Lesson 7 – The Perfect Voice

Lesson VII

Physiology Of The Vocal Organ

The Tongue

In the year 1777, the Italian voice teacher, Giambatista Mancini, singing master to the court of Vienna, wrote a book on the art of singing. Mancini is considered the father of Italian singing. All singing methods, more or less, claim to be based upon his method. Now Mancini was without doubt a great teacher and artist, a man of nobility of character and for his time, broad minded and of high artistic culture. Here are some passages from his work.

“What is commonly called ‘throaty singing,’ or a voice which sounds raw and suffocated, is caused because the singer does not draw or sustain the voice by the natural strength of the chest, but thinks he will obtain a good result by tightening the ‘fauces.’ He is mistaken and must keep it as a truth, that this practice not only is insufficient to correct the voice, but is harmful, for the reason that the ‘fauces’ are a part of the organs of voice. The voice cannot come out natural and spontaneous, if it finds the ‘fauces’ in a forced position, which impedes natural action. Therefore, the student must take the trouble to accustom his chest to give the voice with naturalness, and to use the ‘fauces’ lightly. If the harmony of these two parts, the mouth and the ‘fauces,’ is perfect, then the voice will be clear and harmonious. But if these organs act discordantly, the voice will be defective, and consequently the singing spoiled.”

At the time Mancini wrote this, physiology and anatomy were practically unknown, yet his observation and experience taught him that the “fauces,” which are the two arches described in the previous lesson, are a part of the vocal organ and a very important part at that. But see at what a misleading conclusion he arrived. He says: “The student must accustom his chest to give the voice with naturalness and to use the fauces lightly.” He evidently thought that the chest or rather, the breath, was a direct cause of tightening the fauces. That the strength of the chest was the source of all good voice.

It was then assumed that in breathing was to be found the evolution of voice. However, as you see, even Mancini suspected other than breath influence. He was instinctively correct in assuming that the fauces are a part of the vocal organ, but he was led astray by the predominating thought or belief in breathing, when he implies that the fauces are tightened because the singer does not rely on the strength of the chest. The physiological fact is that the fauces are tightened because the all-important hyo-gossi muscles are too weak, or not under the control of the speaker or singer, and, therefore, the arches or fauces are strained.

The strength of the chest has nothing to do with the case; in fact the chest, even in consumptives, is always stronger than it needs to be for singing or speaking purposes. This superstition concerning strength of the chest has done a very great deal of harm. It has given the opportunity to the voice fakir, who talks glibly on breathing. As you will see later on, the “breathing organ,” the chest is always strong enough for any singer or speaker.

The great trouble is that the student uses too much strength, especially when the hyo-glossi are weak; he thinks that by using more breath, the tone will be stronger and clearer. The very opposite is the case. Very little breath pressure is needed when all the parts of the vocal organ act equally together. If they do not operate harmoniously, then breath pressure will interfere and make the trouble greater than ever, because then all these parts will tighten greatly to resist the stronger breath pressure.

The tongue is the medium given by Nature to set in motion the entire vocal apparatus, just as the mainspring sets in motion the wheels of the watch. If the mainspring is too weak, the watch cannot operate as it should. If the mainspring is broken, the watch becomes useless. The tongue is the central organ of the voice. It lies between the roof of the mouth and the foundation, which is the breast bone. The tongue is flexible, and its under part in the rear, “the hyo-glossi” muscles, is entirely free. It s not connected with any firm bone or attachment, hence it can be controlled by the will.

The tongue consists principally of muscles. It grows out of the floor of the mouth and in a natural position it fills the space between the teeth, reaching far back into the throat. When the mouth is open the tongue can be protruded and it can also assume various positions for the purpose of eating, drinking, chewing, speaking and singing. The tongue is the main organ of speech, but also an organ of digestion and taste. The section of the tongue which you see when opening the mouth and looking into a mirror, is only a part of the tongue. A larger portion of the tongue is not visible, because it grows down into the throat and connects there with the larynx and the epiglottis.

The tongue consists principally of muscles which connect it with the head, above and below, and the chin in front. The tongue should be thought of as two parts, one on the right side of the mouth, and one on the left side. Through the middle of the tongue runs a muscle, which is fastened in front just below the teeth and which we call the string or “frenum.” On both sides of this middle line run the muscles from the chin upward into the tongue; from the skull above downward; from the soft palate downward, and from the hyoid bone in the throat upward, to the tongue. All these muscles, except the hyo-glossi muscle, rise out of firm, strong bones, which afford a basis or strong-hold for the front end of their attachment; the other end of each muscle reaches into the flexible tongue.

But the hyo-glossus muscle grows out of the tongue downward and is fastened to the loose, freely movable hyoid bone in the throat. Fig 54:


Fig. 54 gives you a full view of the tongue and its relation to the larynx, palate and head. The separate muscles of the tongue, larynx and palate are not shown in this otherwise very exact illustration. This is the illustration which is used almost universally by teacher of voice, by authors of books on voice, by physicians writing upon the subject of voice and those writing on the diseases of the throat. It is also the main standby of so-called “schools of stammering.”

If you had the time and the opportunity and the necessary preliminary training to go to the big libraries of the world, such as Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, et., you will find this illustration the chief basis of all treatises upon voice and diseases of the vocal organ. Yet, as I have already said, the attachments of the tongue to the palate, to the larynx and to the head are not shown, nor can the operation of the palate be understood by means of this “world-famous” illustration.

Go to a medical school or to a supply house for medical and anatomical instruments and casts; you will see casts made from this identical illustration. That is because anyone who is a physician or an anatomist is not a musician and therefore does not, or apparently cannot, think of the vocal organ as a musical instrument. They think of the throat in the first place, and principally, as a part of the digestive organ, and secondarily, incidentally as it were, also as an organ of speech. But the physicians have accepted the old tradition handed down from former centuries, when anatomy was not known, that in order to speak or sing, it was necessary merely to breathe correctly, when the vocal chords would furnish the sound, and this sound would be reinforced in some unexplained, magical way, by the cavities of the pharynx and nose.

These same people have correctly estimated just how much contractile power the muscles must possess to raise and move the body. They know almost to an ounce how much muscular power is needed for walking, running, for lifting weights, etc. They know the process of blood supply, the nervous system, a few know the intricate details of sight and hearing, yet all of them, without a single exception, have gone far astray in the matter of the voice. The specialists know that the human body can be trained, that the fingers, the arms, the legs, the chest, etc., can be developed and brought to great perfection, as witnessed by the pianist, violinist and, through lip development, by the band instrument players. The acrobat, the dancer, the soldier, the prize-fighter and many others are merely specialists in some one, unusual muscular development and dexterity.

Why, then, should it not also be possible to develop the voice to the uttermost perfection?

Naturally, they looked at the vocal organ more from the standpoint of operating, of dissecting, of disease, than of constructive voice building.

If the throat specialists had followed a straight line of reasoning, not only would we have a legitimate, rational and absolutely exact method of voice training, but humanity at large would have been benefited to an incalculable extent. Throat diseases, lung and voice troubles would have been greatly diminished. As it is, all these specialists can do is to operate, use chemical washes and sprays, which give only temporary relief, but do not remove the cause.

Only internal, self development can be of permanent benefit. Sprays and washes are good only to remove the germs, but the germs would have little hold, if the conditions of weakness and disease were removed.

If then, the anatomists of the world were being led astray, how much more easily would the musicians, the voice teachers and the teachers of oratory be misled by theories that were utterly mistaken?

The teachers and singers are by nature more temperamental and imaginative, less logical. They think in artistic terms. The mechanically exact does not appeal to them, besides very few of them have ever had the physiological training indispensable to a serious study of anatomy. Many teachers even profess to ignore the lessons which physiology can teach, preferring rather to skate on the thin ice of guesswork and mere talk, than to tread the solid ground of science.

There will never be any lack of opportunities for the good singer. Every community, however small it may be, is anxious for and will generously support a truly good singer.

Now carefully examine Fig. 55 for the purpose of studying the tongue and the muscles which constitute a large share of the body of the tongue.


Number 6 shows how the genio-glossus muscle joins the tongue to the front of the chin. It is a very powerful muscle, as you can find out for yourself through the exercise to be shown to you in the lessons to come. The muscle grows in a fan-shape backward, into the tongue; its natural action is to draw the tongue out of the mouth. But its main purpose as an aid to the vocalist is of the very greatest interest to us. As its very great strength testifies (For some, up to 60 pounds resistance according to the testimony of some of the foremost physicians). Nature designed this chin-to-tongue muscle to give a firm hold to the muscles which draw the tongue backward and downward.

This muscle itself has a powerful, hard bone, the chin, to give it body and power. It can, therefore, resist a very great pull with the utmost ease. This firm hold is necessary so that the muscles which are attached to it, but which pull away from it, may be able to contract with all their power. This power is indirectly exerted upon the vocal chords to hold them in tension for speaking and singing. This chin-to-tongue muscle, then, holds the tongue forward in its natural position and prevents the tongue from being drawn too far backward into the throat.

The stylo-glossus muscles are shown by Number 4. As already mentioned in a previous lesson, the pen-like projection from the skull, from which grown the tensing and stretching palate muscles. Now, out of this same pen-like (stylus) projection, a strong muscle grows downward into either side of the tongue (glossus). Always remember that there are two muscles, one on the right side, the other on the left. This muscle runs downward and is fastened all along the sides of the tongue, nearly to the tip. You can readily picture its action. As it contracts, it straightens the curve just at the extreme rear of the tongue and raises that part upward, and, because a muscle is made shorter when it contracts, draws the tongue backward. This is the action found in very many speakers and singer, and practically all stammerers. Their tongues are drawn back, and the rear portion is pulled up and becomes hard. You can easily test this, by placing finger on top of the tongue, at one side, and far back, where it descends to the throat. Sing or call out a strong “ah” and feel if that part of the tongue is hard. If it remains loose, and especially if it remains in its natural position, you are right, otherwise you are wrong. This muscle in one way prevents the tongue from being drawn out of the mouth during tone. The most valuable office performed by this muscle, however, is to give a firm hold to the muscle below it, the all important and often mentioned “hyo-glossus muscle.”

Just about where the stylo-glossus muscle turns, or curves upward, perhaps a little in front of that, are situated the palato-glossi muscles, in front arch of the palate, as shown in Fig. 48.

As has already been explained, these muscles extend from the palate to the tongue, and there meet the stylo-glossus muscle. Fig. 48:


These muscles, or this front arch, assist in raising the tongue, and, of course, also in supporting it against the hyo-glossus muscles. The two pairs of muscles which pull the tongue upward, act as a sort of bar or brace to the hyo-glossus muscles.

Numbers 2 and 3, of Fig. 55, are the hyo-glossus and chondro-glossus muscles.


These muscles are really one and the same, but since they divide into posterior and anterior parts, some anatomists have given the rear part, chondro-glossus. This phraseology has been adopted because in later lessons it will be found that many speakers and singers are only weak in the rear part of this muscle, which is the chondro, while others may be weak in both parts of the muscle. The lessons can be made more plain by this division.

As this very good illustration plainly show, this muscle is fastened above to the styloid muscle, in front to the chin-to-tongue muscles, and underneath to the hyoid bone. Its rear part is free. The action of the hyo-glossus muscles can be plainly felt if you place a forefinger far back upon the tongue, close the lips tightly and suck as strongly as you can. You will feel the sides of the tongue gripping your finger strongly, or less strongly, according to the natural strength of these muscles. They are very weak in some persons and need a great deal of practice to make them strong. Others again have very powerful hyo-glossi muscles. Such persons, naturally, need much less practice. Their trouble arises from not associating this muscle with singing or speaking. They do not realize their great and most valuable gift. Quite often their training has led them completely away from the use of this all-important, and in very sober truth, absolutely infallible hyo-glossi muscle.
Absolute control over this muscle and great strength or power of this muscle is needed to gain the wonderful voice of the great singer. These singers, unknown to themselves, possess this great strength. Therein lies the whole secret of their voice. Even among the greatest singers there are differences, not of personal characteristics, which, of course, are natural to all men/women and always will be, but differences in clearness, in fullness, in ease, and especially in range.

Some tenors and sopranos, for instance, sing with full, round tones up to a certain point, when they have reached that point, their voices break. To sing higher than that point, they must use artificial means. Tenors sing their higher tones in falsetto; sopranos use so-called head tone, the female equivalent for falsetto. Up to the point where the strength of the hyo-glossi muscle was sufficient to stretch the vocal chords, the tone was easy to reach, full and clear. But the muscle was not strong enough to carry the singer beyond that point in a natural way, hence the singer had to resort to all sorts of artificial means to get higher tones. These higher tones were thin and not to be compared with his/her real, natural voice, but as he/she did not know what was that matter and therefore could not remedy the trouble.

There are perhaps not more than ten singers, if so many, in all the world now known (early 1900s), who possess all the strength of which the hyo-glossi muscle is capable and which you can now develop by persistent practice of the final simple exercise, which will be taught you in the course of these instructions.

You often hear of apparently great singers losing their voices. Orators, preachers especially, suffer greatly by being in constant danger of losing their voices. The career of many a great man has been ruined by the loss of his voice. But the average individual, the millions who must use their voices every hour of the working day, suffer greatly, not perhaps from loss of voice, but because their voices lose power and ease. They become husky, hoarse and harsh, or thin, breathy and asthmatic. Consider the many who stammer, lisp or suffer from some form of defective voice. Their case is indeed pitiable. They never know when they can depend on their voice. Any moment, at the most critical point, it may fail them.

Then consider how many persons suffer from constant, if slight, irritation of the throat. They must clear the throat before every sentence, blow the nose or expectorate even in front of an audience. All these and all this because ONE MUSCLE – “the hyo-glossus” – is weak. At least too weak to give them full power and control of the voice. Every man, woman and child is born with the capacity of a truly splendid voice, but they must develop it by their own efforts, just as Nature has endowed them with brains, which they must develop on their own. How to develop this latent power is now discovered and open to you.

Continue: Exercises for Lesson 7

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *