Lesson 3 – Part 1of 2 – The Perfect Voice

“Every person with a superior voice is a capitalist.  There is always a ready market for this talent, be it as a speaker or singer”

–  Eugene Feuchtinger

Voice Is The Manifestation Of Strength And Energy.

A simple air played on the violoncello calls for a total expenditure of energy equal to two and three-quarter pounds for each note, or more than four tons of energy for a single selection.

The player, at times, raises the point to a distance equaling three pounds in weight. The pressure alone required to produce the tones of a simple back aria averaged two and three-quarter pounds per note. The total energy expended amounted to 9,414 pounds, or more than four tons.

The same amount of energy would be sufficient to carry a laborer through his entire day’s work, yet it took about five minutes for the artist to exert the same amount of force.

On a grand piano, the force required to strike any one key is from three to five ounces for each stroke. When the song, Joseffy’s “At the Spring” is played for instance, one must play one measure with an average of 12 notes in one and a half seconds, as there are 155 measures to the piece; that means 1,860 notes must be played within four minutes and a resistance of at least 465 pounds must be overcome, besides two motions for each single note – one down and one up; all this with the right hand only, not counting what the left hand accomplishes in the same time. If an exact test were made while playing this piece, the amount of muscular energy expended, counting the speed resistance and the rapidity of muscular contraction, the force expended would surpass even the above experiment.

A musical instrument, such as the cello and the piano, is an almost perfect mechanism, ready at any minute to be played upon. Such instruments will of course show to greatest advantage in the hands of an artist, but even an amateur can produce good results and give pleasure with an instrument that comes ready-made from the factory. The instrument makers and workmen have provided for the player what the vocalist must do for himself. In addition, the vocalist must play on the instrument at the same time that he is creating it.

The mechanical instrument is made wood and metal, while the vocal instrument is formed of parts of the body of the singer or speaker. He himself is the instrument. He uses his own material body to produce sound. From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, each bone and muscle contributes in some measure to the sound you make, and the quality and intensity of the sound you make correspond exactly to the operation of your body.  It requires 256 vibrations per second to produce the sound of the middle C on the piano. This is merely pitch measure. The sound may be poor in quality and hardly audible. It means merely that the vocal cords vibrate 256 times per second to produce the middle C. To make the sound not only distinct, but so strong that it can be heard by hundreds or, if need be, by thousand of people, and, in addition, to make it sound beautiful and charming, MANY things must take place at the instant the sound is made. More than that, the speaker varies his pitch from one to eight degrees and the singer not less than twenty-four degrees, besides shading the sound in many ways.

The vibrations are increased from about 100 vibrations per second to 1,200 and more vibrations. Also, the conditions producing strength and tone color require constant readjustments. The vocalist not only makes the instrument while he/she plays upon it, but he/she likewise tunes it at the same time. In addition to all this, he/she must furnish the motive power – breath.

The utmost accuracy, inconceivable speed and absolute ease are necessary. Otherwise, both pitch and quality would be impossible. The finest musical instrument ever manufactured is only a clumsy article in comparison with the truly perfect vocal organ.

We truly appreciate only that which we thoroughly understand, and only when we truly understand anything can we hope to become masters and true artists. Hence, you will easily see why, in the following chapters, so much space is given to the “Vocal Organ.” Nature has given a perfect vocal organ to only a very few; perhaps not more than a dozen people in all the world possess from birth a vocal organ perfect in all its parts.  Abnormally gifted people must forever remain the exception. But as nature has given us brain to develop, so that even a mediocre student can become a great thinker, so nature gave each of us the material with which we can develop a voice comparable to the greatest voices.

Nor is this development as hard as might be assumed; on the contrary it is even easy, and possible to all who have the grit to stick to it.

The question may arise in your mind, if it is possible to develop a voice to a very high degree, why do we have so few truly great singers and orators? This is a legitimate question, but easily answered. Why were not the telephone, the electric light, the automobile, the airplane and the submarine invented by former generations? Simply because the principles upon which these things are constructed were hidden until the present time.  Violinists claim that the art of building the perfect violins of the old Italian masters is lost; but, there was an American Gentleman (from Missouri) who lived in London (England) and was making violins which the best expert could not tell from the most perfect old Italian make.  He has found the natural law, which is at the root of a perfect violin; the old masters did not know this law, but accidentally they ‘hit’ upon it now and then.

When we also consider that vocal art is comparatively young, and especially when we remember that anatomy and physiology are really new sciences, not much over a generation old, we need not wonder that the principle which underlies voice development has only now been discovered.

Some of you say, “But there have been great singers, especially those Italian singers of the eighteenth century, who, so we are told, have not been surpassed, or even equaled since, and they were trained without any knowledge of physiology.”  Much could be said in answer to this. In the first place, there were only a few – perhaps not more than ten in over a century; surely an insignificant number. I and many other musicians doubt very much that these singers were superior to the best we now have. At that time music was written in a very florid style, many difficult runs and rapid passages, which had for their object merely to astonish the listener. The singers then were, for the most part, musical acrobats. They could execute their trills and passages and thereby astonish and thrill an audience little educated in music.

When modern dramatic and sincere music was introduced, one of these formerly so greatly admired singers shot himself because he despaired of ever being able to sing the better and newer music. Nowadays, a singer has to be heard above a large orchestra, when formerly a very simple accompaniment was used even for grand opera. You will learn more of this when you come to the lessons which treat the history of voice. Enough has been said now to answer the objections which now and then are heard from singers and teachers who disguise their ignorance and prejudice behind a supercilious sneer at science and exact investigation. Do not listen to them, or, if you do, find out what they know and make them prove what they say. Never accept an assertion and a bold face as knowledge. It is usually the bluff of an ignoramus.

In this and some following lessons, you will be given positive and incontrovertible proof that this method is correct in all its parts; and if you follow these teachings, you will yourselves find the method infallible – it cannot fail. All other methods, past and present, are utterly useless; for the most part they are directly misleading and dangerous, in so far as a real development of the vocal organs is concerned.

Follow these directions closely; read each part of the explanation in vocal physiology, not once or twice, but ten or twenty times, if necessary, studying the many illustrations which prove these points. Do not merely look at the illustrations, as if they were pictures meant to amuse you, but study every detail.  Look at the bony structure, observe how they are constructed and in what relation they stand to each other. Observe closely how they are made to fit into each other like the parts of a highly sensitive and exact machine, where even a hair’s breath makes all the difference. Then look and examine closely what and how many muscles are attached to these bones. Observe where they start from and where they are inserted into different bones. Muscles are made up of very many fine fibers of flesh. See how these fibers run; in a straight, oblique or curved line, to the right or left, up or down. The direction of the fibers and muscles will tell you exactly which way they pull and move the parts to which they are attached.  A muscle should always contract in the natural direction; then it will do all that is required of it with the utmost ease, but; if you urge a muscle to contract in any other than its natural direction, it will raise a tremendous “kick” and cause all sorts of disagreeable disturbances.