Lesson 17 – The Perfect Voice

Lesson 17

History Of Voice And Voice Methods

Oratory And Singing

Henry Ward Beecher said: “Not until human nature is other than it is, will the function of the living voice, the greatest force on earth among men, cease.”

This lesson is another long, drawn out history of the voice. I will only retell what is interesting to myself. (sorry!)

Vigorous oratory has flourished in the United States from the beginning. As a people, we have never been without capable and fearless men to voice noble sentiments of patriotism and liberty. The Colonial and Revolutionary periods of our history were crowded with events as thrilling as ever stirred the multitudes of Athens and Sparta. A host of great orators arose – John Quincy Adams, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, etc., whose fires of eloquence created a new tradition and inspiration, unrestrained by any influence from abroad. Breathing the air of freedom, there was every incentive to eloquence, and it is no surprise to the student of history to find the American colonies resounding with impassioned oratory. Patrick Henry, “We must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!” was the electrical thrill of the Revolution. So were Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin among those whose eloquence and statesmanship founded the Constitution.

Oratory is speaking in public, but not all public speaking is oratory. The true orator, whether as a statesman, in the pulpit, in court, as a salesman, teacher or anything else, is he whose words have a visible, practical effect upon those who hear him. He must bring his words home, “put it over;” the result must tell of his worth.

The great orators were not great simply because their ideas were greater than others, but mainly because they had the power to present their subject with a voice of feeling so deep and sincere that it affected the hearts of those who heard them.

I am trying very hard to give you a short summary . . . There’s so much covered in this lesson but it is too detailed to rewrite. However, this experiment, by Anton Ferris in Paris (1741) in which he experimented with the larynx of dogs. “I brought the lips of the glottis together and blew strongly through the air tube. At once the organ seemed to come to life, and I heard not one, but many tones, which to me were more sympathetic than any concert.”

He found that the voice is stronger when the vocal chords are near together, and that the voice is weaker when the vocal chords are farther apart. If you stop the vibrations of the chords, no voice is possible. When the chords are shortened, the pitch of the voice gets higher, just as when the strings of an instrument are shortened. During life the vocal chords are never shortened. THE DIFFERENCE IN TENSION is the cause of the difference of pitch. He even observed correctly the mechanical mans of tensing or stretching the vocal chords.

He says: “If you turn the front part of the thyroid cartilage downward, making the space between it and the cricoid cartilage below smaller, the pitch rises because the vocal chords are being tensed or stretched.”

The vocal chords are greatly influenced by the thyro-arytaenoid muscle. As its fibres grow into the vocal chords, it must enlarge the sounding material. The vocal chords are not only stretched lengthwise, but also thickened through the influence of this muscle.

The epiglottis, the false vocal chords, the morganatic pockets, the palate arches, in short, everything above the vocal chords, are not necessary for either chest or falsetto tones.

If the vocal chords are stretched while INHALING, no musical tone is possible.

The length of the vocal tube has nothing to do with the tone.


When the epiglottis is lowered upon the larynx, the tone becomes dull, muffled, otherwise the epiglottis seems not to exert any influence on the tone.

The sole purpose of the ventricle is to permit a free vibration of the vocal chords.

The Compensation Of Physical Effort In The Voice

By compensation of physical effort we understand the change of condition in the muscles with respect to each other without changing the power or quality of a tone. If a string of a certain length and tension gives a certain pitch, then a similar string, shorter than the first one can also give the same pitch only in increasing the tension.

When a tone in the human larynx is desired to retain its pitch in the scale and yet a graduated volume from soft to loud is demanded, there must be compensations within the larynx to retain the same pitch for the loud as well as the soft tones.

Increased breath pressure will raise the pitch. If it is desired to increase the VOLUME of a tone, but not its PITCH, then the tension in the vocal chords must be diminished, as long as the breath pressure is increased.

The compensation takes place in that more and more of the many muscles which in reality compose the vocal chords are drawn into the breath current, as the volume, but not the pitch of the voice is increased . We have thus a larger quantity of vocal material. THE LARGE QUANTITY VIBRATES SLOWER THAN THE LESSER QUANTITY unless the tension is correspondingly increased.

The pitch can be influenced, when the sides of the vocal chords are made to approach each other.

The tension is alone sufficient to retain the higher chest notes. The more the vocal chords are tensed, the easier becomes the break into falsetto (female head voice).

Every vocalist can sing the same tones either with free or forced production. Practice will give him/her the means to use only the AGREEABLE voice.

It has often been assumed that the air tube and air pockets are resonating chambers. This is not true.

The walls which surround the air spaces are too soft to be considered resonators, but when the entire larynx is joined together as in singing, and especially because the larynx is then held firmly fixed against the spine, and because all muscles than become as taunt as the strings of a violin; thus the air spaces are surrounded by a solid wall which is now capable of being set into vibration, together with other parts connected with the vocal organ.

The Physiologically Correct Attack

By vocal attack is meant the movements or adjustments which the vocal organ makes when phonation takes place.

When at rest, the vocal chords are separated, so that breath passes freely and soundlessly between them. The space between the vocal chords is called the glottis.
If the glottis is only gradually closed, the voce is breathy, because breath escapes with voice.

A clear attack takes place only when the glottis is instantaneously closed so that there is left only a small slit between the chords.

A forced attack takes place when the vocal chords are tightly closed before phonation; the effect is a hard, explosive and harsh voice.

You will readily perceive that many, in fact, most of the scientists had some very clear and practical ideas about the voice. The mistakes made by them and by the voice teachers up the present time arose from not drawing the inferences properly out of their studies. They made certain statements which, if they had been followed up, would have long ago solved the question of voice training in a practical, scientific manner. But the scientist was not a voice teacher and the voice teacher knew nothing of science. Each claimed to be interested in the same subject, but they never came together. Two lines running parallel to each other may meet in infinity, but we want them to meet now! In this method they do meet!

Exercises For Lesson 17

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