references to published works. It is, however, believed that the reader's acquaintance with the subject will bear out the author's statements.

This work is of necessity academic in conception and in substance. Its only purpose is to demonstrate the falsity of the idea of mechanical vocal management, and to prove the scientific soundness of instruction by imitation. There is no possibility of a practical manual of instruction in singing being accepted, based on the training of the ear and the musical education of the singer, until the vocal world has been convinced of the error of the mechanical idea. When that has been accomplished this work will have served its purpose. All of the controversial materials, together with much of the theoretical subject matter, will then be superfluous. A concise practical treatise can then be offered, containing all that the vocal teacher and the student of singing need to know about the training and management of the voice.

It is in great measure due to the cooperation of my dear friend, Charles Leonard-Stuart, that my theory of voice production is brought into literary form, and presented in this book. To his thorough musicianship, his skill and experience as a writer of English, and especially to his mastery of the bookman's art, I am deeply indebted. True as I know Leonard-Stuart's love to be for the art of pure singing, I yet prefer to ascribe his unselfish interest in this work to his friendship for the author.





Tone-Production and Voice Culture


Breathing and Breath-Control


Registers and Laryngeal Action




Empirical Materials of Modern Methods


A General View of Modern Voice Culture




Mechanical Vocal Management as the Basis of Voice Culture


The Fallacy of the Doctrine of Breath-Control


The Fallacies of Forward Emission, Chest Resonance, and Nasal Resonance


The Futility of the Materials of Modern Methods


The Error of the Theory of Mechanical Vocal Management




The Means of Empirical Observation of the Voice


Sympathetic Sensations of Vocal Tone


Empirical Knowledge of the Voice


The Empirical Precepts of the Old Italian School


Empirical Knowledge in Modern Voice Culture


Scientific Knowledge of the Voice




The Correct Vocal Action


The Causes of Throat Stiffness and of Incorrect Vocal Action


Throat Stiffness and Incorrect Singing


The True Meaning of Vocal Training


Imitation the Rational Basis of Voice Culture


The Old Italian Method


The Disappearance of the Old Italian Method and the Development of Mechanical Instruction


The Materials of Rational Instruction in Singing


Outlines of a Practical Method of Voice Culture




In no other form of expression do art and nature seem so closely identified as in the art of singing. A perfect voice speaks so directly to the soul of the hearer that all appearance of artfully prepared effect is absent. Every tone sung by a consummate vocal artist seems to be poured forth freely and spontaneously. There is no evidence of calculation, of carefully directed effort, of attention to the workings of the voice, in the tones of a perfect singer. Yet if the accepted idea of Voice Culture is correct, this semblance of spontaneity in the use of the voice can result only from careful and incessant attention to mechanical rules. That the voice must be managed or handled in some way neither spontaneous nor instinctive, is the settled conviction of almost every authority on the subject. All authorities believe also that this manner of handling the voice must be acquired by every student of singing, in the course of carefully directed study.

This training in the use of the voice is the most important feature of education in singing. Voice Culture embraces a peculiar and distinct problem, that of the correct management of the vocal organs. Vocal training has indeed come to be considered synonymous with training in the correct use of the voice. Every method of instruction in singing must contain as its most important element some means for dealing with the problem of tone-production.

No complete and satisfactory solution of this problem has ever been found. Of this fact every one acquainted with the practical side of Voice Culture must be well aware. As the present work is designed solely to suggest a new manner of dealing with this question, it is advisable to define precisely what is meant by the problem of tone-production.

In theory the question may be stated very simply. It is generally believed throughout the vocal profession that the voice has one correct mode of action, different from a wide variety of incorrect actions of which it is capable;—that this mode of action, though ordained by Nature, is not in the usual sense natural or instinctive;—that the correct vocal action must be acquired, through a definite understanding and conscious management of the muscular movements involved. The theoretical problem therefore is: What is the correct vocal action, and how can it be acquired?

On the practical side, the nature of the problem is by no means so simple. In actual instruction in singing, the subject of vocal management cannot readily be dissociated from the wide range of other topics comprised in the singer's education. In much that pertains to the art of music, the singer's training must include the same subjects that form the training of every musician. In addition to this general musical training, about the same for all students of music, each student must acquire technical command of the chosen instrument. This is necessarily acquired by practice on the instrument, whether it be piano, violin, oboe, or whatever else. In the same way, vocal technique is acquired by practice in actual singing. Practice makes perfect, with the voice as with everything else.

But the voice is not invariably subject to the law that practice makes perfect. In this important respect the singer's education presents a problem not encountered by the student of any instrument. Given the necessary talents, industry, and opportunities for study, the student of the violin may count with certainty on acquiring the mastery of this instrument. But for the vocal student this is not necessarily true. There are many cases in which practice in singing does not bring about technical perfection. The mere singing of technical exercises is not enough; it is of vital importance that the exercises be sung in some particular manner. There is one certain way in which the voice must be handled during the practice of singing. If the vocal organs are exercised in this particular manner, the voice will improve steadily as the result of practice. This progress will continue until perfect technical command of the voice is acquired. But if the vocal student fails to hit upon this particular way of handling the voice in practice the voice will improve little, or not at all. In such a case perfect vocal technique will never be acquired, no matter how many years the practice may continue.

What is this peculiar way in which the voice must be handled during the practice of singing? This is the practical problem of tone-production, as it confronts the student of singing.

It is important that the exact bearing of the problem be clearly understood. It is purely a feature of education in singing, and concerns only teachers and students of the art. Properly speaking, the finished singer should leave the teacher and start on the artistic career, equipped with a voice under perfect control. There should be no problem of tone-production for the trained singer, no thought or worry about the vocal action. True, many authorities on the voice maintain that the artist must, in all singing, consciously and intelligently guide the operations of the vocal organs. But even if this be the case the fact remains that this ability to manage the voice must be acquired during student days. In seeking a solution of the problem, that period in the prospective singer's training must be considered during which the proper use of the voice is learned.

It may be taken for granted that teachers of singing have always been aware of the existence of the problem of tone-production, and have always instructed their pupils in the correct management of the voice. Yet it is only within the past hundred and fifty years that vocal management has been the subject of special study. A brief review of the history of Voice Culture will serve to bring this fact out clearly.

To begin with, the present art of singing is of comparatively recent origin. It is indeed probable that man had been using the voice in something akin to song for thousands of years before the dawn of history. Song of some kind has always played an important part in human life, savage as well as civilized. To express our emotions and feelings by means of the voice is one of our most deep-seated instincts. For this use of the voice to take on the character of melody, as distinguished from ordinary speech, is also purely instinctive. Singing was one of the most zealously cultivated arts in early Egypt, in ancient Israel, and in classic Greece and Rome. Throughout all the centuries of European history singing has always had its recognized place, both in the services of the various churches and in the daily life of the people.

But solo singing, as we know it to-day, is a comparatively modern art. Not until the closing decades of the sixteenth century did the art of solo singing receive much attention, and it is to that period we must look for the beginnings of Voice Culture. It is true that the voice was cultivated, both for speech and song, among the Greeks and Romans. Gordon Holmes, in his Treatise on Vocal Physiology and Hygiene (London, 1879), gives an interesting account of these ancient systems of Voice Culture. But practically nothing has come down to us about the means then used for training the voice. Even if any defined methods were developed, it is absolutely certain that these had no influence on the modern art of Voice Culture.

With the birth of Italian opera, in 1600, a new art of singing also came into existence. The two arts, opera and singing, developed side by side, each dependent on the other. And most important to the present inquiry, the art or science of training voices also came into being. In Le Revoluzioni del Teatro Musicale Italiano (Venice, 1785), Arteaga says of the development of opera: "But nothing contributed so much to clarify Italian music at that time as the excellence and the abundance of the singers." A race of singing masters seems almost to have sprung up in Italy. These illustrious masters taught the singers to produce effects with their voices such as had never been heard of before. From 1600 to 1750 the progress of the art of singing was uninterrupted. Each great teacher carried the art a little further, discovering new beauties and powers in the voice, and finding means to impart his new knowledge to his pupils.

This race of teachers is known to-day as the Old Italian School, and their system of instruction is called the Old Italian Method. Just what this method consisted of is a much-discussed question. Whatever its system of instruction, the old Italian school seems to have suffered a gradual decline. In 1800 it was distinctly on the wane; it was entirely superseded, during the years from 1840 to 1865, by the modern scientific methods.

Considered as a practical system of Voice Culture, the old Italian method is a highly mysterious subject. Little is now known about the means used for training students of singing in the correct use of the voice. This much is fairly certain: the old masters paid little or no attention to what are now considered scientific principles. They taught in what modern vocal theorists consider a rather haphazard fashion. The term "empirical" is often applied to their method, and to the knowledge of the voice on which it was based.[1] But as to what the old masters actually knew about the voice, and just how they taught their pupils to sing, on these points the modern world is in almost complete ignorance. Many attempts have been made in recent years to reconstruct the old Italian method in the light of modern scientific knowledge of the voice. But no such analysis of the empirical system has ever been convincing.

[Note 1: "The old Italian method of instruction, to which vocal music owed its high condition, was purely empirical." (Emma Seiler, The Voice in Singing. Phila., 1886.)]

How the practical method of the old masters came to be forgotten is perhaps the most mysterious feature of this puzzling system. There has been a lineal succession of teachers of singing, from the earlier decades of the eighteenth century down to the present. Even to-day it is almost unheard of that any one should presume to call himself a teacher of singing without having studied with at least one recognized master. Each master of the old school imparted his knowledge and his practical method to his pupils. Those of his pupils who in their turn became teachers passed the method on to their students, and so on, in many unbroken successions. Yet, for some mysterious reason, the substance of the old method was lost in transmission.

What little is now known about the old method is derived from two sources, the written record and tradition. To write books in explanation of their system of instruction does not seem to have occurred to the earliest exponents of the art of Voice Culture. The first published work on the subject was that of Pietro Francesco Tosi, Osservazione sopra il Canto figurato, brought out in Bologna in 1723. This was translated into English by M. Galliard, and published in London in 1742; a German translation by J. F. Agricola was issued in 1757. The present work will call for several citations from Tosi, all taken from the English edition. Only one other prominent teacher of the old school, G. B. Mancini, has left an apparently complete record of his method. His Riflessioni pratiche sul Canto figurato was published in Milan in 1776. Mancini's book has never been translated into English. Reference will therefore be made to the third Italian edition, brought out in Milan, 1777.

Tosi and Mancini undoubtedly intended to give complete accounts of the methods of instruction in singing in vogue in their day. But modern vocal theorists generally believe that the most important materials of instruction were for some reason not mentioned. Three registers are mentioned by Tosi, while Mancini speaks of only two. Both touch on the necessity of equalizing the registers, but give no specific directions for this purpose. About all these early writers have left us, in the opinion of most modern students of their works, is the outline of an elaborate system of vocal ornaments and embellishments.

On the side of tradition a slightly more coherent set of rules has come down to us from the old masters. These are generally known as the "traditional precepts." Just when the precepts were first formulated it is impossible to say. Tosi and Mancini do not mention them. Perhaps they were held by the old masters as a sort of esoteric mystery; this idea is occasionally put forward. At any rate, by the time the traditional precepts were given to the world in published works on the voice, their valuable meaning had been completely lost.

Gathered from all available sources, the traditional precepts are as follows:

"Sing on the breath."

"Open the throat."

"Sing the tone forward," or "at the lips."

"Support the tone."

To the layman these precepts are so vague as to be almost unintelligible. But modern vocal teachers are convinced that the precepts sum up the most important means used by the old masters for imparting the correct vocal action. An interpretation of the precepts in terms intelligible to the modern student would therefore be extremely valuable. Many scientific investigators of the voice have sought earnestly to discover the sense in which the precepts were applied by the old masters. These explanations of the traditional precepts occupy a very important position in most modern methods of instruction.

There can be no question that the old masters were highly successful teachers of singing. Even leaving out of consideration the vocal achievements of the castrati, the singers of Tosi's day must have been able to perform music of the florid style in a masterly fashion. This is plainly seen from a study of the scores of the operas popular at that time. Empirical methods of instruction seem to have sufficed for the earlier masters. Not until the old method had been in existence for nearly one hundred and fifty years does an attempt seem to have been made to study the voice scientifically. In 1741 a famous French physician, Ferrein, published a treatise on the vocal organs. This was the first scientific work to influence the practices of vocal teachers.

For many years after the publication of Ferrein's treatise, the scientific study of the voice attracted very little attention from the singing masters. Fully sixty years elapsed before any serious attempt was made to base a method of instruction on scientific principles. Even then the idea of scientific instruction in singing gained ground very slowly. Practical teachers at first paid but little attention to the subject. Interest in the mechanics of voice production was confined almost entirely to the scientists.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the mechanical features of voice production seem to have appealed to a constantly wider circle of scientists. Lickovius (1814), Malgaine (1831), Bennati (1830), Bell (1832), Savart (1825), brought out works on the subject. It remained, however, for a vocal teacher, Garcia, to conceive the idea of basing practical instruction on scientific knowledge.

Manuel Garcia (1805-1906) may justly be regarded as the founder of Vocal Science. His father, Manuel del Popolo Viscenti, was famous as singer, impresario, and teacher. From him Garcia inherited the old method, it is safe to assume, in its entirety. But for Garcia's remarkable mind the empirical methods of the old school were unsatisfactory. He desired definite knowledge of the voice. A clear idea seems to have been in his mind that, with full understanding of the vocal mechanism and of its correct mode of action, voices would be more readily and surely trained. How strongly this idea had possession of Garcia is shown by the fact that he began the study of the vocal action in 1832, and that he invented the laryngoscope only in 1855.

It must not be understood that Garcia was the first teacher to attempt to formulate a systematic scheme of instruction in singing. In the works of Mannstein (1834) and of Marx (1823) an ambitious forward movement on the part of many prominent teachers is strongly indicated. But Garcia was the first teacher to apply scientific principles in dealing with the specific problem of tone-production. He conceived the idea that a scientific knowledge of the workings of the vocal organs might be made the basis of a practical system or method of instruction in singing. This idea of Garcia has been the basic principle of all practical methods, ever since the publication of the results of his first laryngoscopic investigations in 1855.

Before attempting to suggest a new means of dealing with the problem of vocal management, it is well to ascertain how this problem is treated in modern methods of instruction. It would not be easy to overstate the importance assigned to the matter of tone-production in all modern systems of Voice Culture. The scientific study of the voice has dealt exclusively with this subject. A new science has resulted, commonly called "Vocal Science." This science is generally accepted as the foundation of all instruction in singing. All modern methods are to some extent based on Vocal Science.

To arrive at an understanding of modern methods, the two directions in which vocal theorists have approached the scientific study of the voice must be borne in mind: First, by an investigation of the anatomy of the vocal organs, and of the laws of acoustics and mechanics in accordance with which they operate. Second, by an analysis of the traditional precepts of the old Italian school in the light of this scientific knowledge.

As the present work demands a review of modern methods from the practical side only, it is not necessary to include a description of the vocal organs. It will be sufficient to describe briefly the manner in which scientific investigators of the voice treat the subject of the vocal organs.

The vocal mechanism consists of three portions,—the breathing apparatus, the larynx with its appendages, and the resonance cavities. Vocal scientists apply their efforts to finding out the correct mode of action of each portion of the mechanism, and to formulating rules and exercises by which these correct actions can be acquired and combined for the production of perfect tones. The analysis of the traditional precepts also conforms to this general plan; each precept is referred to that portion of the vocal apparatus to which it seems best to apply. The outline of the principles of modern methods contained in the following chapters follows this general scheme.

It must be understood at the start that on most of the doctrines included in Vocal Science there is no unanimity of opinion among either theorists or teachers. Far from this being the case, practically all the principles of Vocal Science are the subjects of controversy.



It is generally considered that, as the breath is the foundation of singing, the manner of breathing is of vital importance to the singer. This subject has therefore received a vast amount of attention from vocal scientists, and the muscular actions of breathing have been exhaustively studied.

Several sets of rules for inspiration and expiration are put forth by different authorities. But there is no occasion for going into a detailed discussion of the different modes of breathing advocated by the various schools, or of the theoretical arguments which each advances. It is sufficient to say that the modes of breathing most in vogue are five in number,—deep abdominal, lateral or costal, fixed high chest, clavicular, and diaphragmatic-abdominal. However, on experimenting with these five systems of breathing, it is found that the number may be reduced to two; of these the others are but slight modifications. In one system of inspiration the abdomen is protruded, while the upper chest is held firm, the greatest expansion being at the base of the lungs. In the other mode of taking breath the abdomen is slightly drawn in, while the chest is expanded in every direction, upward, laterally, forward, and backward. In this system the upper chest is held in a fixed and high position.

Necessarily the manner of filling the lungs involves the manner in which they are emptied. Opinions are practically unanimous as to the proper position of the singer before taking breath, that is, at the end of an expiration. The singer must stand erect, the weight of the body evenly supported on the balls of both feet, with the whole body in a condition of lithe suppleness. In both systems of breathing the manner of expiration is simply a return to this position.

A wide variety of breathing exercises are in use, but these do not require detailed description. Any one of the prescribed systems of breathing can easily be adopted, and the student of singing seldom encounters any difficulty on this point. Still most teachers attach great importance to the acquirement of the correct manner of breathing. Toneless mechanical exercises are generally given, by which the student is expected to master the muscular movements before applying in singing the system advocated by the teacher. These exercises are usually combined with those for breath-control, and they are described under that head.


Very early in the development of Vocal Science the management of the breath began to receive attention. Mannstein,[2] writing in 1834, says: "The air in expiration must stream from the chest slowly and without shock. The air must flow from the chest with the tone." In a footnote he adds: "In order to acquire this economy of the breath, students were required to practise daily, without singing, to take and to hold back the breath as long as possible." Mannstein does not mention the muscular action involved in this exercise.

[Note 2: Die grosse italienische Gesangschule. Dresden, 1834.]

This subject is also touched upon by Garcia. In the first edition of his Ecole de Garcia, 1847, Chap. IV, p. 14, he says: "The mechanism of expiration consists of a gentle pressure on the lungs charged with air, operated by the thorax and the diaphragm. The shock of the chest, the sudden falling of the ribs, and the quick relaxing of the diaphragm cause the air to escape instantly.... If, while the lungs are filled with air, the ribs are allowed to fall, and the diaphragm to rise, the lungs instantly give up the inspired air, like a pressed sponge. It is necessary therefore to allow the ribs to fall and the diaphragm to relax only so much as is required to sustain the tones." It may be questioned whether Garcia had in mind the doctrine of breath-control as this is understood to-day. Very little attention was paid, at any rate, in the vocal instruction of that day, to the mechanical actions of breath-control; the great majority of teachers probably had never heard of this principle.

As a definite principle of Vocal Science, breath-control was first formulated by Dr. Mandl, in his Die Gesundheitslehre der Stimme, Brunswick, 1876. From that time on, this doctrine has been very generally recognized as the fundamental principle of correct singing. Practically every scientific writer on the voice since then states breath-control as one of the basic principles of Vocal Science. The most influential published work in popularizing the doctrine of breath-control was probably the book written jointly by Lennox Browne and Emil Behnke, Voice, Song, and Speech, London, 1883.

This doctrine is of so much importance in Vocal Science and in modern methods of instruction as to require a detailed explanation. The theory of breath-control may be stated as follows:[3]

"In ordinary breathing the air is expelled from the lungs quietly, but rapidly; at no point of the breathing apparatus does the expired breath meet with resistance. In singing, on the contrary, the expiratory pressure is much more powerful, yet the expiration must be much slower. Furthermore, all the expired breath must be converted into tone, and the singer must have perfect control over the strength and the speed of the expiration. This requires that the air be held back at some point. The action of holding back the breath must not be performed by the muscles which close the glottis, for all the muscles of the larynx are very small and weak in comparison with the powerful muscles of expiration. The glottis-closing muscles are too weak to oppose their action to the force of a powerful expiration. If the vocal cords are called upon to withstand a strong breath pressure, they are seriously strained, and their proper action is rendered impossible. In the same way, if the throat be narrowed at any point above the larynx, so as to present a passage small enough to hold back a powerful expiration, the entire vocal mechanism is strained and forced out of its proper adjustment. The singer must have perfect control of the breath, and at the same time relieve the larynx and throat of all pressure and strain. To obtain this control the singer must govern the expiration by means of the muscles of inspiration. When the lungs are filled the inspiratory muscles are not to be relaxed as in ordinary breathing, but are to be held on tension throughout the action of expiration. Whatever pressure is exerted by the expiratory muscles must be almost counterbalanced by the opposed action of the muscles of inspiration. The more powerful the blast, the greater must be the exertion by which it is controlled. In this way the singer may have perfect control both of the speed and of the strength of the expiration."

[Note 3: This statement of the doctrine of breath-control must not be construed as an endorsement of the theory of the vocal action embodied in this doctrine. On the contrary, both the theory of "opposed action" breath-control and the "breath-band" theory are held to be utterly erroneous. For a further discussion of this subject see Chapter II of Part II.]

The exercises for acquiring command of this "opposed action breath-control" are easily understood; indeed, they will readily suggest themselves to one who has grasped their purpose. Most important of these exercises is a quick inspiration, followed by a slow and controlled expiration. Exercises for breathing and breath-control are usually combined; the student is instructed to take breath in the manner advocated by the teacher, and then to control the expiration.

Teachers usually require their pupils to obtain command of this action as a toneless exercise before permitting them to apply it to the production of tone. Methods vary greatly as to the length of time devoted to toneless drills in breathing and breath-control. Many teachers demand that students practise these exercises daily throughout the entire course of study, and even recommend that this practice be continued throughout the singer's active life.

Simple as these exercises are in theory, they demand very arduous practice. Control of the breath by "opposed action" is hard and tiring muscular work, as the reader may easily convince himself by practising the above described exercise for a few minutes.

No special rules are needed for applying this mode of breathing to the production of tone. Theoretical writers generally do not claim that the control of the breath brings about the correct laryngeal action, but merely that it permits this action by noninterference. Several authorities however, notably Shakespeare, maintain that in effect this system of breath-control embodies the old precept, "Sing on the breath." (Wm. Shakespeare, The Art of Singing, London, 1898, p. 24.) Other theorists hold that the empirical precept, "Support the tone," refers to this manner of controlled expiration. (G. B. Lamperti, The Technics of Bel Canto, Trans. by Dr. Th. Baker, N. Y., 1905, p. 9.)

The "Breath-band" System

While most authorities on the voice advocate the system of breath-control by "opposed muscular action," there are a number of masters who teach an entirely different system. This is usually known as the "Breath-band," or "Ventricular" breath-control. Charles Lunn, in The Philosophy of the Voice, 1878, was the first to propound the theory that the breath may be controlled by the false vocal cords. There is reason to believe that this idea was also worked out independently by Orlando Steed ("On Beauty of Touch and Tone," Proceedings of the Musical Assn., 1879-80, p. 47). As a number of prominent teachers base their entire methods on this theory, it is worthy of careful attention. The "breath-band" theory may be stated as follows:

"When the lungs are filled by a deep inspiration and the breath is held, the glottis is of necessity closed so tightly that no air can escape. In this condition the expiratory muscles may be very violently contracted, and still no air will escape; indeed, the greater the strength exerted the tighter is the closure of the glottis. Obviously, this closure of the glottis cannot be effected by the contraction of the glottis-closing muscles, strictly speaking, for these muscles are too small and weak to withstand the powerful air pressure exerted against the vocal cords.[4] The point of resistance is located just above the vocal cords. The sudden air pressure exerted on the interior walls of the larynx by the expiratory contraction causes the ventricles of the larynx to expand by inflation. This inflation of the ventricles brings their upper margins, formed by the false vocal cords, into contact. Thus the opening from the larynx into the pharynx is closed. This closure is not effected by any muscular contraction, therefore it is not dependent on the strength of the muscular fibers of the false vocal cords. It is an automatic valvular action, directly under voluntary control so far as the contraction of the expiratory muscles is concerned, but independent of volition as regards the action of the false vocal cords. On account of their important function in this operation the false vocal cords are called the 'breath-bands.' Closure of the glottis by the inflation of the ventricles imposes no strain on the vocal cords.

[Note 4: One of the strongest arguments of the "breath-band" advocates is based on this action,—the resistance of the closed glottis to a powerful expiratory pressure. The theory of breath-control by "opposed muscular action" takes no cognizance of this operation. It will however be shown in Chapter II of Part II that the "breath-band" theorists are mistaken in asserting that the action of holding the breath is not performed by the glottis-closing muscles.]

"Control of the breath in singing is effected by this automatic valvular action. To produce a tone according to this system, the lungs must be filled and the breath held in the manner just described, while the vocal cords are brought to the proper degree of tension; then the tone is started by allowing the 'breath-bands' to separate very slightly, so that a thin stream of air is forced through the opening between their margins. The tone is ushered in by a slight explosive sound, which is nothing but the well-known stroke of the glottis. So long as the expiratory pressure is steadily maintained, this tone may be held, and yet no strain is imposed on the vocal cords. Perfect control of the breath is thus attained. For a powerful tone, the breath blast is greater, therefore the ventricles are more widely inflated, and the opening between the 'breath-bands' becomes narrower. The action is always automatic; once the tone is correctly started, the singer need pay no further attention to the operation of the 'breath-bands.' All that is necessary is to maintain a steady breath pressure."

In the methods of all the "breath-band" advocates, the first and most important step toward perfect tone-production is held to be the acquirement of this automatic breath-control. As in the "opposed muscular" system, the initial exercises are toneless drills in breathing. The basic exercise, of which all the others are variations, is as follows: "Fill the lungs, then hold the breath an instant, and forcibly contract all the chest muscles. Then force the air out slowly and powerfully through the glottis." Practice of this exercise is always accompanied by a hissing sound, caused by the escape of the air through the narrow slit between (presumably) the "breath-bands." Tone-production by the same muscular action is very simple, and requires no further explanation.

In its practical aspect this system of breath-control is the direct opposite of the "opposed muscular" system. In one the breath is expelled powerfully, the object being to bring a strong expiratory pressure to bear on the larynx. In the other system, the air is held back, in order that the larynx be exposed to as slight a pressure as possible.

The "breath-band" advocates hold that the glottic stroke is the key to correct laryngeal action. As a rule they instruct their pupils to attack every tone, throughout all their practising, with the stroke of the glottis. In the course of time the automatic valvular action is supposed to become so well established that the singer can dispense with the glottic stroke in public performance. Needless to say, these teachers usually recognize that this explosive sound is very harsh and unmusical, and utterly out of place in artistic singing.

An important claim of the "breath-band" teachers is that their doctrine contains the explanation of the traditional precept, "Support the tone." Their idea is that the throat, being "firmly set," furnishes a secure base for the tone to rest on. This explanation is of course utterly unscientific, and it cannot be said to throw any light on the meaning of the precept. "Singing on the breath" is also referred to this system of breath-control, but with no more coherence than the "Support of the tone."

No necessary connection obtains between systems of breath-control and those of breathing strictly speaking, that is, of inspiration. As has been said, the great majority of vocal theorists adhere to the "opposed muscular action" breath-control. In this number are included advocates of every known system of breathing. Bitter controversies have been carried on between champions of different modes of breathing, who yet agree that the breath must be controlled by "opposed action." This is also true, although not to the same extent, among the "breath-band" teachers. And to render the confusion on the subject of breathing and breath-control complete, instances might be cited of controversies between teachers who agree as to the correct mode of inspiration, and yet disagree on the manner of controlling the expiration.

Both systems of breath-control cannot be right; if one is correct, the other must necessarily be absolutely wrong. Instead of attempting to decide between them, it will be seen that both are false, and that the theory on which they rest is erroneous. This discussion is reserved for a later chapter.



Probably no other topic of Vocal Science has been studied so earnestly as the registers of the voice. Yet on no other topic is there such wide diversity of opinion among theorists and investigators.

Very little is definitely known regarding the manner in which the subject of registers was treated by the old Italian masters. Suffice it to say here that the old masters did not refer the registers to changes in the laryngeal action. They were treated simply as different qualities of tone, each quality best adapted to be sung only in a portion of the voice's compass.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the registers of the voice received much attention from vocal theorists, especially in Paris. Garcia's first published work, Memoire sur la Voix humaine, was presented to the Academy of Sciences in 1840. This Memoire gives the results of observations which Garcia made on his own pupils; it deals mainly with the position of the larynx during the singing of tones in the various registers. Garcia describes how the larynx is raised and lowered in the throat, according to the register in which the tones are produced. He also notes the position of the tongue and the soft palate.

Widespread interest was awakened by the account of Garcia's laryngoscopic investigations of the registers, published in 1855. The attention of the great majority of vocalists was at once drawn to the subject, and the actions of the vocal cords in the different registers were studied by many prominent physicians and voice specialists. Exhaustive treatises on the registers have since been published by Mme. Seiler, Behnke, Curwen, Mills, Battaille, Curtis, Holmes, and by a large number of other investigators.

All the results of the laryngoscopic investigation of the vocal action have been disappointing in the extreme. In the first place, no two observers have obtained exactly the same results. Writing in 1886, Sir Morell Mackenzie says: "Direct observation with the laryngoscope is, of course, the best method at our disposal, but that even its testimony is far from unexceptionable is obvious from the marvelous differences as to matters of fact that exist among observers. It is hardly too much to say that no two of them quite agree as to what is seen." (The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs, London, 1886.) Wesley Mills, in his latest work, endeavors to show a substantial agreement among the best equipped observers of the registers, but his attempt can hardly be called convincing. (Voice Production in Singing and Speaking, Philadelphia, 1906.) Opinions on the subject of registers, held by the leading voice specialists to-day, are fully as divergent as in 1886. Widely different statements are made by prominent authorities as to the number of registers, the vocal cord action by which each register is produced, and the number of notes which each one should properly include.

Another deficiency of the doctrine of registers is even more serious in its bearing on practical instruction. Not only have all investigators failed to define exactly what the correct laryngeal action is. Even if this were determined it would still be necessary to find means for imparting command of this correct action to the student of singing. Knowing how the vocal cords should act does not help the singer in the least to govern their action. What the vocal student wishes to know is how to cause the vocal cords to assume the correct position for each register. On this, the most important topic of mechanical Voice Culture, Vocal Science has shed no light whatever. A student may hear descriptions of the laryngeal action, and study the highly interesting laryngoscopic photographs of the vocal cords, until thoroughly familiar with the theoretical side of the subject. Even then, the student is no better able to control the vocal cord action than when profoundly ignorant of the whole matter.

This deficiency of Vocal Science is frankly recognized by one of the latest authoritative writers on the subject, Dr. Wesley Mills. On page 173 of his work just quoted, he advises students to hear the great singers, to note carefully the quality of tone which characterizes each register, and to imitate these qualities with their own voices. This advice may almost be described as revolutionary. Vocal theorists have always assumed that the correct action cannot be acquired by imitation. In this advice to rely on the imitative faculty for acquiring control of the laryngeal action, Dr. Mills abandons the basic principle of modern methods. Without exception, all instruction in singing is to-day based on the idea of mechanical tone-production. An entirely new theory of Voice Culture is involved in this advice of Dr. Mills.

Turning to practical methods of instruction, it is found that the subject of registers is very seldom treated in the manner suggested by the theoretical works on the voice. This would be, to make the "placing" of the voice in the different registers the exclusive subject of instruction for a certain number of lessons;—to train each register of the voice separately;—when the correct vocal cord action had been established in each register, to unite the different registers, and to correct any "breaks" which might have developed. Comparatively few teachers attempt to follow this course. The great majority treat the registers in a much less systematic fashion. A single half-hour lesson usually includes explanations and exercises on several topics of mechanical tone-production, as well as hints on agility, style, execution, etc. As merely one of this variety of subjects, the registers usually receive rather desultory attention.

Some teachers profess to ignore the subject of registers entirely. They maintain that, when properly trained from the beginning, the compass of the voice is one homogeneous whole; "breaks" and changes of quality are in their opinion merely the results of bad instruction. But the general belief of vocal authorities is overwhelmingly against these teachers. The condition which they describe is without doubt the ideal of vocal management; but the vast majority of teachers believe that this condition cannot be attained without some attention being paid to the individual registers.

Most teachers recognize either two registers,—chest and head; or three,—chest, middle, and head. Comparatively few extremists recognize more than three. Several sets of names for the registers have been proposed by vocal theorists,—thick and thin, long reed and short reed, high and low, etc. But these names have not been adopted by teachers to any extent.

One important phase of the registers has not received much attention from the laryngoscopic investigators. This is, that most of the notes of the voice's compass can be produced at will in more than one register. Vocal teachers as a rule recognize this fact. Julius Stockhausen for instance, in his Gesangsmethode (Leipzig, 1884), says: "The registers cross each other. The two principal registers of the voice have many tones in common. The perfect blending of the registers on a single tone leads to the crescendo, called in Italian the messa di voce." Teachers generally do not set hard and fast limits to the extent of each register; they direct that in singing up the scale the student pass gradually from chest to middle, middle to head voice, etc.

In most practical methods the chest register occupies about the same position; this is also true of the head register. Even those teachers who profess to ignore registers recognize these two distinct qualities of tone; they instruct their pupils to sing low notes in one quality, and high notes in the other. This is in fact the general practice. In this connection the topics of registers and resonance are often combined. The terms "head voice," "head register," and "nasal resonance," are used interchangeably by the great majority of teachers. This is also true of the expressions "chest voice," "chest resonance," and "chest register."

In practical instruction, the extending of the compass of the voice is usually treated, rather loosely perhaps in most cases, as a feature of the registers. Methods vary greatly in points of detail, but in most of them instruction on this topic is given along the same general lines. Usually the three classes of voices receive different treatment, one form of instruction being used for sopranos and tenors, another for mezzo-sopranos and baritones, and a third for altos and bassos.

In teaching students with high voices, teachers usually "place"[5] the medium notes first, roughly speaking, from G to d (for male voices one octave lower). Then the lower notes are developed, mostly by descending scale passages, the lowest note practised being usually C. The high notes are sometimes "placed" by ascending scale passages and arpeggios, but more often by the octave jump and descending scale. There is room for considerable variation in this class of exercises, but they all conform to the same general principle.

[Note 5: The expression "placing the voice" is more fully treated in Chap. VI. It is assumed, however, that the reader is familiar with the ordinary usage of this expression.]

For mezzos and baritones about the same system is followed, the exercises being sung a major third or so lower. In the case of contraltos and bassos, the voice is usually trained from the middle in both directions. Most teachers favor the "chest voice" for singers of these types throughout the entire compass.

A discussion of the use of special vowels and consonants in this class of exercises is contained in Chapter V.

It must not be understood that this topic of instruction is assigned by many teachers to any particular period of the student's progress. Moreover, practice in the registers seldom forms the exclusive material of lessons and home study for any definite time. The wide range of topics considered in the average singing lesson has already been mentioned.

Very little connection can be traced between the scientific doctrine of registers, and the treatment which this subject receives in modern methods. This is only to be expected, in view of the fact that laryngoscopic investigation has not resulted in practical rules for managing the vocal cords. The registers of the voice are handled by modern teachers in a purely empirical fashion.

Movements of the Larynx, Tongue, and Soft Palate

It was remarked, in speaking of the registers, that no mechanical means has ever been found for directly controlling the operations of the vocal cords. To this statement one apparent exception is seen in the method originated by John Howard. This earnest student of the voice sought to carry out, to its logical conclusion, the accepted idea of mechanical vocal control. In this respect he stands practically alone. His is the only method which even pretends to reduce the entire operation of correct tone-production to a set of defined muscular contractions.

Howard's theories, with the details of a practical method based thereon, are fully described in his most important published work, The Physiology of Artistic Singing, New York, 1886. A complete exposition of Howard's theories is not called for here. For the present purpose the following short summary will suffice:

"The difference between correct tone-production and any incorrect vocal action is solely a matter of laryngeal adjustment and vocal cord action. Whether the tone produced be right or wrong, the influence of the resonance cavities is about the same. It is therefore idle to pay any attention to the subject of air resonance. Only one form of resonance is of any value in tone-production (considered as distinct from vowel formation). This is the sounding-board resonance of the bones of the head and chest. To secure this, the most important reinforcement of the tone, the larynx must be firmly held in a fixed position against the backbone, at the fifth cervical vertebra. All theories as to the registers of the voice, derived from laryngoscopic observation, are completely erroneous.

"In the production of tone, the muscular tissue of the vocal cords is thrown into vibration by the air blast, and not merely the membranous covering of the inner edges of the cords. For a soft tone, only a portion of the fleshy mass of the vocal cords vibrates; if this tone is gradually swelled to fortissimo, a constantly increasing portion of the muscular tissue is called into play. For the loudest tone, the entire mass of the vocal cords is bought into vibration. Thus the increased volume of the tone results not alone from the increase in the power of the breath blast. Each addition to the power of the expiration demands also a change in the adjustment of the vocal cords.

"The contractions of the muscles inside the larynx, including the vocal cords, cannot be brought under direct voluntary control. But these contractions can be regulated by the actions of other sets of muscles, viz., those by which the larynx is connected with the skeletal framework of the head, neck, and chest. These latter muscles can all be controlled by direct volition. Each of these sets of muscles has its function in tone-production. One set pulls the larynx backward, into the position already described, against the backbone. Two other opposed sets hold the larynx firmly in this position, one set pulling upward, the other downward. Finally, and most important in their influence on the actions of the vocal cords, a fourth set of muscles comes into play. These tilt the thyroid cartilage forward or backward, and thus bring about a greater or less tension of the vocal cords, independent of the contractions of the muscles of the vocal cords themselves. In this way is regulated the amount of the fleshy mass of the vocal cords exposed to the expiratory blast. Correct tone-production results when exactly the necessary degree of strength is exerted by each one of these four sets of muscles."

For each of these groups of muscles Howard devised a system of exercises and drills by which the singer is supposed to bring all the movements involved under direct voluntary control. The parts thus exercised are the tongue, the soft palate, the jaw, the fauces, and also the muscles by which the larynx is raised and lowered in the throat, and those by which the chest is raised. In teaching a pupil Howard took up each part in turn. A sufficient number of lessons was devoted to each set of muscles for the pupil (presumably) to acquire the necessary control of each group.

Howard also paid much attention to the breath; he worked out the system of high-chest breathing in a really masterly fashion. But his manner of dealing with this subject did not differ from that of a great number of other teachers.

Howard retired from active teaching about 1895. His theories of the vocal action have never been generally accepted by vocal theorists, and the number of teachers who now profess to follow his method is very small. There are, however, many other masters whose methods, in their main features, are patterned after Howard's. These latter teachers may therefore be justly said to follow the Howard system, even though they give him no credit for their doctrines of vocal control.

Howard usually insisted that his pupils should understand the theoretical basis of his method, and the exact purpose of each exercise and muscular contraction. But as a rule his successors do not make this demand on their pupils. They are content to have the students practise the prescribed exercises; this the students do, with very little thought about the theory lying behind the method. For the pupil this system, as at present generally taught, consists solely of a series of muscular drills for the tongue, larynx, palate, etc.

In this review of modern methods, the Howard system is important, mainly because it represents the consistent application of the idea of mechanical tone-production. As was observed, Howard's theories had very little influence on the general trend of Vocal Science. The external features of the Howard system are indeed shared to some extent by the methods of many other teachers. Muscular drills of about the same type are very widely used. Some teachers go so far in this respect that their methods might almost be confounded with the Howard system. But the resemblance is purely external. Even in 1880, at the time when Howard had fairly perfected his method, there was nothing novel about exercises of this type. The first attempts at a practical study of vocal mechanics consisted of observations of those parts of the vocal organs whose movements can be readily seen and felt. These are the lips, tongue, palate, and larynx. Garcia's Memoire, already cited, is mainly a record of observations of this kind. Nearly every vocal theorist since that time has also paid some attention to this phase of the vocal action.

In practical methods of instruction, elaborate systems of rules have long been in use for governing the positions of the tongue, lips, palate, etc. Unlike the Howard theory, no definite scientific basis is usually given for specific directions of this kind. Each investigator has simply noted how certain great singers held their tongues or soft palates, whether the larynx was held high or low in the throat, etc., and considered that these must be the correct positions. It would be hard to find a greater diversity of opinion on any topic connected with the voice than is encountered here. To enumerate all the rules which are given for governing the actions of each part would be useless. A few of the contradictory opinions regarding the correct position of the larynx will suffice to show how great is the confusion on this topic:

"The larynx should be held low in the throat for all tones." "It should be held in a fixed position high in the throat." "It should be high for low tones, and should descend as the pitch rises." "It should be in a low position for the lowest note of each register, and should rise as the pitch rises; when the highest note of the register is reached, it should at once descend for the lowest note of the next register." Prominent teachers and writers could be cited as authority for each of these rules, and indeed for several others. A similar diversity of opinion is found regarding the rules given for the position of the tongue and the soft palate.

Practices vary greatly as to the amount of time and attention devoted to muscular drills of the parts under consideration, and also as to the importance attached to the positions of these parts. Some teachers make this a prominent feature of their methods. The majority, however, treat the subject much more lightly. They now and then devote a part of the lesson time to the muscular drills and exercises; for the rest, an occasional hint or correction regarding the positions of the parts is deemed sufficient.

All the movements of the tongue, lips, and jaw are directly under voluntary control. Exercises for these parts are therefore given only for acquiring suppleness and agility. The muscular movements of the larynx and soft palate are readily brought under control. Each can simply be raised and lowered. A few minutes' daily practice, extended over three or four weeks, is generally sufficient for the student to acquire satisfactory command of these actions. But to hold the tongue, palate, and larynx in any prescribed position, while singing a tone, is an extremely troublesome matter. Those teachers who adhere to precise systems for the positions of these parts, frequently impose much arduous practice on their pupils. As to the merits of any special system of the kind, this question is reserved for future discussion.


It would be hard to determine when the term "attack" was first used to describe the starting of a vocal tone. Nor is it easy to define the precise position assigned to the subject of attack by vocal theorists. No satisfactory statement of the theory of attack can be cited from any published treatise on Vocal Science. It is commonly asserted, rather loosely indeed, that the tone must be "started right." As Clara Kathleen Rogers expresses it, "Attack the tone badly, and nothing can improve it afterwards." (The Philosophy of Singing, New York, 1893.) This statement is in the practical sense utterly unfounded. A tone may be "attacked" with a nasal or throaty quality, and then be improved, by simply eliminating the objectionable quality. Of this fact the reader may readily convince himself. In short, all the accepted theories of attack rest on an unscientific basis.

Vocal theorists generally treat the subject of attack as connected in some way with registers and laryngeal action. But as no rule has ever been formulated for the mechanical management of the laryngeal action, it necessarily follows that no intelligible directions are ever given to the student for preparing to start the laryngeal action correctly.

Three possible ways of attacking a tone are generally recognized. These are described by Albert B. Bach, in The Principles of Singing, second edition, London, 1897. They are, first, the stroke of the glottis. (This is advocated by Garcia in most of his published works, although the testimony of many of his pupils, notably Mme. Marchesi, is that Garcia used the glottic stroke very little in actual instruction.) Second, the aspirate (h as in have), which is generally condemned. Third, the approximation of the vocal cords at the precise instant the breath blast strikes them. This latter mode of attack is advocated by Browne and Behnke, who call it the "slide of the glottis." It must be observed that neither the stroke nor the slide of the glottis can be shown to have any influence in causing the laryngeal muscles to adopt any particular mode of adjustment.

Turning to practical methods of instruction, little connection can be traced between the theories of attack and the occasional directions usually given for starting the tone. The subject of attack is seldom assigned to any particular period in the course of study. Many teachers ignore the matter altogether. Others devote a few minutes now and then to drilling a pupil in the stroke of the glottis, without attaching much importance to the subject. (The position assigned to this mode of attack by the "breath-band" theorists has already been mentioned.) On the whole, the matter of attack is usually treated rather loosely. The pupil is occasionally interrupted in singing a phrase, and told to "attack the tone better." Needless to say, this form of instruction is in no sense scientific.



In order to understand fully the position in Vocal Science assigned to the doctrine of resonance, it is necessary to trace the origin and the development of this doctrine. The old Italian masters naturally knew nothing whatever of resonance, nor of any other topic of acoustics. Yet the accepted theories of resonance in its relation to the voice are directly based on a set of empirical observations made by the old masters. The facts which they noted are now a matter of common knowledge. In singing low notes a sensation of trembling or vibration is felt in the upper chest; high notes are accompanied by a similar sensation in the head. How these sensations of vibration came to be made the basis of the theories of vocal resonance, and of registers as well, is an interesting bit of vocal history.

Although almost entirely ignorant of vocal mechanics in the scientific sense, the old masters were eager students of the voice. They carefully noted the characteristic sound of each tone of the voice, and worked out what they believed to be a comprehensive theory of tone-production. One of their observations was that in every voice the low notes have a somewhat different quality from the high notes. To distinguish these two qualities of tone the old masters adopted the word used for a similar purpose by the organ builders,—register. Further, they noted the sensation of vibration in the chest caused by singing low notes, and concluded that these notes are actually produced in the chest. To the lower notes of the voice they therefore gave the name "chest register." As Tosi explains it, "Voce di Petto is a full voice, which comes from the breast by strength." For a precisely similar reason, viz., the sensation of vibration in the head felt in singing the higher notes, this portion of the voice was called by the old masters the "head register."

When the study of vocal mechanics along scientific lines was undertaken, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, attention was at first paid almost exclusively to the subject of registers. The questions then most discussed were the number of registers, the number of notes which each should include, and the precise point of production of each register in the chest, throat, and head. Garcia's Memoire, dealing with the registers, was noticed in the preceding chapter. He showed that different adjustments of the tongue, palate, and larynx are concerned in the production of the various registers. This Memoire opened up a new line of observation, in which Garcia continued to take the lead. But the extending of the scope of inquiry concerning the registers did not result in any unanimity of opinion on the part of the vocal investigators of that time.

For a few years following the invention of the laryngoscope (1855), vocal theorists ceased their disputes about the registers, and awaited the definite results of this new mode of observation. When this potent little instrument was put within the reach of every investigator, it was believed that the mystery surrounding the registers was about to be dispelled.

One important consequence of the invention of the laryngoscope was the turning of attention away from the sensations of vibration in the chest and head. Each register was ascribed to a distinct mode of operation of the vocal cords, and for several years the terms "chest voice" and "head voice" were held to be scientifically unsound. But with the publication of Helmholtz's Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen in 1863, the sensations of vibration again received attention. These sensations were then made the basis of a theory of vocal resonance, which has since been adopted by the great majority of vocal scientists.

Until the publication of Helmholtz's work vocal theorists had known practically nothing of acoustics. The fact that the tones produced by the vocal cords are increased in power and modified in quality by the resonance of the air in the mouth-pharynx cavity came as a distinct revelation to the theoretical students of the voice. Helmholtz confined his experiments and demonstrations to the mouth-pharynx cavity, and investigated in particular the influence of this cavity in producing the various vowel and consonant sounds. But vocal theorists at once extended the idea of air resonance, and connected it with the well-known sensations of vibration in the chest and head. It was assumed that these sensations are caused by vibrations of the air in the chest and nasal cavities.

This assumption has been accepted without question by the great majority of vocal scientists. Both the chest voice and the head voice are now believed to owe their distinctive qualities to the reinforcing vibrations of the air in the chest and nasal cavities respectively. The mere fact that these vibrations can be felt is held sufficient proof of the statement. "In every true chest tone the resonance can be distinctly felt as a vibration (fremitus pectoralis) by the hand laid flat on the chest." (Die Kunst der idealen Tonbildung, Dr. W. Reinecke, Leipzig, 1906.) It must be observed that this is by no means a satisfactory scientific proof of the doctrine of chest resonance. This feature of the subject is reserved for discussion later.

The doctrine of resonance is now generally accepted as one of the basic principles of Vocal Science. It is stated, in substance, by almost every authority on the voice that "The tone produced by the vibration of the vocal cords, even when the laryngeal action is correct in every way, is weak, of poor quality, and without character. This tone must be strengthened and made of musical quality by utilizing the influence of resonance." The subject of resonance is always treated in theoretical works on the voice under the three heads of chest, mouth-pharynx, and nasal resonance. To these a fourth is sometimes added,—the sounding-board resonance of the bones of the chest and head.

Mouth-Pharynx Resonance

Considered strictly in its bearing on tone-production, the resonance of the mouth-pharynx cavity does not receive much attention from theoretical observers of the voice. The form assumed by this cavity is of necessity determined by the vowel to be sung. Aside from its function in the pronunciation of words, the influence of mouth-pharynx resonance on the tones of the voice is seldom discussed by vocal scientists.

As a rule, vocal teachers pay little attention to this form of resonance. The subject of enunciation is generally treated as distinct from tone-production strictly speaking. While the correct emission of the tone, in its passage from the vocal cords to the lips, is considered a very important topic, this feature of tone-production has no reference to resonance.

One exception must be made to the statement that no attention is paid to mouth-pharynx resonance. This is found in an interpretation of the empirical precept, "Sing with open throat." Several vocal theorists take this precept literally, and hold that it describes a function of mouth-pharynx resonance. According to their idea the cavity must be expanded to the largest size possible, on the theory that a large resonance cavity secures a proportionately greater reinforcement of the tone. "The greater the size of the pharynx, whether through practice or natural gifts, the stronger in proportion is the tone." (Die Kunst der idealen Tonbildung, Dr. W. Reinecke, Leipzig, 1906.) This theory is of course rather loose and unscientific. Still this idea,—a literal interpretation of the "open throat" precept,—receives much attention in practical instruction.

Only one muscular action has ever been defined by which the throat might be "opened." That is, the lowering of the larynx and the raising of the soft palate. Many teachers therefore direct that the throat be "opened" gradually in this way for the swelling of the tone. It is assumed that the power of the voice is developed by singing with the larynx low in the throat. This manner of instruction is, however, very loosely given. The supposedly scientific interpretation of the "open throat" precept shades off into a purely empirical application.

Chest Resonance

In no other topic of Vocal Science is the gap between theory and practice more striking than in the doctrine of chest resonance. Vocal teachers are in fair accord in believing the resonance of the air in the chest to be the most important influence in imparting power and "color" to the voice, and particularly to the lower notes of its compass. Students of singing are in almost all cases urged to acquire a proper command of chest resonance. But when it comes to telling the student how to learn to govern the chest resonance, the teacher has practically nothing to offer. No direct means has ever been found for causing the air in the thorax to vibrate; this cannot be effected, so far as has yet been determined, by any voluntary muscular action on the part of the singer.

This being the case, intelligible instruction in the use and management of chest resonance is hardly to be expected. Teachers of singing are obliged to fall back on purely empirical instruction on this topic. This usually takes the form of a description of the sensations experienced by the singer when producing tones in the chest voice. How this description of the singer's sensations is applied, is discussed in the following chapter.

Nasal Resonance

The lack of connection between the theories of vocal scientists and the practical methods of singing teachers is well illustrated in the subject of nasal resonance. A striking feature of all the discussions concerning the use or avoidance of nasal resonance is the fact that vocal theorists base their opinions entirely on empirical observations. The use of nasal resonance is condemned by almost every prominent authority on Vocal Science. Yet the only reason ever advanced for condemning nasal resonance is the fact that a tone of objectionable nasal quality seems to "come through the nose." This fact cannot, of course, be questioned. It is mentioned by Tosi, who speaks of the "defect of singing through the nose," and is observed by everybody possessed of an ear keen enough to detect the nasal quality of sound.

It is generally stated by vocal theorists that the nasal quality is imparted to the tone by the influence of the resonance of the air in the nasal cavities. In order to prove this assertion Browne and Behnke offer the following experiment, (quoted in substance): "Hold a hand-mirror flat, face up, just below the nostrils. Then sing a nasal tone; you will note that the mirror is clouded, showing that part of the breath has passed through the nasal cavities. Now sing another tone, free from the fault of nasal quality; this time the mirror is not clouded, which proves that no air has passed through the cavities in question." (Voice, Song and Speech.) This experiment is simplified by other authorities, who direct that the nostrils be pinched by the fingers, and then allowed to open by the removal of the pressure of the fingers. A steady tone is meanwhile to be sung. It will be noted, according to these theorists, that with the nostrils open the tone is nasal, and with the nostrils closed the tone is not nasal. This proves to their satisfaction that a tone passing in whole or in part through the nasal cavities must be nasal in quality.

It must be noted here that these experiments are not in any sense convincing. A tone of objectionable nasal quality can be sung equally well with the nostrils either closed or open, and so can a tone free from the nasal quality.

In theory, the mechanical prevention of nasal resonance is very simple. It is necessary only to raise the soft palate in singing, and thus to cut off the expired breath from passing into the nasal cavities. Most vocal scientists advise that the singer hold the soft palate raised for every tone.

Practical teachers of singing pay little attention to the theoretical discussions concerning nasal resonance. The overwhelming majority of teachers are firm believers in nasal resonance, and make it an important feature of their methods. They believe that this resonance is the most important factor in giving to the tone its "point," brilliance, and carrying power.

So far as instruction in the use of nasal resonance is concerned, teachers owe but little to the mechanical doctrines of Vocal Science. No voluntary muscular operation has ever been found, by which the air in the nasal cavities can be directly thrown into vibration, and so made to reinforce the tones of the voice. Instruction in the management of nasal resonance is therefore similar to that in chest resonance. The teacher describes the sensations experienced by a singer who produces the exact quality of tone desired. Use is also made of special vowels and consonants, for (supposedly) acquiring command of nasal resonance. A description of this form of instruction is given in the following chapter.

Sounding-Board Resonance

The acoustic principle of sounding-board resonance, in its application to the voice, is discussed by several vocal scientists. It is usually treated under two heads: first, the entire body is looked upon as a sounding board, capable of reinforcing the tones of the voice under certain conditions. Second, the bones of the chest and of the head are thought to be thrown into vibration, in sympathy with the vibrations of the air in the chest and nasal cavities respectively.

The importance attached by Howard to the sounding-board resonance of the entire body has already been noticed. Aside from the teachers of the Howard system, very few masters pay any attention to this feature of vocal reinforcement. Those who do so have no difficulty in dealing with the subject. When the singer stands in the position generally considered correct for singing, the body is said to be in the position most favorable for securing the benefits of this form of resonance. For this no special rules or exercises are needed.

Very little attention is paid, in practical instruction, to the vibrations of the bones of the resonance cavities. Each cavity is treated as a whole; the fact is only occasionally mentioned that the bones inclosing the cavities may vibrate, as well as the inclosed air.



A series of topics included in modern methods is now to be considered, different in scope from the strictly mechanical features of tone-production so far described. It must be apparent to the reader that the present understanding of the muscular processes of singing is not sufficient to furnish a complete method of instruction. This fact is thoroughly appreciated by the teachers of singing. Almost without exception they seek to supplement the mechanical doctrines by instruction of an entirely different character. The subjects included in this form of instruction are of several classes. They comprise the manner of emission of the tone, the traditional precepts of the old Italian school, the singer's sensations, and the use of certain vowels and consonants for special purposes.

Emission and Forward Placing

Of all the traditional precepts, the one most frequently cited in theoretical treatises on the voice is, "Place the tone forward." For this precept it is generally believed that a satisfactory explanation has been found in the accepted doctrine of tone emission.

The characteristic effect of perfect singing known as the "forward tone" is thoroughly well known to every lover of singing. In some peculiar way the tone, when perfectly produced, seems to issue directly from the singer's mouth. When we listen to a poorly trained and faulty singer the tones seem to be caught somewhere in the singer's throat. We feel instinctively that if the singer could only lift the voice off the throat, and bring it forward in the mouth, the tones would be greatly improved in character. It is commonly believed that the old masters knew some way in which this can be done. Just what means they used for this purpose is not known. But the accepted scientific interpretation of the "forward tone" precept is held by vocal theorists to render the subject perfectly clear.

Sir Morell Mackenzie states the correct emission of the tone as one of the three cardinal principles of the vocal action. "The regulation of the force of the blast which strikes against the vocal cords, the placing of these in the most favourable position for the effect which it is desired to produce, and the direction of the vibrating column of air which issues from the larynx are the three elements of artistic production." (The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs, London, 1886.) His analysis of the mechanical and acoustic processes involved in emission may be cited as typical of the views of the great majority of vocal scientists. "It (the column of sound) must be projected against the roof of the cavity behind the upper front teeth, from which it rebounds sharply and clearly to the outside." Mme. Seiler expresses the idea somewhat differently, but the meaning is about the same. "A correct disposition of the tones of the voice consists in causing the air, brought into vibration by the vocal ligaments, to rebound from immediately above the front teeth, where it must be concentrated as much as possible, rebounding thence to form in the mouth continuous vibrations." (The Voice in Singing, Phila., 1886.)

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