“The permanent improvement of your voice will be proportionate to the amount of your practice of the tongue exercises.”
– Eugene Feuchtinger
Physiology Of The Vocal Organ
The illustration in Fig. 30 (above) which you received in the previous lesson, is a composite picture of the entire vocal organ. I want you to look at it most carefully; first from a superficially anatomical point of view, and secondly, from a purely mechanical point of view. Remove Fig 30 from your book and place it before you while studying this lesson. The figure and letters will show you how to find the separate parts. Let us start from the bottom; that is from the breastbone (6) and collar bone (7), which are the foundation of the vocal organ. Every part of the body serves at least two purposes, so the breast bone and collar bone are not only the foundation of the vocal organ, but also the roof of the chest, which contains the secondary part of the vocal organ; that is, the breathing organ (lungs, etc.)
This secondary part, however, will be treated later on. Out of the breast bone (6) and collar bone (7) grow three pairs of muscles, on both sides of the throat. Where does the upper end of the muscles lead to?
The upper end of two of these muscles is attached to the cartilage, Fig 2A and Fig. 2B, which is called the “thyroid cartilage,” the third muscle is attached to Fig. 5, the very important “hyoid bone.” But one of the muscles is not only attached to the thyroid cartilage, it goes also up to the hyoid bone. Thus, while there are only three distinct muscles, two of these are attached to the hyoid bone. Remember that these muscles grow upward out of the breast and collar bones, below the larynx.
Now when these muscles contract, what effect will the contraction have on this cartilage and the hyoid bone? You can easily see that the tendency would be to pull them downward, because the cartilages are nowhere firmly attached. They are suspended in the throat between the chest and the head and consequently are free to move either up or down. Another point is, that these three parts are connected with each other by muscles which reach from one part to another. These muscles cannot be seen in the chart, because they are underneath the muscles above described. The three parts together form what is commonly called the “larynx” or vocal tube.
Now, look at the top of the chart. you can easily recognize the chin though it is not marked with a figure number. Back of the nose is the hard palate (15) and still further back and higher up, is the skull bone (16). Out of the chin, the hard palate and the skull (1) muscles grow downward into the tongue and larynx. These muscles are also in pairs; one on the right and one on the left side. Since they grow downward out of firmly points of attachments into the freely moving larynx, what will be the action when these muscles contract? They will pull the larynx upward. Here we have a wonderful illustration of the principle of a suspension bridge. But the object is not merely to hold the larynx suspended, but also to stretch the vocal chords, which are inside of the larynx. This stretching brings the vocal chords into a state of great tension, which is necessary for singing and in a less measure for public speaking as well. Just as is the case with the girders of a bridge, so it is with the muscles of the larynx. Both are designed to withstand or sustain a great tension. The muscles which pull the larynx down and those which pull the larynx up must be equally strong; that is, those muscles which pull upward, must be as strong as those which pull against them downward. If for instance one girder of a bridge were defective, it could not sustain the same tension as the other girders. Because they were designed to sustain an equal amount of pressure, it follows that if one girder is weak, the others cannot sustain the additional pressure caused by the weak or defective girder’s breaking. In consequence, the entire bridge is liable to collapse. The same thing happens when one of the larynx muscles is too weak to do its share of the work.
And now let us examine the vocal chords, the part of our anatomy by means of which sound is made. Look carefully at the cricoid cartilage (4). It is shaped somewhat like a shoe, with the toe part in front of the throat. On the higher part of it, lying close to the back of the throat, are two little cartilages, one on either side of the cricoid cartilage, or as it is sometimes called, the ring cartilage. These two little bones are the arytaenoid cartilages (3). They are fastened to the cricoid by means of muscles, which rotate them in such a way that they almost touch each other when rotated. Out of these arytaenoid cartilages grow the vocal chords (1A and B).
The vocal chords form a bridge over the air tube. The front ends are attached to the front angle of the thyroid cartilage, commonly called the “Adams apple” (2A and B). They thyroid cartilage is merely a hollow shell or cover, similar to the cover of a book, spread apart. The two sides of this thyroid cartilage rest upon the outer side of the cricoid, being held in that position by special muscles. In this position, the thyroid cartilage (2A and B) can be tilted forward and downward; and while it is being tilted it will pull upon the vocal chords, because these grow into its front angle. In the illustration, there is an opening in the thyroid cartilage through which the vocal chords, and the little cartilages, out of which they originate, can be seen.
Remember now that the rear ends of the vocal chords (those ends which are attached to the arytaenoid cartilages), are held in their places of attachment by means of muscles which grow out of the cricoid cartilage. Therefore considerable force must be employed by the muscles which pull the front parts of the vocal chords downward, in order to stretch these chords tightly.
The detailed action of each single cartilage and muscle will be given and the illustrations furnished as we proceed with these lessons. For the present, however, you must get a good general idea of the mechanism of the vocal organ. Suffice it, then, to say at this time, that the above-described downward and upward pulling muscles operate by tilting the thyroid cartilage downward, and with it the vocal chords, against the backward pulling resistance of the arytaenoids, thereby stretching the vocal chords. The pressure or stretching force which the muscles exert upon the vocal chords, must be equal in all separate parts, or, in other words, that if one muscle is weak, all other muscles will thereby be weakened, just as is the case with the bridge, where, if one stringer be weaker than the others, all the rest are thereby weakened. (Fig. 30). Observe that there are three pairs of muscles which pull the larynx down, but only two which pull it up. (These are the direct, chord-stretching muscles).
The palato-glossus muscle (14) is a continuation of the soft palate (9) which grows out of the hard palate (15). This muscle can be seen easily by reflecting a flashlight to the back of the mouth. The arches at the extreme rear of the mouth are the palato-pharyngei muscles, they reach deep down into the throat and fasten to the upper horns of the thyroid cartilage at 2B. On contracting they pull strongly upward. This upward pull causes the thyroid cartilage to be lifted away from the cricoid lying underneath and of course makes chord stretching impossible. The choking, coughing sensation which many singers and speaker experience, is caused by this action. In order that the thyroid cartilage may remain in its proper position, nature has provided a lid which not only holds the thyroid cartilage in place, but also greatly increases the chord-stretching capacity and indirectly gives the palate muscles a resistance against which they can contract with power. This lid or top is called the hyoid bone (5).
The most important discovery in this method has to do with this bone and the muscles which connect with it. The hyoid bone occupies a pivotal point between the breast bone below and the hard palate above. It is shaped like a horseshoe; it is the balance wheel of the vocal organ, and the muscle which connects this horseshoe with the tongue is the mainspring or keystone of the voice (this muscle MUST be isolated and exercised. More on this later). When this muscle acts just as it should, your voice will be splendidly beautiful, because out of this sound which is made in the right way arise many overtones, which are the direct cause of the tonal beauty. This will be explained in the lessons on the laws of physics.
Now look at the muscles which arise out of the hyoid bone (10A and B). They grow upward into the tongue (12), of which they constitute a large share. These muscles are called the hyo-glossus and chondro-glossus muscles. They are really one muscle separated into anterior and posterior portions. These muscles play the most important part in pulling the larynx upward. When they contract they raise the hyoid bone at an angle, so that its rear horns are considerably higher than its front portion. When the hyoid bone is in this slanting position, its front part will press down upon the front part of the Adam;s apple, preventing the latter from rising, but will leave a large space in the rear between itself and the Adam’s apple; so that the palato-pharyngei muscles will not tear the Adam’s apple from its position. But will all the more powerfully pull upwards upon its rear part or horns; this helps to tilt it strongly downward in front, thereby stretching the vocal chords.
The voice student can neglect almost anything else, but he/she must know, understand and master the action of the hyoid bone and the hyo-glossi muscles. His/Her salvation depends upon this. All exercises which you receive are important and should be practiced carefully, but the exercises of the tongue are absolutely IMPERATIVE.
The permanent improvement of your voice will be proportionate to the amount of your practice of the tongue exercises.
Unfortunately, this hyo-glossus muscle is weak in most people and this is the direct cause of poor speaking, poor singing, most of the stammering and other vocal defects. It is reasonable to suppose also, that most throat and many lung diseases are caused by this general weakness.
Through correct use of your entire vocal and hygienic system will be bettered; your voice will be strong, your whole physical being will be in a healthful state and your happiness assured. With this secret in your possession, there is nothing to hinder you from becoming a very superior singer or public speaker in every sense of the word.
To deny this, you would miss one of the greatest pleasures and experiences in life. Such an attitude would make you narrow, small and, in the end, useless to yourself and the world. Do not therefore skip over these parts of the lessons. Read them at your leisure, just as you would a newspaper or book.