Lesson 25 – The Perfect Voice


The use of the tone A to tune musical instruments can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, whose priests, with a definite effect in view in their long recitatives, declamations and chants, selected the tone “A” as the most appropriate tone of the male voice in the worship of Apollo, the God of Music. This “A” is in the second space of the musical staff – 440 vibrations per second. It is the easiest tone for the human voice to sing.

All sounds that come to us through the air, whether the rattling of a railroad train, the humming of an electric wire, the song of a bird, the laugh of a child, or the tones of a musical instrument, owe their great diversity in pitch to an immutable law which fixes the pitch of all sounds by the number of waves or vibrations they produce in the air.

In conformity with this fundamental law, based on Nature itself, it has been ascertained that any object vibrating 4401 times a second at a temperature of 68 degree Fahrenheit, must give forth a certain tone, and that tone is always the same. We call it in International Pitch the note “A” of the musical staff.

If it were possible for a person to strike his knee 440 times a second with is hand it would have produced the International Pitch “A”.

Some musical instruments are deficient in partials or overtones. For example, the clarionet has only two partials and so has the flute. But when the two instruments play together, they complete each other. What one lacks in partials the other makes up. Each alone produces but an incomplete tone; together they produce a most beautiful blend of fundamental and partials or overtones.

Just as pure white light is a compound of all the tints or colors of a rainbow, so is a pure musical tone a compound of tones of different rates of vibrations, which means tones of different pitch.

The flute, for instance, has only two overtones; it is mainly this fact that renders the flute uninteresting as a solo instrument. A long solo on the flutes becomes state and monotonous, while a violin, with its many overtones, is attractive to the ear. Its tones are more appealing by reason of their variety of tone-color. A really first-class violin, if played by a great artist, affects us almost as much as the human voice.

The more overtones there are within a tone, the finer is the tone. Therefore, to reach the type of greatest vocal beauty, we must cultivate all that will develop the overtones in the voice.

Now in order that the overtones may be free and strong, the INITIAL, FUNDAMENTAL TONE MUST BE STRONG. This is the key to a beautiful voice; never forget that!

Upon the power or strength of the fundamental tone depends the quality of the voice.


The vocal chords are like a tuning plate. They originate the sound, but to make the sound strong and beautiful many other things must take place. All the muscles which stretch the vocal chords, indeed every part of the larynx, must be in such a firm taut condition, that, like wood, metal or bone, they will vibrate at the same rate as the vocal chords. Now since the parts surrounding the vocal chords and the muscles which stretch them, names, the tongue, the palate, etc., constitute a very large mass of vibrating material, the sound will naturally be many, many times larger than the vocal chords by themselves could produce. But if these parts are left relaxed, they would be too loose to vibrate.

It is not the air within your chest or within your mouth, nor the hollow spaces of the larynx, nose and head, that originate vibration, but your own sinews, the taut muscles and bones surrounding and constituting the vocal organ.

If you could expose the muscles of your arm and stretch them sufficiently taut, you could play upon them as a violinist does upon the taut strings of the violin, which were originally nothing but sinews and parts of some animal.

When a boy goes whistling down the street, he does so NOT with the breath, but with the tautly held lips. The breath is merely the part that sets the lips to vibrating. The breath is the impelling force, but NOT the sound-producing mechanism. Just so steam is the impelling force, but not the motion-producing mechanism that pulls the train.

The theory that the cavities in the throat, nose or head are resonance chambers is utterly wrong and absurd. NOT the cavities, but the BONES and MUSCLES which form the cavities, vibrate and thus enlarge the voice.

It is true that the singer feels strong sensation in the face, near the nose and in the head. These sensations are caused by the different muscles which are attached to the bones and, as is always the case in good singers or speakers, they have become firm in their effort to stretch the vocal chords, therefore these muscles also vibrate and of course this vibration is felt at their place of attachment.

Not knowing the true causes, many teachers jumped to the conclusion that the cavities acted as a sounding board to the voice. However, the bones of the head are too far from the vocal chords to act as a sounding board. But the muscles which control the larynx are really a part of the vocal organ; they surround the vocal chords in every direction, and as they are tied to the bones, both the muscles and the bones vibrate together with the vocal chords and thereby magnify the tone many times.

Sound travels at a rate of about 1,100 feet per second, or about 1/5 of a mile while you count “one.” That sound has left your mouth before you hear it. How then could anyone direct the sound AFTER it is made? It certainly cannot be directed BEFORE it is make, no more than you can attract lighting when there is no storm.
Of course the vocal organ can be influenced. Its position can be changed BEFORE the sound, but as we have seen from the lessons on vocal physiology, any change, any variation of the natural position of the vocal organ, is a change for the worse. Now, if anyone tries to direct sound or breath in any special direction, for instance, against the upper palate, he merely dislocates the palate and with it the entire vocal organ, to the ultimate ruin of the voice.


We have learned now that a true musical tone consists of a fundamental note and a series of overtones. The ear is quite capable of recognizing many of these overtones. The most obvious can be readily separated from its fundamental by a simple experiment.

The overtones arrange themselves in a definite order as follows:

1. The fundamental tone (1st Key).
2. An overtone one octave above the fundamental.
3. An overtone a fifth above the octave.
4. An overtone two octaves above the fundamental.
5. An overtone a major third above the second octave.
6. An overtone a major fifth above the second octave.

If you have a piano try this experiment:

Without sound hold down the middle “C”; then with considerable force strike the “C” one octave below and immediately release it. You will hear the middle “C” very distinctly, although you did not strike it. Now in succession hold down each of the keys “G,” “C,” “E,” and “G” above the middle “C,” while you strike and release the fundamental bass “C.” If your piano is in tune you will distinctly hear each separate key sounding as you hold it down, while striking the fundamental key, the “C” below the middle “C”.

A musical tone is rich in quality when all the overtones just indicated are present in their fullness. Such a tone is always rich and strong. A tone that is weak and this is so because of the absence or the weakness of overtones.

The vocalist’s efforts, whether singer or speaker, must be directed toward obtaining a full, strong voice, because only then can it also be a voice rich and superior in quality.

Another good illustration of overtones is that of likening a tone to the action of throwing a pebble into a still pond, which causes ripples to form in all directions in a circular fashion from the spot at which the pebble disappeared. In the center of the ripples are well pronounced, but as they broaden out they gradually diminish in intensity until they finally disappear altogether. A large stone would cause stronger and broader ripples to form. So it is with a tone in which the exciting force is initially powerful enough to cause the overtones (ripples) to continue to a great distance. The power and efficiency of the initial tone determines the quality and distinctness of the tone.

Exercises to Lesson 25

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