Voice Production in Singing and Speaking - Based on Scientific Principles (Fourth Edition, Revised and Enlarged)
by Wesley Mills
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Electrotyped and Printed by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A.

[Transcriber's Notes: In this e-text, illustrations of music notation have been rendered using standard text notation, e.g.: C = C two octaves below middle C; c = C one octave below middle C; c' = middle C; c'' = C one octave above middle C, etc.

Macrons are indicated thus: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū.]


They contrast with each other in that the one (upper) is too red; the other, too pale. The upper represents appearances such as one gets with the laryngoscope when the subject has a very severe cold, or even inflammation of the larynx, including the central vocal bands. In this particular case, a young woman of twenty-five years of age, there was inflammation with a certain amount of weakness of the internal thyro-arytenoid muscles. Speaking was almost impossible, and such voice as was produced was of a very rough character. In the lower illustration we have the appearances presented in a man affected with tuberculosis of the lungs and larynx. The pallor of the larynx is characteristic. There is weakness of the internal thyro-arytenoid muscle on the right side, which results in imperfect tension of the vocal band on that side, so that the voice is uncertain and harsh. Such illustrations are introduced to impress the normal by contrast. The reader is strongly advised to compare these figures with others in the body of the work, especially those of Chapter VII.


In addition to certain emendations, etc., introduced throughout the work, I have thought it well to add a chapter in which the whole subject is treated in a broad and comprehensive way in the light of the latest scientific knowledge.

In this review the psychological aspects of the subject have not been neglected, and the whole has been related to practice to as great an extent as the character of the book permits.

It is significant that on both sides of the Atlantic there is a growing conviction that the foundations for speaking and singing as an art must be made as scientific as the state of our knowledge will permit.


January, 1913.


No preface to the Second Edition was written, so few were the changes that were made in the work, and the same might apply to this Third Edition. However, the fact that within a period of less than two years, a Second English and a Third American Edition have been called for, seems to the Author to be so conclusive an endorsement of the application of science to vocal art, that he may be entitled at least to express his gratification at the progress the cause, to which he has devoted his pen, is making. It would seem that the better portion at least of that public that is interested in the progress of vocal art has made up its mind that the time has come when sense and science must replace tradition and empiricism.


MONTREAL, September, 1908.


The present work is based on a life study of the voice, and has grown out of the conviction that all teaching and learning in voice-culture, whether for the purposes of singing or speaking, should as far as possible rest on a scientific foundation.

The author, believing that practice and principles have been too much separated, has endeavored to combine them in this book. His purpose has not been to write an exhaustive work on vocal physiology, with references at every step to the views of various authors; rather has he tried always to keep in mind the real needs of the practical voice-user, and to give him a sure foundation for the principles that must underlie sound practice. A perusal of the first chapter of the work will give the reader a clearer idea of the author's purpose as briefly expressed above.

The writer bespeaks an unprejudiced hearing, being convinced that in art as in all else there is but one ultimate court of appeal: to the scientific, the demonstrable—to what lies at the very foundations of human nature.

In conclusion, the author desires to thank those publishers and authors who have kindly permitted the use of their illustrations.


MCGILL UNIVERSITY, Montreal, October, 1906.




Science and art—The engineer, architect, physician, nurse, and others, compared with the vocal teacher and learner—Unfavorable tendencies—The old masters—The great elocutionists—Causes of failure—The lack of an adequate technique—Correct methods are physiological—Summary of the advantages of teaching and learning based on scientific principles—Illustrations of the application of physiological principles to actual cases—The evils from which speakers and singers suffer owing to wrong methods—Speaking and singing based on the same principles—Relation of hygiene to physiology 17



Relations of animals to each other—Common properties of living matter—Explanation of these—The mammal and man—The stimulus and its results—The one-celled animal—Various "systems"necessary—Complexity of structure and function—Harmony through the nervous system—The rule of nervous centres—Means by which they are influenced, and by which they influence—Reflex action—Muscular mechanisms and neuro-muscular mechanisms—Work of the singer and speaker largely reflex in character—Summary 34



Breathing the great essential—Misconceptions—Purpose of breathing as a vital process—The respiratory organs—Their nature—Relations of the lungs to the chest-wall—Expansion of the chest—Its diameters—The muscles of respiration—Personal observation—The diaphragm—Varying quantities of air breathed—Breathing when properly carried out by the singer or speaker is healthful 44



Relations of the nervous system to breathing—The respiratory centre—Reflex action in breathing—Methods of preventing nervousness—Tones produced by the outgoing breath—Waste of breath—The happy combination for good singing or speaking 57



The well-developed chest—The voice-user a kind of athlete—The tremolo—Exercises recommended for the development of the chest—Forms of dress that hamper breathing—Weighing and measuring, re-measurement, etc.—Specific directions for methods to develop the chest—Warnings—Additional exercises—Breathing through the nose and through the mouth—Exercises for the development of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles—Relation of the diaphragm to the staccato effect—Forms of general exercise for the voice-user—Summary 62



Not the only voice-producing apparatus—Specific structures of the larynx in use when the subject phonates—Muscles and their attachments—The cartilages of the larynx—The lining mucous membrane—Changes in it when one has a "cold"—The vocal bands—Functions of the epiglottis—The "middle line" and relative position of parts—Adam's apple—Ventricle of the larynx—The importance of the arytenoid cartilages—Muscles of the larynx in detail—Sphincter action—Straining—Position of the larynx—Practical considerations—Dissection of a "pluck" and especially of the larynx—Hygiene—How disorder of one part may affect another—Summary 74



Some study of physics desirable—Sound and vibrations—The sounding body—Experiments to illustrate the principles of sound—Qualities of sound—Animals and perception of sound—The range of hearing in man—The larynx as a musical instrument—Experiments of Johannes Mueller—Discovery of the laryngoscope by Garcia—Description of the instrument—Method of using the laryngoscope—The difficulties—Auto-laryngoscopy—The importance of both laryngoscopy and auto-laryngoscopy—Change in size of the larynx due to use—Delicate changes in the laryngeal mechanism—Changes in the larynx during adolescence—Warnings—The "breaking" of the voice—Analogies with fatigue, etc.—When should singing be begun?—Singing with others—Choral singing 97



Various kinds of breathing, as "abdominal," "clavicular," etc., discussed—Control of the whole of the breathing mechanism urged—Correct breathing as a habit—Breathing in the most vigorous speaking and singing—Different views expressed by a diagram—Economy of energy in art—Reserve energy in breathing—"Pumping"—Coup de glotte—"Attack"—Breath-adjustment—Quality of sound the prime consideration in tone-production—Tremolo and other faults—Tests of good breathing—Mouth-breathing—Exercises—Singing of a single tone—Its relation to scale-singing—Summary and review 118



Vocal bands and resonance-chambers compared—Improvised mechanism to illustrate resonance—Musical instruments as resonance-bodies—A vowel in relation to the resonance-chambers—Description of the resonance-chambers—How the quality of tones may be made to vary—New views as to the sounding-chambers—Summary 140



A controverted subject—Definitions of a register—Qualifications for dealing with this subject—Madame Seiler—Tabular statement of her views—Garcia's and Behnke's divisions of registers—Sir Morell Mackenzie's views in detail—The author's earlier investigations—Madame Marchesi's views and practice 151



Auto-laryngoscopy and photography of the larynx—Dogmatism and science—Confusion and controversy—The break—Ignoring registers—Modification of tones, or "covering"—Points of agreement between different writers on the subject—The falsetto for males—Madame Seiler's special qualifications—Behnke's and Mackenzie's views—The author's conclusions—Rule for the extension of a register—Why certain artists deteriorate while others do not—-Males and females compared as to registers—The division of the registers for female voices recommended by the author—Teacher and pupil as regards registers—Objection to registers answered—The manner of using the breath and registers—How to distinguish registers—The teacher's part—Hearing singers of eminence is recommended—Madame Melba—Guiding sensations—Summary 161



Artistic expression only through movements—Emotions and technique—Relation of ideas to movements—Memories and movements—Guiding sensations essential for movements—The principles underlying all movements the same—Associated reflexes and habits—How habits are formed—inhibitions and their importance—Early practices only before the teacher—Careful practice with concentration of energy the best—Queries as to practice—Fatigue a warning—Practice in the early hours of the day, and short of fatigue—Quality to be aimed at rather than quantity—The total amount of time to be devoted to practice—"Hasten slowly;" "Little and often"—The treatment of the voice ruined by wrong methods—Summary 179



Vowels, consonants, noise—Consonants and pauses—Voice-production and vowels—Certain vowel sounds common to most languages—Why German and English are relatively unmusical—The needs of the musical artist—The mechanism required for the production of a vowel sound—Reconsideration of the resonance-chambers—The larynx to be steadied but not held rigidly immovable—The principal modifiers of the shape of the mouth-cavity—Breath to be taken through the mouth—The lips—Tongue and lip practice before a mirror—Importance of the connection between the ear and the mouth parts, etc—"Open mouth"—The mouth in singing a descending scale—Undue opening of the mouth—Proper method of opening the mouth—Causes of compression and the consequences 195



Principles and their expression in a few exercises—Analysis of the methods of tone-production—The sustained tone—Smoothly linked tones—The legato—The staccato and kindred effects—The mechanisms concerned—Perfection requires years of careful practice—The bel canto and the swell—The same exercises for singer and speaker—"Forward," "backward," etc., production—Escape of breath—The action of the soft palate—When to use "forward" and when "backward" production—Voice-placement—Nasal resonance, not nasal twang—Summary 207



The subject may be made dry or the reverse—Vowels, consonants, noise—The position of the lips and the shape of the mouth-cavity in sounding the various vowels—How to demonstrate that the mouth-cavity is a resonance-chamber—Practical considerations growing out of the above—Speaker, vocalist, and composer—Bearing of these facts on the learning of languages—Consonants as musical nuisances—Their great variation in pitch—Bruecke's division of consonants—Tabulation of the same 218



The best vowel to use in practice—Necessary to practise all—The guttural r and the lingual r—Consonants that favor nasality of tone—Overtones and fundamental tones—Relation of intensity and quality—The carrying power of a tone—Unusual distinctness in practice as related to ease—The registers of the speaking voice according to Madame Seiler—The range in speaking—Summary 230



Why this chapter is introduced—The essential mechanism of hearing—The part played by waves and vibrations—Divisions of the ear—The external ear in lower animals—The drum-head or tympanic membrane—The middle ear and its connections—Relation of the throat and the ear—The inner ear or labyrinth—The end-organ and its relations—The connection of the ear and various parts of the brain—The musician's ear—Relation of music and hearing—Lack of ear and inattention—The artist and the musician—The ear and the speaking voice—General musical training in relation to intonation, etc—The appreciation of music, and training to that end—The art of listening with close attention—Summary 236



Hygienic as related to physiological principles—Hygiene in the widest sense—Unfavorable conditions in the public life of an artist—Qualifications for success—Technique and a public career—The isolation of the artist and its dangers—The need for greater preparation now than ever—Choral singing and its possible dangers—The tendencies of the Wagner music-drama—Special faults, as the "scoop," "vibrato," "tremolo," "pumping"—Desirability of consultations by teachers of the use of the voice—Things the voice-user should avoid—Mouth-toilets—Lozenges—The sipping of water—What one should and should not eat—Tea and Coffee—The whole subject of congestion from compression, straining, etc., of the utmost importance—A sore throat when frequent should give rise to inquiry as to methods—Constipation—Exercise—Bathing 251



Stammering and stuttering—Those who have broken down—The increase of the range of a voice—The part the student plays in settling such questions—Selections to be avoided—Conservation of energy—Change and contrast—The voice as related to the building in which it is produced—The listener and pauses—Nervousness, and how to ward it off—General conclusion 268



The object of the speaker or singer—The idea of co-ordination—The study of vocalization may be considered a study of movements—The psychic condition—The instrument which is played upon—How is this instrument played upon?—Vibration of the air—Breathing—The aim of all training—The whole subject of breathing—Breathing exercises—The resonance chambers—The formation of vowels—Muscular efforts for the production of consonants—The pronunciation of words—General health of great importance 276



Appearance of the larynx during phonation in two special cases (in colors) Frontispiece

1. Muscle-fibres from the heart, much magnified 34 2. Small portion of muscle, moderately magnified 34 3. Muscle-cells from coats of intestine 35 4. Body of a nerve-cell of the spinal cord 38 5. Large nerve-cell from spinal cord of an ox 38 6. Cell from the cortex cerebri 38-39 7. Nerve terminating in a muscle 38-39 8. Muscle-fibres with capillaries around and between them 39 9. Parts of the respiratory apparatus 44 10. Trachea and bronchial tubes 45 11. Heart, lungs, and diaphragm 45 12. Diagram showing changes in shape of chest during inspiration 49 13. Diagram showing depression of the diaphragm during inspiration 50 14. Position of diaphragm, abdominal walls, etc., during expiration 55 15. Diagram illustrating reflex action 58 16. A well-developed, healthy chest 62 17. A chest deformed by corsets 62 18. Normal position of diaphragm and vital organs 63 19. Vital organs misplaced by compression of the chest 63 20. Thyroid and cricoid cartilages, side view 76 21. Thyroid and cricoid cartilages, front view 76 22. Back surface of cricoid cartilage 77 23. Cricoid cartilage, side view. 77 24. Arytenoid cartilages 77 25. A view of the larynx from behind 78 26. Epiglottis, thyroid and cricoid cartilages, etc. 78-79 27. Hyoid bone, crico-thyroid muscle, etc. 78-79 28. Posterior view of the larynx 79 29. Diagram showing relation of parts to the thyroid cartilage 80 30. Diagram showing the action of crico-thyroid muscle 82 31. View of larynx from above 83 32. Transverse section of larynx 83 33. False and true vocal bands, etc. 86 34. Inner surface of the larynx 87 35. Diagram to show the action of the laryngeal muscles 96 36. Registering the vibrations of a tuning-fork 100 37. Illustrating the transmission of vibrations 101 38. Illustrating the theory and practice of laryngoscopic examination 104 39. Illustrating the practice of laryngoscopic examination 106 40. Laryngoscopic picture of male larynx 112 41. Laryngoscopic picture of female larynx 112 42. Larynx during an attack of a common "cold" 113 43. The vocal bands as seen with laryngoscope during deep inspiration 113 44. Diagram showing form of chest and abdomen in forced abdominal breathing 122 45. The vocal bands during the production of a high-pitched tone 138 46. Water being poured into a tube until the remaining air-space becomes a resonator of a tuning-fork 142 47. Soft palate, fauces, and tonsils 142-143 48. Nares and soft palate, from behind 142-143 49. Turbinated bones of the nose 143 50. Madame Seiler's division of the registers 155 51. Appearance of the vocal bands when sounding first E and then F sharp 164 52. Diagram to show the nature of registers and breaks 166 53. Diagram of the processes involved in singing 186 54. Highly magnified diagramatic representation of a section through the superficial part of the great brain 188 55. Nerve-cell from the outer rind of the great brain, much magnified 189 56. Position of parts in sounding the vowel A 219 57. Position of the parts in sounding I 220 58. Position of the parts in sounding OU 222 59. Position of the parts in sounding T, K, F, R, N, and P 227 60. Vertical section of the auditory apparatus 237 61. Diagram of the auditory apparatus 238 62. Two of the ear-bones (malleus and incus), enlarged 239 63. The complete chain of auditory ossicles 240




To know consciously and to do with special reference to guiding principles are to be distinguished from carrying out some process without bearing in mind the why or wherefore. Science is exact and related knowledge, facts bound together by principles. Art is execution, doing, and has not necessarily any conscious reference to principles.

While every art has its corresponding science, their relation is in some cases of much greater practical importance than in others. While a painter may be the better for knowing the laws of light, there can be no question that he may do very good work without any knowledge whatever of the science of optics. He is at least in no danger of injuring any part of his person.

Entirely otherwise is it with the voice-user. He employs a delicate and easily injured vital apparatus. His results depend on the most accurate adjustment of certain neuro-muscular mechanisms, and one might suppose that it would be obvious to all who are concerned with this art that a knowledge of the structure and functions of these delicate arrangements of Nature would be at least of great if not of essential importance. The engineer knows the structure and uses of each part of his engine, and does not trust to unintelligent observation of the mere working of mechanisms which others have constructed. The architect studies not only the principles of design, etc., but also the nature and relative value of materials. In his own way he is a kind of anatomist and physiologist.

We do not trust the care of our bodies to those who have picked up a few methods of treatment by experience or the imitation of others. The doctor must have, we all believe, a knowledge of the structure and working of the animal body; he must understand the action of drugs and other healing agents. We expect him not only to diagnose the disease—to tell us exactly what is the matter—but also to be able to predict with, some degree of certainty the course of the malady. Even the nurse of the day must show some grasp of the principles underlying her art.

In connection with all the largest and best equipped universities in America there are officials to plan and direct the courses in physical culture. This matter is no longer entrusted to a "trainer," who has only his experience and observation to rely upon. It is realized that the building up of the mechanism which they are supposed to train in an intelligent manner rests upon well-established principles.

It would be just as reasonable for an engineer to point to the fact that his engine works well, as evidence of his ability, as for the teacher of voice-production to make the same claim in regard to the vocal mechanism. In each case there is a certain amount of justification for the claim, but such teaching cannot be called scientific. Is it even enlightened? It is just as rational to follow in medicine methods that seem to lead to good results, without any reference to the reason why, as to train for results in speaking and singing by methods which have for the student and teacher no conscious basis in scientific knowledge. The physician to-day who treats disease without reference to anatomy and physiology is, at best, but a sort of respectable charlatan. Why should students and teachers of voice-production be content to remain, in the advanced present, where they were hundreds of years ago?

Indeed, there is much more reason now than formerly why the vocalist, speaker, and teacher should have a theoretical and practical knowledge of the structure and workings of the mechanism employed. Many tendencies of the present day work against successful voice-training—worst of all, perhaps, the spirit of haste, the desire to reach ends by short cuts, the aim to substitute tricky for straightforward vocalization, and much more which I shall refer to again and again. They hurt this cause; and I am deeply impressed with the conviction that, if we are to attain the best results in singing and speaking, we must betake ourselves in practice to the methods in vogue at a time which may be justly characterized as the golden age of voice-production.

We have advanced, musically, in many respects since the days of the old Italian masters, but just as we must turn to the Greeks to learn what constitutes the highest and best in sculpture, so must we sit at the feet of these old masters. Consciously or unconsciously they taught on sound physiological principles, and they insisted on the voice-training absolutely necessary to the attainment of the best art.

However talented any individual may be, he can only produce the best results as a singer, actor, or speaker, when the mechanisms by which he hopes to influence his listeners are adequately trained. Why do we look in vain to-day for elocutionists such as Vandenhoff, Bell, and others? Why are there not actors with the voices of Garrick, Kean, Kemble, or Mrs. Siddons, or singers with the vocal powers of a score of celebrities of a former time? It is not that voices are rarer, or talent less widely bestowed by nature. It is because we do not to-day pursue right methods for a sufficient length of time; because our methods rest frequently on a foundation less physiological, and therefore less sound. Take a single instance, breath-control. In this alone singers to-day are far behind those of the old Italian period, not always because they do not know how to breathe, but because often they are unwilling to give the time necessary for the full development of adequate breathing power and control.

There was probably never a time when so much attention was paid to the interpretation of music, yet the results are often unsatisfactory because of inadequate technique. People seem to hope to impress us, on the stage, with voices that from a technical point of view are crude and undeveloped, and accordingly lack beauty and expressiveness. Speakers to-day have often every qualification except voice—a voice that can arrest attention, charm with its music, or carry conviction by the adequate expression of the idea or emotion intended.

Is it not strange that a student of the piano or violin is willing to devote perhaps ten years to the study of the technique of his instrument, while the voice-user expects to succeed with a period of vocal practice extending over a year or two, possibly even only a few months?

When the anatomy and physiology of the larynx are considered, it will be seen that the muscular mechanisms concerned in voice-production are of a delicacy unequalled anywhere in the body except possibly in the eye and the ear. And when it is further considered that these elaborate and sensitive mechanisms of the larynx are of little use except when adequately put into action by the breath-stream, which again involves hosts of other muscular movements, and the whole in relation to the parts of the vocal apparatus above the larynx, the mouth, nose, etc., it becomes clear that only long, patient, and intelligent study will lead to the highest results.

It should also be remembered that such an apparatus can easily acquire habits which may last for life, for good or ill, artistically considered. Such delicate mechanisms can also be easily injured or hopelessly ruined; and, as a matter of fact, this is being done daily. A great musical periodical has made the statement that thousands of voices are being ruined annually, in America alone, by incompetent teaching. My experience when a practising laryngologist made me acquainted with the extent of the ruin that may be brought about by incorrect methods of using the voice, both as regards the throat and the voice itself; and contact with teachers and students has so impressed me with the importance of placing voice-production on a sound foundation, not only artistic but physiological, that I have felt constrained to tell others who may be willing to hear me what I have learned as to correct methods, with some reference also to wrong ones, though the latter are so numerous that I shall not be able to find the space to deal at length with them.

The correct methods of singing and speaking are always, of necessity, physiological. Others may satisfy a vitiated or undeveloped public taste, but what is artistically sound is also physiological. None have ever sung with more ease than those taught by the correct methods of the old Italian masters; as none run so easily as the wisely trained athlete, and none endure so well. People in singing and speaking will, as in other cases, get what they work for, but have no right to expect to sing or speak effectively by inspiration, any more than the athlete to win a race because he is born naturally fleet of foot or with a quick intelligence. In each case the ideas are converted into performance, the results attained, by the exercise of neuro-muscular mechanisms. I am most anxious that it shall be perceived that this is the case, that the same laws apply to voice-production as to running or any other exercise. The difference is one of delicacy and complexity so far as the body is concerned.

It will be understood that I speak only of the technique. For art there must be more than technique, but there is no art without good methods of execution, which constitute technique. The latter is nothing more than method—manner of performance. Behind these methods of performance, or the simplest part of them, there must be some idea. The more intelligent the student, speaker or singer, as to his art and generally, the better for the teacher who instructs scientifically, though such intelligence is largely lost to the teacher who depends on tradition and pure imitation. In the present work I shall be so concerned with the physical that I shall be able only to refer briefly to the part that intelligence and feeling play in the result.

The qualifications for the successful treatment of vocal physiology—that is, such a discussion of the subject as shall lead to a clear comprehension of the nature of the principles involved, and place them on a practical foundation, make them at once usable in actual study and in teaching—such qualifications are many, and, in their totality and in an adequate degree, difficult to attain. After more than twenty years of the best study I could give to this subject in both a theoretical and a practical manner, I feel that I have something to say which may be useful to a large class, and, so far as I know, that is my reason for writing this book.

For myself music is indispensable. The one instrument we all possess is a voice-mechanism. I am one of those who regret that so little attention is paid, especially in America, to pleasing and expressive use of the voice in ordinary conversation. Yet how much pleasure cannot a beautiful speaking voice convey! The college undergraduate rarely finds vocal study among the requirements, in spite of the fact that the voice is an instrument that he will use much more than the pen. The truth is, the home methods of voice-production are those we are most likely to carry with us through life, and, unfortunately, little attention is given to the subject.

Sometimes a love of sweet sounds may be a hidden cause for much that would otherwise be inexplicable in an entire career, as in my own case. It led to an early study of singers and actors and their performances; it gave rise to an effort to form a voice that would meet the requirements of an unusually sensitive ear; it led to the practice and teaching of elocution, and, later, to much communion with voice-users, both singers and speakers. In the meantime came medical practice, with speedy specialization as a laryngologist, when there were daily consultations with singers and speakers who had employed wrong methods of voice-production; this again led on to the scientific investigation of voice problems, with a view of settling certain disputed points; then came renewed and deeper study of music, both as an art and as a science, with a profound interest in the study of the philosophy of musical art and the psychological study of the musical artist, all culminating in this attempt to help those who will listen to me without prejudice. I do not think I know all that is to be known, but I believe I do know how to form and preserve the voice according to physiological principles; I at least ask the reader to give my teachings and recommendations a fair trial. He shall have reasons for what is presented and recommended to him.

Once more let it be said that I do not deny that good practical results may follow teaching that is not put before the pupil as physiology; but what is claimed for physiological teaching is that—

1. It is more rational. The student sees that things must be thus and so, and not otherwise.

2. Faults can be the better recognized and explained.

3. The student can the more surely guide his own development, and meet the stress and storm that sooner or later come to every professional voice-user.

4. Injured voices can be the more effectively restored.

5. The physical welfare of the student is advanced—a matter which I find is often neglected by teachers of music, though more so in the case of instrumental than vocal teachers.

6. The student can much more effectively learn from the performances of others, because he sees that singing and speaking are physical processes leading to artistic ends. This is perhaps one of the most valuable results, and I can testify to the greater readiness with which analysis of a performance can be made after even moderate advancement. The teacher who is wise will encourage the student to hear those who excel, and to analyze the methods which successful artists employ. The student can much more readily accomplish this than detect the mental movements of the artist, though the two really go hand in hand to a large extent.

The above are some of the advantages, but by no means all, of a method of study of voice-production which I must claim is the only rational one—certainly, the only one that rests on a scientific foundation.

It does not follow that such study, to be scientific, shall be made repellent by the use of technical terms the significance of which the reader is left to guess at, but finds unexplained. I fear such treatment of vocal physiology has brought it into disrepute. The aim of the writer will be to give a clear scientific treatment of the subject, which shall not be obscured by unexplained technical terms, and which shall be practical—capable of immediate use by student and teacher. If he did not believe the latter possible he would not think it worth while to attempt the former, especially as this has often been done before, he regrets to say, badly enough.

Although the author has not now the tune to give regular lessons in voice-production, he is frequently consulted, especially when abroad, during his vacations, by speakers and especially singers who are anxious to learn how they may increase their efficiency in the profession by which they earn their livelihood and make their reputation; and the reader may be gratified to learn how, in such cases, the writer applies the principles he so strongly recommends to others.

Let two or three illustrations suffice:

1. A tenor of world renown consulted him in regard to the position of the larynx in singing, as he had a suspicion that his practice was not correct, inasmuch as his voice seemed to be deteriorating to some extent. The answer to his question need not be given here, as this subject is discussed adequately in a later chapter.

2. The second was the case of a young lady, an amateur singer, who was anxious to know why she failed to get satisfactory results. The author heard her in a large room, without any accompaniment (to cover up defects, etc.), and standing at first at some distance from her, then nearer. Her tones were delightfully pure and beautiful, but her performance suggested rather the sound of some instrument than singing in the proper sense. It was impossible to learn the ideas to be imparted, as the words could not be distinctly made out; there was a monotony in the whole performance, though, it must be confessed, a beautiful monotony, and there was a total lack of that vigor and sureness that both educated and uneducated listeners must be made to feel, or there results a sense of dissatisfaction, if not even irritation.

The beauty of tone was owing to a production that was to a certain extent sound, and this explained why the voice carried well in spite of its being small. This young lady was well educated, had heard much good music, possessed a sensitive ear and a fine aesthetic taste, and, perhaps most important of all, in this case at least, was able to think for herself. She was very slight of body, with an ill-developed chest, and, from her appearance, could not have enjoyed robust health. It was at once evident that this was an admirable case by which to test the views advocated. Accordingly, the author addressed the young lady as follows:

"Your voice is beautiful in quality, and carries well; you observe the registers properly; but your vocalization is feeble, and your singing is ineffective. This is due largely to the lack of robustness in your voice, but not wholly. You do not tell your story in song so that the listener may know what you have to say to him. The imperfections in your method of speaking, so common in America—an imperfect articulation and a limp texture of voice—are evident in your singing; you do not phrase well, and you paint all in one color. This is due chiefly to your breathing and your attacks. One may observe that at no time do you fill your chest completely. You use the lower chest and the diaphragm correctly, but you rob yourself of one half of your breathing power, and your chest is not at all well developed. You do not use the parts above your voice-box with vigor and efficiency, and you direct so much attention to the quality of the tone that you neglect its quantity and the ideas to be expressed. You have been correctly but inadequately instructed. Your teachers have evidently understood registers practically, as few do, but they have only half taught you breathing and attack. Their fidelity to that high ideal of quality of tone as the final consideration wins my respect."

The writer thought, but did not say, that they must have understood little of vocal physiology, or they would not have left this young lady so ill-developed physically, at least so far as the chest is concerned.

I then asked this earnest and intelligent student, as she proved to be, to take a full breath. She did not understand this, and was absolutely incapable of doing it. She had been taught to begin breathing below, to expand from the lower chest upward, and, as a natural result, she never filled the upper chest. She was at once shown how it was done, when she seemed greatly surprised, and said: "I never have done that in my whole life." "Did you not run and shout as a child?" "No, I never did run enough or shout enough to fill up my chest." The latter was small, and flat.

The method of attack was next explained and illustrated, first without reference to words, and then to show its importance in conveying ideas, and the causes of the defects in speaking were indicated, and the corrections named and illustrated. The lady was then asked to sing again, making the improvements suggested, with the result that it was clear that every principle set forth had been clearly apprehended, though of course as yet only imperfectly carried out. The student was recommended to take walking exercise, and to practice filling the chest in the manner to be explained later.

After six weeks she again asked to be heard. The change effected was wonderful; she was another type of vocalist now. Without any loss in quality her voice had a volume and intensity that made it adequate for singing in at least a small hall; her attacks were good, though not perfect; and at the end of a very large room it could easily be seen that her chest was, when necessary, filled full, so that she was able to produce a large and prolonged tone. But, best of all, her health had greatly improved, and she had gained in size and weight.

It is but fair to point out that, in the present case, the student was an unusually intelligent and thoughtful person. Had it been otherwise, more consultations would have been necessary, with probably many detailed instructions and much practice before the teacher. But the case sufficed to convince me afresh that only physiological teaching meets the needs of pupil and teacher. I do not claim, of course, that it is a panacea. It will not supply the lack of a musical ear or an artistic temperament. Vocalization does not make an artist, but there can be no artist without sound vocalization.

All the author's experience as a laryngologist tended to convince him that most of those evils from which speakers and singers suffer, whatever the part of the vocal mechanism affected, arise from faulty methods of voice-production, or excess in the use of methods in themselves correct. A showman may have a correct method of voice-production—indeed, the writer has often studied the showman with admiration—but if he speak for hours in the open air in all sorts of weather, a disordered throat is but the natural consequence; and the Wagnerian singer who will shout instead of sing must not expect to retain a voice of musical quality, if, indeed, he retain one at all.

Throughout this work it will be assumed that the speaker and the singer should employ essentially the same vocal methods. The singer should be a good speaker, even a good elocutionist, and the speaker should be able to produce tones equal in beauty, power, and expressiveness to those of the singer, but, of course, within a more limited range, and less prolonged, as a rule. To each alike is voice-training essential, if artistic results are to follow; neither rhetorical training on the one hand nor musical training on the other will alone suffice.

So that it may be clear that the same physiological principles apply to the vocal mechanism as to all others in the body, a short chapter dealing with this subject is introduced, before taking up the structure and functions of any part of that apparatus by which the speaker or singer produces his results as a specialist.

The laws of health known as hygiene follow so naturally on those of physiology that brief references to this subject, from time to time, with a chapter at the end of the work bearing specially on the life of the voice-user, will probably suffice.



The principle that knowledge consists in a perception of relations will now be applied to the structure and functions or uses of the different parts of the body.

The demonstration that all animals, even all living things, have certain properties or functions in common is one of the great results of modern science. Man no longer can be rightly viewed apart from other animals. In many respects he is in no wise superior to them. The most desirable course to pursue is to learn wherein animals resemble and wherein they differ, without dwelling at great length on the question of relative superiority or inferiority. It may be unhesitatingly asserted that all animals live, move, and have their being, in every essential respect, in the same way. Whether one considers those creatures of microscopic size living in stagnant ponds, or man himself, it is found that certain qualities characterize them all. That minute mass of jelly-like substance known as protoplasm, constituting the one-celled animal amoeba, may be described as ingestive, digestive, secretory, excretory, assimilative, respiratory, irritable, contractile, and reproductive: that is to say, the amoeba must take in food; must digest it, or change its form; must produce some fluid within itself which acts on food; must cast out from itself what is no longer of any use; must convert the digested material into its own substance—perhaps the most wonderful property of living things; must take up into its own substance oxygen, and expel carbonic acid gas (carbon dioxide); and possess the power to respond to a stimulus, or cause of change, the property of changing form, and, finally, the ability to bring into being others like itself.

Before justifying these statements in detail it will be desirable to say something of the anatomy or structure of a mammal, and we may select man himself, though it is to be remembered that one might apply exactly the same treatment to a dog, pig, mouse, or any other member of this group of animals. The amoeba and creatures like it live immersed in water; man, at the bottom of an ocean of air. Both move in their own medium, the amoeba creeping with extreme slowness, man moving with a speed incalculably greater. In each case the movements are determined by some cause from without which is termed by physiologists a stimulus. The slightest movement of the thin cover-glass placed over the drop of water in which an amoeba is immersed, on a microscopic slide, suffices to act as a stimulus, and serves much the same purpose as an electric shock to the muscles of a man. In man an elaborate apparatus exists for the process known as respiration, but in this and in all other cases the mechanism is composed of what is known technically as cells, the latter being the units of structure, the individual bricks of the building, so to speak; and just as any edifice is made up of individual pieces some of which differ from one another while others do not to any appreciable extent, so is it with the body. The individual cells of a muscle are alike in structure and function, but they differ widely from those of a gland or secreting organ, as the liver. But it is to be ever remembered that the statements with which we set out hold: that is, that however cells may differ, they have in all animals certain properties in common. Of the muscle-cell, the liver-cell, and the one-celled animal we may affirm the same properties, but the difference is that while all are secretory the liver-cell is eminently so, and produces bile, which other cells do not; that while it is but feebly contractile, or susceptible of change of form, the muscle-cell is characterized by this property above all others.

The lower we descend in the animal scale the more simple are the mechanisms by which results are attained. The one-celled animal may be said to breathe with its whole body, while the man employs a large number of muscles, not to speak, at present, of other arrangements. But when a muscle is examined under the microscope, it is found to consist of cells, each one of which is physiologically in all essentials like an amoeba, so that we may say that a muscle or other tissue or organ is really a sort of colony of cells of similar structure and function, all working in harmony like a happy family. We actually do find colonies of unicellular animals much like amoeba, so that the muscle-cells and all other cells of the body may be compared to amoeba and other one-celled animals.

But while in such unicellular creatures all functions are properties of the individual cell, among higher forms systems take the place of the protoplasm of the single cell. There is a circulatory system, a respiratory system, etc.; but we must once more point out that such systems are made up of cells, so that every function of the highest animal may be finally reduced to what takes place in the unicellular animal. A circulatory system consists of a heart and blood-vessels, all filled with blood, which latter is "the life," as was known from the earliest times; yet this same blood is of no more use for the nourishment of the body while it is contained in those tubes which constitute the blood-vessels than is bread locked up in a pantry to a hungry boy. That which really provides the nutriment for the body is a fluid derived from the blood, a something like the liquid part of blood and known as lymph. This latter is to the cells of any tissue, as a muscle, as is the water filled with the food on which an amoeba lives. In like manner, in spite of the complicated apparatus which supplies oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, the respiratory system, respiration is finally the work of the cell, as in amoeba; a muscle-cell respires exactly as does the one-celled animal.

When we consider the marvellous complexity of structure of one of the higher animals, and the amazing variety of its functions, the question naturally arises as to how all this is brought about without any sort of clashing of the interests of one part with those of another. Why is it that the stomach has enough and not too much blood? By what means has Nature solved the problem of supplying more oxygen to parts in action than to those at rest? How is it that one set of muscles acts with instead of antagonizing another set, as in any complicated series of movements, such as walking?

To bring about this harmonization, or co-ordination, the nervous system has been provided. As the nervous and muscular systems are of preeminent importance in voice-production, they will now be considered with more detail than it is necessary to give to other systems.

Complicated as is the nervous system, modern advances in the sciences of anatomy and physiology have made the comprehension of the subject easier. It is now known that the nervous system, in spite of its wide ramifications, is also made up of cells which are structurally and functionally related to each other, and make connection with every part of the whole community, the body. A nerve-cell, or neurone, may be very complicated in its structure because of its many branches or extensions from the main body of the cell.

It may be said, in general terms, that the nervous centres, the brain and the spinal cord, which are parts of one anatomical whole, are characterized by the presence of the cell-bodies as well as their extensions, while nerves consist only of the extensions or arms of the cell-bodies. The nerve-cell whose body is in the top of the brain may have an extension or arm which may reach practically to the end of the spinal cord, and there make communication with another cell whose arm, in turn, may reach as far as the toe. Such nerve arms or extensions constitute the nerve-fibres, and bundles of these nerves, or nerve-trunks.

Usually nerve-fibres make connection with the cells of an organ by a special modification of structure known as a nerve-ending. A nervous message or influence (nerve-impulse) may pass either to the centre—i.e., toward a cell-body—or from it; in other words, a nervous impulse may originate in the centre or in some organ more or less distant from it; a nervous impulse may be central or peripheral. Nearly all central impulses, we now know, arise because of the peripheral ones. One may illustrate this important relation by a telegraph system. The message a railroad operator sends out—e.g., that which determines whether a train is to be held at a certain station or sent on—might depend wholly on information received from another office. The extra flow of blood to the stomach when food enters it is owing to such a relation of things. The food acts as a stimulus to the ends of the nerve-fibres, and, in consequence, there is an ingoing (afferent) message or impulse, and, by reason of this, an outgoing (efferent) one to the muscle-cells of the small blood-vessels, owing to which they contract less strongly and the calibre of these vessels is increased; hence more blood reaches the smallest vessels of all (capillaries.) Such a physiological relation of things is termed reflex action. For such reflex action there are required structurally at least two neurones or nerve-cells, and functionally a stimulus of a certain strength and quality. Of course, if more blood passes to the stomach there must be less somewhere else, as the total volume of the blood is limited. The value of the knowledge of such a fact is obvious. It must be unwise to exercise vigorously immediately after meals, for this determines blood to the muscles which would serve a better purpose in the digestive organs. For a like reason the singer who would do his best before the public will refrain from taking a large meal before appearing.

As this subject of reflex action is of the highest importance, the reader is advised to make himself thoroughly familiar with the principles involved before perusing the future chapters of this work. Fig. 16 shows the structural relations for reflex action. It also indicates how such nervous relations may be complicated by other connections of the nerve-cells involved in the reflex action. It will be seen that they make many upward connections with the brain, in consequence of which consciousness may be involved. Ordinarily one is more or less conscious of reflex action, though the will is not involved; in fact, a willed or voluntary action is usually considered the reverse of a reflex or involuntary action. But for a reflex action the brain is not essential. As is well known, a snake's hinder part will move in response to a touch when completely severed from the head end; and movements of considerable complexity can be evoked in a headless frog.

Herein, then, lies the solution of the problem. This is Nature's way of bringing one part into harmonious relations with another. As by a telegraphic system the most distant parts of a vast railway system may be brought into harmonious working, so is it with the body by means of the nervous system. The nerve-centres correspond to the heads of the railway system, or, perhaps more correctly, to the various officials resident in some large city who from this centre regulate the affairs of the whole line.

The muscular system is made up of cells of two kinds, those characteristic of the muscles used in ordinary movements, and those employed for the movements of the internal organs. The muscles of the limbs are made up of striped muscle-cells; those of the stomach, etc., of unstriped cells. These latter are slower to act when stimulated, contract more slowly, and cease to function more tardily when the stimulus is withdrawn.

The muscular mechanisms used by the singer and speaker are of the skeletal variety.

If it be true that the welfare of one part of the body is bound up with that of every other, as are the interests of one member of a firm with those of another, in a great business, it will at once appear that the most perfect results can follow for the voice-user only under certain conditions. However perfect by nature the vocal mechanism, the result in any case must be largely determined by the character of the body as a whole. The man of fine physique generally has naturally more to hope for than one with an ill-developed body.

In the natural working of the body the stimulus to a muscle is nervous; hence we may appropriately, and often to advantage, speak of neuro-muscular mechanism, the nervous element being as important as the muscular.

In a later chapter it will be shown that the work of the singer and speaker when most successfully carried out must be largely reflex in nature—a fact on which hang weighty considerations with regard to many questions, among them methods of practice, the influence of example, etc.—be he ever so much the natural artist. It will be the writer's aim, however, to give such warnings and advice as may assist each reader in his own best development. Many who began with a comparatively poor physical stock in trade have surpassed the self-satisfied ones who trusted too much to what nature gave them. Singers as well as others would do well to believe that Labor omnia vincit.


The same fundamental physiological principles apply to the lowest and to the highest animals. To all belong certain properties or qualities. As structure is differentiated, or as one animal differs from another owing to greater or less complexity of form, there is a corresponding differentiation of function, none, however, ever losing the fundamental properties of protoplasm. Each organ comes to perform some one function better than all others. This is specialization, and implies advance among animals as it does in civilization.

The neuro-muscular system is of great moment to the voice-user. He is a specialist as regards the neuro-muscular systems of the vocal mechanism. But the same laws apply to it as to other neuro-muscular mechanisms. It is of great theoretical and practical importance to recognize this, and that one part of the body is related to every other, which relationship is maintained chiefly by the nervous system, and largely through reflex action.



If the old orator was right in considering delivery as the essence of public speaking as an art, it may with equal truth be said of singing, the term being always so extended in signification as to imply what Rossini named as the essential for the singer—voice.

Looking at it from the physiological point of view, we may say that the one absolutely essential thing for singers and speakers is breathing. Without methods of breathing that are correct and adequate there may be a perfect larynx and admirably formed resonance-chambers above the vocal bands, with very unsatisfactory results. The more the writer knows of singers and speakers, the more deeply does he become convinced that singing and speaking may be resolved into the correct use of the breathing apparatus, above all else. Not that this alone will suffice, but it is the most important, and determines more than any other factor the question of success or failure. Breathing is the key-note with which we must begin, and to which we must return again and again.

The extent to which this subject has been misunderstood, misrepresented, and obscured in works on the voice, and its neglect by so large a number of those who profess to understand how to teach singing and public speaking, are truly amazing. That many should fail to fully appreciate its importance in attaining artistic results is not so surprising as that the process itself should have been so ill understood, especially as it is open to any one to observe in himself, or in our domestic animals, Nature's method of getting air into and out of the body.

[Transcriber's Note: numbered thus in original.]

This misapprehension is in all probability to be traced to the dependence of the student and teacher on tradition rather than observation—on authority rather than rational judgment. If a great teacher or singer makes any announcement whatever in regard to the technique of his art, it is natural that it should be considered with attention, but it may prove a great misfortune for the individual to accept it without thoughtful consideration. The author will illustrate, from time to time, the truth of the above.

In this and all other chapters of this work the student, by which term I mean every one who is seriously interested in the use of the voice, is recommended to give attention, before reading on any subject, to the illustrations employed, perusing very carefully the explanatory remarks beneath them.

The author considers the summaries at the conclusion of the chapters of much importance. They not only furnish exact and condensed statements of the main facts and principles involved, but afford the reader a test of the extent to which the foregoing chapter has been comprehended. As the author has a horror of what is termed "cramming," he expresses the hope that no student will use these synopses, which have been prepared with much care, for so great a misuse of the mind as cramming implies.

Breathing is essential for life. The oxygen of the air is, of all food-stuffs, the most important. Without it a mammal will perish in less than three minutes; hence there is no need of the body so urgent as that of oxygen. It is also of great moment that the waste—the carbon dioxide, or carbonic acid gas—should be got rid of rapidly; nevertheless, it is not this gas which kills when the air-passages are closed, though it is highly deleterious. The body is a sort of furnace in which combustions are continually going on, and oxygen is as essential for these as for the burning of a candle, and the products are in each case the same.

Whether the voice-user respires, like others, to maintain the functions of the body, or whether he employs the breathing apparatus to produce sound, it is to be borne in mind that he uses the same physical mechanisms, so that the way is at once clear to consider the anatomy and physiology of the breathing organs.

It has been already pointed out that respiration is in all animals, in the end, the same process. The one-celled animal and the muscle-cell respire in the same way, and with the same results—oxidation, combustion, and resulting waste products. In the animal of complicated structure special mechanisms are necessary that the essential oxygen be brought to the blood and the useless carbon dioxide removed. The respiratory organs or tract include the mouth, nose, larynx, trachea, bronchial tubes, and the lung-tissue proper or the air-cells.

The mouth, nose, and larynx, in so far as they are of special importance in voice-production, will be considered later.

The air enters the trachea, or windpipe, through a relatively narrow slit in the larynx, or voice-box, known as the glottis, or chink of the glottis, which is wider when air is being taken in (inspiration) than when it is being expelled (expiration). Life depends on this chink being kept open. The windpipe is composed of a series of cartilaginous or gristly rings connected together by softer tissues. These rings are not entire, but are completed behind by soft tissues including muscle. It follows that this tube is pliable and extensible—a very important provision, especially when large movements of the neck are made, during vigorous exercise, and also in singing and speaking.

The bronchial tubes are the tree-like branches of the trachea, and extend to the air-cells themselves, which may be considered as built up around them in some such fashion as a toy balloon on its wooden stem, but with many infoldings, etc. (Fig. 10). The air-cells are composed of a membrane which may be compared to the walls of the balloon, but we are of course dealing with living tissue supplied by countless blood-vessels of the most minute calibre, in which the blood is brought very near to the air which passes over them.

Throughout, the respiratory tract is lined with mucous membrane. Mucous membranes are so named because they secrete mucus, the fluid which moistens the nose, mouth, and all parts of the respiratory tract. When one suffers from a cold the mucous membrane, in the early stages, may become dry from failure of this natural secretion; hence sneezing, coughing, etc., as the air then acts as an irritant.

At no time do we breathe pure oxygen, but "air"—i.e., a mixture of 21 parts of the former with 79 parts of an inert gas, nitrogen; and there is always in the air more oxygen than the blood actually takes from it in the air-cells.

The intaking of air is termed by physiologists inspiration, and its expulsion expiration, the whole process being respiration. Expiration takes a very little longer than inspiration, and the rapidity of respiration depends on the needs of the body. The more active the exercise, the more rapidly vital processes go on, the more ventilation of the tissues is required and the more is actually effected. When one is at rest breathing takes place at the rate of from 14 to 18 inspirations and expirations in the minute; but of all the processes of the body none is more variable than respiration, and of necessity, for every modification of action, every movement, implies a demand for an increased quantity of oxygen. It is not surprising, therefore, that the very exercise of singing tends in itself to put one out of breath.

Attention will now be directed to some facts that it is of the utmost importance to clearly understand, if one is to know how to breathe and the reasons for the method employed. The lungs are contained in a cavity the walls of which are made up of a domed muscular (and tendinous) structure below, and elsewhere of bony and cartilaginous tissues filled in with soft structures, chiefly muscles. This cage is lined within by a smooth membrane which is kept constantly moist by its own secretion. The lungs are covered by a similar membrane, both of these fitting closely like the hand to a glove, so that there are two smooth membranes in opposition. It cannot be too well remembered that these two, the inner surface of the chest walls and the outer surface of the lungs, are in the closest contact. This is so whatever the changes that take place in the size and shape of the chest. The lungs are concave below, and so fit accurately to the fleshy partition between the chest and the abdomen which constitutes the lower boundary of the chest, if we may use the term "chest" somewhat loosely. Above, suiting the shape of the chest, the lungs are somewhat conical.

The pressure of the air tends of itself to expand the lungs, which are highly elastic, even when one does not breathe at all. But if more air is to enter there must be additional space provided; hence greater expansion of the lungs can only follow an enlargement of the chest cavity in one or in all directions. These are spoken of as diameters. It follows that it is possible to conceive of the chest being enlarged in three, and only three, directions; so that it may be increased in size in its vertical, its transverse, and its antero-posterior diameter, or diameter from before backwards.

This expansion, as in the case of all other movements, can be effected only by muscles, or, to speak more accurately, by neuro-muscular mechanisms. Exactly what muscles are employed may be learned from the accompanying illustrations and by observation. While it is highly important to know in a general way which muscles are chiefly concerned, or, rather, where they are situated, it cannot be deemed essential for every reader to learn their names, attachments, etc., down to the minutest details, as in the case of a student of anatomy proper. The author does, however, deem it of the highest importance that the student should learn by actual observation on his own person that his chest does expand in each of the three directions indicated above.

It is not necessary to dissect to observe muscles; in fact, they can be seen in action only on the living subject. All who would really understand breathing should study the chest when divested of all clothing and before a sufficiently large mirror. He may then observe the following during a fairly deep inspiration:

1. The chest is enlarged as a whole.

2. The abdominal walls move outward.

3. The ribs pass from a more oblique to a less oblique position, and may become almost horizontal; their upper edges are also turned out slightly, though this is not so easy to observe.

4. Again, in the case of a very deep and sudden inspiration, the abdomen and the lower ribs also are drawn inward.

The changes above referred to are brought about in this way:

1. The total enlargement is due to the action of many muscles which function in harmony with each other.

2. The chief changes are brought about by those muscles attached between the ribs (intercostales); but these act more efficiently owing to the cooeperation of other muscles which steady the ribs and chest generally, such as those attached to the shoulder-bones and the upper ribs; indeed, the most powerful inspiration possible can only be effected when most of the other muscles of the body are brought into action. One may observe that even the arms and legs are called into requisition when a tenor sings his highest tone as forcibly as possible, though this is often overdone in a way to be condemned. Art should not be reduced to a gymnastic feat.

The most important muscle of inspiration is the diaphragm, or midriff, because it produces a greater change in the size of the chest than any other single muscle. Some animals can get the oxygen they require to maintain life by the action of this large muscle alone, when all other respiratory muscles are paralyzed. As it is so important, and above all to the voice-user, it merits special consideration.

In studying the action of a muscle it is necessary to note its points of attachment to harder structures, either bone or cartilage. Nearly always one such point is more fixed than the other, and from this the muscle pulls when it contracts.

The diaphragm is peculiar in that it is somewhat circular in shape and is more or less tendinous or sinew-like in the middle. Being attached to the spinal column behind and to the lower six or seven ribs, when the muscle contracts it becomes less domed in shape—less convex upward—and of course descends to a variable degree depending on the extent of the muscular contraction. As to whether the ribs, and with them the abdominal muscles, are drawn in or the reverse, is determined wholly by the degree of force with which the contraction takes place and the extent to which it is resisted. Throughout the body muscles are arranged in sets which may either cooeperate with or antagonize each other, as required. The forcible bending of one's arm by another person may be resisted by one through the use of certain muscles. In this the action of the muscles which bend the arm is imitated by the agent seeking to perform this movement for us. The muscles acting in opposition to certain others are said to be their antagonists.

Were the diaphragm to contract moderately the ribs would be but little drawn in, even if no muscles acted as antagonists. But, as a matter of fact, this domed muscle descends at the same time as the ribs ascend, because of the action of the muscles attached to them. The diaphragm being concave below toward the abdomen, the contents of this cavity fit closely to its under surface. There are found the liver, stomach, intestines, etc.—a part of great practical importance, as will be shown presently.

Naturally, in breathing, the organs of the abdomen, especially those above, are pressed down somewhat with the descent of the diaphragm in inspiration, and, in turn, push out the abdominal walls. If, however, the midriff contract so powerfully that the lower ribs are drawn inward, the abdominal walls follow them. Although the actual extent of the descent of the diaphragm is small in itself, since the total surface is large it effects a very considerable enlargement of the chest in the vertical diameter.

The capacity of the lungs for air is a very variable quantity:

1. The quantity of air taken in with a single inspiration in quiet breathing (tidal air) is about 20-30 cubic inches.

2. The quantity taken in with the deepest possible inspiration (complemental air) is about 100 cubic inches.

3. The quantity that may be expelled by the most forcible expiration (supplemental air) is about 100 cubic inches.

4. The quantity that can under no circumstances be expelled (residual air) is about 100 cubic inches.

5. The quantity that can be expelled after the most forcible inspiration—i.e., the amount of air that can be moved—indicates the vital capacity. This varies very much with the individual, and depends not a little on the elasticity of the chest walls, and so diminishes with age. It follows that youth is the best period for the development of the chest, and the time to learn that special breath-control so essential to good singing and speaking.

When the ribs have been raised by inspiration and the abdominal organs pressed down by the diaphragm, the chest, on the cessation of the act, tends to resume its former shape, owing to elastic recoil quite apart from all muscular action; in other words, inspiration is active, expiration largely passive. With the voice-user, especially the singer, expiration becomes the more important, and the more difficult to control, as will be shown later.

It must now be apparent that such use of the voice as is necessitated by speaking for the public, or by singing, still more, perhaps, must tend to the general welfare of the body—i.e., the hygiene of respiration is evident from the physiology. Actual experience proves this to be the case. The author has known the greatest improvement in health and vigor follow on the judicious use of the voice, owing largely to a more active respiration. It also follows, however, that exhaustion may result from the excessive use of the respiratory muscles, as with any others, even when the method of chest-expansion is quite correct. Before condemning any vocal method one does well to inquire in regard to the extent to which it has been employed, as well as the circumstances of the voice-user. A poor clergyman worried with the fear of being supplanted by another man, or a singer unable to secure employment, possibly from lack of means to advertise himself, is not likely to grow fat under any method of vocal exercise, be it ever so physiological; while the prima donna who has chanced to please the popular taste and become a favorite may "wax fat and kick."



When one takes into account the large number of muscles employed in respiration, and remembers that these muscles must act in perfect harmony with each other if the great end is to be attained, he naturally inquires how this complex series of muscular contractions has been brought into concerted action so as to result in that physiological unity known as breathing.

It is impossible to conceive of such results being effected except through the influence of the nervous system, which acts as a sort of regulator throughout the whole economy. All the parts of the respiratory tract are supplied with nerves, which are of both kinds—those which carry nervous impulses or messages from and those which convey them to the nervous centres concerned; in other words, to and from the bodies of the nerve-cells whose extensions are termed nerves. These centres are the central offices where the information is received and from which orders are issued, so to speak.

The chief respiratory centre—the centre—is situated in that portion of the brain just above the spinal cord, in its continuation, in fact, and is known as the medulla oblongata, or bulb. But while this is the head centre, at which the ingoing (afferent) impulses are received and from which the outgoing (efferent) ones proceed, it makes use of many other collections of nerve-cells, or subordinate centres—e.g., those whose nerve-extensions or nerve-fibres proceed from the spinal cord to the muscles of respiration.

[Illustration: FIG. 15. The purpose of this diagram is to indicate the relation between ingoing (afferent) and outgoing (efferent) nervous influences (impulses)—in other words, to illustrate reflex action. The paths of the ingoing impulses are indicated by black lines, and those of the outgoing ones by red lines, the point of termination being shown by an arrow-tip. The result of an ingoing message may be either favorable or unfavorable. The nervous impulse that reaches the brain through the eye may be either exhilarating or depressing. The experienced singer is usually stimulated by the sight of an audience, while the beginner may be rendered nervous, and this may express itself in many and widely distant parts of the body. An unfavorable message may reach the diaphragm or intercostal muscles, and render breathing shallow, irregular, or, in the worst cases, almost gasping. The heart or stomach, even the muscles of the larynx, the limbs, etc., may be affected, and trembling be the result. On the other hand, the laryngeal and other muscles may be toned up, and the voice rendered better than usual, as a result of applause—i.e., by nervous impulses through the ear—or, again, by the sight of a friend. Even a very tight glove or a pinching shoe may suffice to hamper the action of the muscles required for singing or speaking. All this is a result of reflex action—i.e., outgoing messages set up by ingoing ones—the "centre" being either the brain or the spinal cord. From all this it is evident that the singer or speaker must guard against everything unfavorable, to an extent that an ordinary person need not. The stomach, as the diagram is also meant to show, may express itself on the brain, and give rise, as in fact it often does, owing to indiscretion in eating, to unpleasant outward effects on the muscles required in singing or speaking. Of course, no attempt has been made in the above figure to express anatomical forms and relations exactly.]

When all the ingoing impulses from the lungs, etc., are cut off, if respiration does not actually cease, it is carried out in a way so ineffective that life cannot be long sustained. It follows that as the muscular contractions necessary for the chest and other respiratory movements are dependent on the impulses passing in from the lungs, etc., breathing belongs to the class of movements known as reflex—chiefly so, at all events. It will thus be seen that respiration is a sort of self-regulative process, the movements being in proportion to the needs of the body. The greater the need for oxygen, the more are the nerve-terminals in the lungs and the centre itself stimulated, with, as a result, corresponding outgoing impulses to muscles.

As the respiratory centre is readily reached by impulses from every part of the body, like one who keeps open house, there are many different sorts of visitors, not all desirable. If, for example, a drop of a fluid that produces no special effect when on the tongue gets into the larynx, trachea, or lungs, the most violent coughing follows. This is one illustration of the protective character of many reflexes. This violent action of the respiratory apparatus is not in itself a desirable thing, because it disturbs if it does not exhaust, but it is preferable to the inflammation that might result if the fluid, a bread-crumb, etc., were to pass into the lungs.

In like manner, the deep breath and the "Oh!" that follow a fear-inspiring sight, a very loud noise, or a severe pinch of the skin, are examples of reflex action. They are quite independent of the will, though in some cases they may be prevented by it.

This reflex nature of breathing throws much light on many matters of great interest to the speaker and singer, some of which, as the formation of good habits of breathing, will be considered later. Unfortunately for the nervous debutant, his breathing is anything but what he could wish it. The pale face and almost gasping respiration, in the worst cases, are not unknown to the experienced observer. In such cases the preventive (inhibitory) influence of certain ingoing impulses is but too obvious. Such undesirable messages may pass in through the eyes when the young singer looks out on the throng that may either approve or condemn; or they may originate within, and pass from the higher part of the brain to the lower breathing centre. The beginner may have high ideals of art, and fear that they will be but ill realized in his performance. His ideals in this instance do not help but hinder, for they interfere with the regular action of the breathing centre. A few deep breaths after the platform has been reached greatly help under such circumstances. It is also wise for the singer to avoid those songs that begin softly and require long breaths and very evenly sustained tones. It is much better to begin with a selection that brings the breathing organs into fairly active exercise at once. One feeble, hesitating, or otherwise ineffective tone is in itself a stimulus of the wrong kind, sending in unfavorable messages which are only too apt to reach the breathing and other centres concerned in voice-production; but of this subject of nervousness again.

It is important to realize that sounds, whether musical or the reverse, are produced by the outgoing stream of breath, by an expiratory effort. Breath is taken in by the voice-producer in order to be converted into that expiratory force which, playing on the vocal bands, causes them to vibrate or pass into the rapid movements which give rise to similar movements of the air in the cavities above the larynx, the resonance-chambers, and on which the final result as regards sound is dependent. Important as is inspiration to the speaker and singer, expiration is much more so. Many persons fill the lungs well, but do not understand how to husband their resources, and so waste breath instead of converting every particle into sound, so to speak. After the larynx has been studied the importance of the expiratory blast will be better understood.

For the voice-user, it cannot be too soon realized that all breath that does not become sound is wasted, or, to express the same truth otherwise, the sole purpose of breathing is to cause effective vibrations of the vocal bands. In these two words, effective vibrations, lies the whole secret of voice production, the whole purpose of training, the key to the highest technical results, the cause of success or failure for those who speak or sing.

Before the larynx, the apparatus that produces sound-vibrations, can be effectively employed, the source of power, the bellows, must be developed. To some Nature has been generous—they have large chests; to others she has given a smaller wind-chest, but has perhaps compensated by providing an especially fine voice-box. Happy are they who have both, and thrice happy those who have all three requirements: a fine chest, a well-constructed larynx, and beautifully formed resonance-chambers. If with all these there are the musical ear and the artistic temperament, we have the singer who is born great. These are the very few. To most it must be—if greatness at all—greatness thrust upon them, greatness the result of long and patient effort to attain perfect development. Indeed, even those with the most complete natural outfit can only reach the highest results of which they are capable by long and patient application. Those who do not believe in attainment only through labor would do well to abandon an art career, as there is already a great deal too much poor speaking and bad singing.



The first great requisite for a voice-user is a well-developed chest; the next, complete control of it, or, to put it otherwise, the art of breathing, as briefly explained above.

The chest may be large enough, yet not be, in the physiological sense, developed. The voice-user is a sort of athlete, a specialist whose chest muscles must be strong and not covered up by very much superfluous tissue in the form of fat, etc. Whatever the public may think of the goodly form, the singer must remember that fat is practically of no use to any one in voice-production, and may prove a great hindrance, possibly in some cases being a cooeperative cause of that tremolo so fatal to good singing.

The voice-user should eschew ease and take plenty of exercise, but most of all must he use those forms of exercise which develop the breathing apparatus and tend to keep it in the best condition. Walking, running, and hill climbing are all excellent, but do not in themselves suffice to develop the chest to the utmost.

To the beginner the following exercises are strongly recommended. They are highly important for all, whether beginners or not, who would have the best development of the breathing apparatus.

Deep breathing, such a use of the respiratory organs as leads to the greatest possible expansion of the chest, should be learned and practised, if not absolutely before vocal exercises are attempted, at all events as soon after as possible. As in all cases where muscles are employed, the exercise should be graduated. It may be even harmful to attempt to fill the chest to its utmost capacity at once. It is better to breathe very moderately for several days. Any such symptoms as dizziness or headache accompanying or following the exercises indicate that they have been too vigorous, too long continued, or carried out under unsuitable conditions. Above all must the air be pure, and the body absolutely unhampered—most of all, the chest—by any form of clothing. Last century most ladies and some men applied to the chest a form of apparatus known as corsets, under the mistaken belief that they were for women a necessary support and improved the figure. They no doubt were responsible for much lack of development, and feeble health, and, as has been proved by examination of the body after death, led to compression of the liver and other organs. No voice-user should use such an effective means of preventing the very thing he should most desire, a full and free use of the breathing apparatus.

Before carrying out the exercises suggested or others equally good, the student is recommended to be weighed, and especially to have the chest carefully measured. This can be done with sufficient accuracy by the use of a tape-measure. It will be well to take the circumference a few inches above and below a certain point, so that it may be ascertained that the chest expands in every region. The measurements should be taken under the following conditions:

1. The chest should be almost or wholly divested of clothing.

2. Its circumference is to be ascertained—(a) when the breath has been allowed to pass out gently, and before a new breath is taken; (b) with the deepest possible inspiration; (c) after the deepest possible expiration, which has been preceded by a similar inspiration.

After about three weeks the individual should be again measured, by the same person, in exactly the same way, in order to learn whether there has been development or not, and, if so, how much. It is important that the measurements should be made at exactly the same horizontal planes, and with this end in view it is desirable to put a small mark of some kind on the chest, which may remain till the next measurements are made.

The method of breathing recommended is as follows:

1. Inhale very slowly through the nostrils, with closed mouth, counting mentally one, two, three, four, etc., with regularity.

2. Hold the breath thus taken, but only for a short time, counting in the same manner as before.

3. Exhale slowly, still counting.

After a few moments' rest the exercise may be again carried out in the same way. These exercises may be in series, several times a day.

The following warnings are especially to be observed:

1. Never continue any exercise when there is a sense of discomfort of any kind whatever. Such usually indicates that it is being carried out too vigorously.

2. Increase the depth of the inspirations daily, but not very rapidly.

3. The inspirations and expirations should both be carried out very slowly at first.

4. Cease the exercise before any sense of fatigue is experienced. Fatigue is Nature's warning, and should be always obeyed. It indicates that the waste products which result from the use of the muscles are accumulating and proving harmful.

After a week of such exercises the following modification of them is recommended:

1. Inhale with the lips slightly apart.

2. Gradually increase the length of the time the breath is held, but let it never exceed a few seconds.

3. Through open lips allow the breath to pass out, but with extreme slowness. The student should try to increase this last, somewhat, daily, as it is above all what is required in singing, and also in speaking, though to a somewhat less degree—a slow, regulated expulsion of the breath.

If when the chest is full of air the subject gently raises the arms over the head, or directs them backward, he will experience a sense of pressure on the chest. If this be carefully done, its effect is to strengthen, and it is especially valuable for those inclined to stoop. The recommendation to inspire through the open lips applies only when one is in a room, or in the open air when it is warm enough and free from dust. But the student should learn to inspire through the slightly open mouth, as to breathe through the nose in speaking, and especially in singing, is objectionable for several reasons which can be better explained later; so that the rule is to breathe through the nose when not using the voice, and through the mouth when one does.

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