The Law Of Mechanics
Why Voice Students Fail
Most students fail because they lack an exact and scientific method of instruction. It is known that by lowering the larynx the voice can be made stronger, and that by raising the larynx higher tones can be reached. In neither case, however, are the tones really good. The lower tones become rough and throaty, the higher tones shrill or thin. The habit of speaking or singing entirely from the vocal chords (glottis attack) is also bad, because in this case the vocal chords rub against each other and become inflamed.
Good breathing is of great value, but the breath can only set the vocal chords into vibration; nothing more. In a correct vocal attack the breath is instantly converted into tone. The much advised humming of the tone, or focusing it to the front of face is of no permanent value. It merely deceives the singer for a time. No vocal device, of whatever kind, can possibly assist the student in his search for a perfect voice.
Nature provided the only means whereby the needed stretching of the entire vocal material can be automatically accomplished without causing the singer any undue exertion. The condition ensuring such a happy result is that the vocal organ must be equally strong in all its parts.
When we consider such triumphs of modern mechanics as the building of the Panama Canal, the St. Gothard Tunnel, or the luxurious ocean steamers, and the aeroplanes, the first question which suggests itself is how were they created? Naturally, first in the brain of the engineer; secondly, they were reasoned out, designed and sketched on paper, and not until then could the practical work be started. If the engineer’s measurements and judgment were correct, then his theory must prove correct in practice.
Just so in the vocal apparatus. When all that is necessary to make a perfect voice is understood, then clear thinking and sound reasoning will be sufficient to show the way toward perfection, and practice will demonstrate that this reasoning was correct.
Now, all the details have been given of the mechanism which operates in voice. If all these details work together in unison, the voice will be the best that is possible to the individual. If not, then we must find out wherein one or more of the details failed to operate, and correct our mistake. No other way has any chance of success.
Only the muscles from the tongue to the hyoid bone, Fig 30, need concern us in the search of equal forces, for the following reasons: First, these two pairs of muscles are located in the center of the vocal organ.
They are attached indirectly to the palate above and directly to the larynx below. Therefore, they naturally pull both ends toward each other. Secondly, these tongue-to-hyoid-bone muscles are the only ones in the entire vocal organ which are entirely free; that is, are nowhere attached to fixed bones like the other muscles. Also they have a separate nerve supply. Thirdly, because these muscles are free, they can be brought under the voluntary control of the singer and speaker. If he/she uses these muscles, the tone will be large and beautiful. If he/she omits them, the tone will be thin and lack the necessary quality.
Although the above facts have for some time been known to anatomists and available to singers as well, yet both have failed to grasp their importance as related to the voice. The anatomist naturally thought of them only in relation to medical service or the operating table; the singer and musician concern himself very little, if at all, about the vocal anatomy. Firstly, because the musical temperament is usually opposed to a scientific analysis, dealing preferably with emotion. Secondly, he had been taught that if he thought of the vocal instrument he would be self-conscious. He/she was told to think in tones, and that then the instrument would take care of the rest. The real reason why the control and development of all these important muscles did not suggest itself to the singer was because these tongue muscles cannot be felt.
It may seem strong that this group of muscles, whose important cannot be overrated, should not also be strongly felt. But because these muscles are nowhere attached to a firm bone, they have no sense of exertion or contraction behind them, especially when, as is the case in singers with exceptionally fine voices, these muscles are almost abnormally strong. This is also the reason why good singers and speakers feel no exertion, why the action of the vocal organ seems to become freer the longer they sing or speak. This freedom and strength of the tongue muscles accounts also for the free tone and the easy execution of the most difficult passages, as well as the many shadings and special effects employed by the great singers.
Now, examining Figure 30 again, we may logically deduct certain mechanical facts.
Suppose that the three pairs of muscles which grow out of the breastbone (No. 6) and the collar bone (No. 7) into the hyoid bone (No. 5), and the thyroid cartilage (No. 2 A-B), and overlapping the cricoid cartilage (No. 4), have altogether a contractile power of, say 25 pounds. Then, to offset their downward pulling force, we must have the equal of 25 pounds of upward pulling force. Now the palato-pharyngeus muscle, which pulls the thyroid cartilage upward, is considerably thinner than either of the three downward-pulling muscles. Also, it is too long and too far from the object it is to move, and for these reasons it cannot be as strong as either of the opposing muscles. Now we have the two up-pulling tongue muscles (No. 10, A-B), to supply the missing power. It follows that these tongue muscles must be of exceptional strength. Two fact, however, operate against these muscles; one is that they are nowhere attached to a firm bone; the other that singers are not even aware of the existence or importance of these muscles; hence the singer cannot help himself.
When these tongue muscles are strong enough to supply the necessary up-pulling power, they set the entire vocal organ in motion. The vocal chords are then automatically stretched and singing becomes a pleasure. This is the case with the great singers who, through natural inheritance, or for other reasons, possess exceptionally strong tongue muscles. But those whose voices are not all that they desire may now develop these muscles until they are just as strong as those of the great singers and thereby acquire a perfect voice. Since these muscles are comparatively easy to get at, they can be trained and developed. Practical tests on hundreds of students have proven in every case that this theory is not only correct, but absolutely infallible. This places voice study on an exact scientific basis and solves a problem which has troubled voice teachers for over three hundred years.
The Contrary Proof
So far it has been the aim of these lessons to furnish positive proof that the vocal organ must be perfected before one can have a perfect voice. It has also been shown that it is the tongue muscles which cause all the trouble, and that when these are strengthened and developed a perfect voices becomes an assured fact. A still further proof will now be given.
If the vocal organ is deficient, the voice cannot be the best or nearly the best that is possible to the to the individual. He/she may sing, but a close observer will notice one or more of the following defects in the voice:
The tones may be good up to a certain range, usually about F on the fifth line for high voices, about C or D below that for low voices. After that the tones become either soft and thin or else loud, piercing and hard, or the compass will extend no further than the tones above mentioned. Such a compass is entirely too limited for a successful career.
Soft tones should be employed for special effect only; they are unsuited for normal, public singing. Loud, piecing or hard tones are, of course, always offensive.
How Does The Singer Realize Their Faults?
Naturally, a singer realizes first in a musical sense that some of the tones of the voice are not so good as others, or that some tones require much greater effort than others. He/she may, indeed, get relief by employing special means, such as a greater breath pressure, or focusing the voice toward the head, or by the singing of other vowels than the normal “aa;” but at best these means help only temporarily. In the end he/she is worse off than before, because they have added new faults to those previously possessed. But there are physical signs which tell him/her unmistakably whether their tones are correct or not. For instance, if on high tones, the tongue is drawn far back from the teeth and rises in the back, and more especially if the tongue becomes hard, it is an infallible sign that the vocal organ is imperfect. Again if the tip of the tongue braces itself against the front teeth, his/her organ, while reasonable correct, is still far from being perfect. If his/her tongue sinks down in the throat, if it is flabby, or very loose, it is a sign that the all-important muscles are very weak. If the jaw becomes stiff or the palate rises or spreads apart in the back of the mouth, the organ is imperfect.
But if his/her tongue rises a very little all along in a straight line from tip to back, or if the tongue becomes somewhat thick, and most especially if he/she sings with the utmost ease throughout the scale on every vowel, his/her vocal organ is sure to be right. Such a favorable condition is rarely to be met with; not many singers approach this ideal condition, but if they knew where the weakness was to be found, they could correct it, and then their tones would soon become freer and better. Often a few months’ practice will develop a voice undreamed of beauty, power and compass.
Muscles Which Interfere With Or Entirely Prevent The Correct Cord-Stretching Effort
It can be stated with absolute truth that voices would be much better, and there would be more good voices, if the singer, at the beginning of his/her career, would, physiologically speaking, employ only those muscles which are essential to a good voice. If one begins right and continues to use the correct vocal mechanism, it will gain in strength every day and his/her voice will become more beautiful and the compass will increase. This is the case with those great singers, who preserve their voices to old age. On the other hand, if the correct mechanism is not under the singer’s control, there is a constant temptation to employ other muscles, to temporarily force the voice, and these, in the end, will destroy it.
Suppose the voice is naturally attractive, but too light and soft for public use. The singer’s natural instinct would be to make the voice larger by a greater exertion. Now the legitimate, correct vocal muscles cannot, as has been explained, be forced. Therefore, if he/she exerts themselves, he/she is not using the correct vocal muscles at all, but others which lead him/her astray, though temporarily, they help to give his/her tones greater power.
There are several muscles to the hyoid one, other than those already described, which can obstruct cord-stretching:
First, by preventing the upward-downward tilting of the hyoid bone, which would also prevent the thyroid cartilage from being tilted downward in front;
Second, by drawing the hyoid bone and the larynx forward, which again would interfere with the natural cord-stretching.
The first fault is caused by the digastric muscle (the muscle employed when chewing). It runs from the cranium to the hyoid bone and the chin. It prevents the tilting of the hyoid bone and the thyroid cartilage, because it pulls them straight upward and backward. Two other muscles also appose the correct vocal chord-stretching in a similar, but less degree; they are the stylo-hyoid muscles, from the skull to the hyoid bone, and the mylo-hyoid muscle, from the lower jaw to the hyoid bone.
The second fault is caused by the powerful geni-hyoid muscle (Fig. 44, marked IV).
It is attached to the lower part of the chin and runs to the front part of the hyoid bone. It, therefore, can draw the hyoid bone, and with it the entire larynx, forward, but with most injurious effect to the voice.
All these muscles belong to the lower jaw. They are very strong, because they were designed to open and close the mouth. These muscles are still further aided by the muscles which pull the jaw upward. All these muscles combined posses very great power and by their contraction they interfere greatly with the true vocal muscles; that is, with the entire muscular apparatus which moves the larynx and stretches the vocal cords.