Lesson 20 – The Perfect Voice – Part 2 of 2

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The temptation to use these chew muscles is very great. We associate in all physical efforts a corresponding muscular exertion. If a heavy weight is to be lifted, we instinctively determine upon a corresponding effort which we expect to feel in our arms and shoulders. So, also, the singer judges that a louder tone demands a greater effort, and naturally enough, thinks that he/she must feel a greater effort. And just is the great danger of using the jaw muscles. They are strong and ever ready to help; besides, they at once change the tone and deceive the singer into believing that he/she is right.

Since these muscles have such a great power to excite sensation, many suppose that the jaw muscles must be kept absolutely relaxed and loose. This is natural enough, but in relaxing the jaw muscles, he/she also relaxes the entire throat, and in so doing, he/she relaxes the essential cord-stretching muscles also, since he/she cannot differentiate between them. Now when the essential cord-stretching muscles are relaxed, the vocal chords must also relax; that is, they surrender their enlarging, condensing effort; thereby making an artistic voice impossible. Only feeble or breathy tones are possible when the vocal muscles are relaxed.

Either of these two conditions is the almost universal rule among singers. The exception is hailed and worshiped as a star. If voice study were rightly understood, stars would be the rule, and failure the exception.

In correct singing, that is, when the tongue muscles are trained and made strong, there is a very powerful contraction of the true vocal muscles. But these contractions are not felt as an effort or an exertion. In fact, there is no strain anywhere.

Every one of the tongue muscles described in the previous lessons has a functional share in the whole combination, while every one of the jaw muscles interferes with the true artistic voice.

Mechanical calculations alone show that only the hyo-glossi and chondro-glossi muscles, which extend upward and forward from the hyoid bone into the tongue are legitimate agents for only these can assist the sterno-hyoid muscles (from hyoid bone to breast-bone) in tilting the hyoid bone and the thyroid cartilage downward upon the cricoid joint to stretch the vocal chords. These first-names muscles pull the rear horns of the hyoid bone upward at the same time that the sterno-hyoid pull the front of the hyoid bone downward. Of course, this action also tilts the larynx downward, being assisted by the sterno-thyroid muscles (from thyroid cartilage to breastbone), provided the cricoid bone is held firmly against the spine, which is always the correct action as here given.

This fortunate division of the right and wrong muscles into two classes, tongue muscles and jaw muscles, make the vocal study an infallible, exact science, which can be demonstrated with mathematical certainty.

One more fact remains to be mentioned; that is, when all the true vocal muscles act powerfully together, a feeling of openness or loosness is experienced by the singer, leading him to believe that all muscles are relaxed. This feeling is correct, but the inference that the muscles are relaxed is a mistake. A relaxed muscle means a dead muscle, without life and energy. Such a muscle cannot do any work. But a stiff or tense muscle is also useless, for it is held too tight to perform any other office than that of stiffening itself. Neither a relaxed muscle nor a tense one is of any use in voice. What is needed is a flexible, strong muscle, that can contract with great rapidity and because of its strength, also with great ease.

One needs only to look at a superior athlete or acrobat for an illustration of flexibility combined with muscular strength. Again, if a pianist were to relax his fingers, there would be no strength, consequently only a feeble, weak tone; but if his finger are stiff, there can be no rapidity of movement. If, however, his muscles are flexible, and through practice are made strong, there will be no apparent effort, even for the biggest tone, and his/her movements will still be rapid. So also, if the correct vocal muscles are made strong, there will be no stiffness, and certainly no relaxation.

There is only one way to develop a muscle’s strength, and that is by the muscle’s own effort to contract against resistance. Many years of study and experiment upon myself and hundreds of students, among whom are many who are now in the front ranks of their profession, in the leading opera companies of both Europe and America, as concert singers, actors and voice teachers, have proven not only that this method is correct but that it is the only possible way by which the student can develop his/her voice and bring it to perfection.

Breathing

It may be assumed that those singers and speakers who, by nature or by the study and practice of this method, sing only with the action of the true vocal muscles, the correct method of breathing will gradually and instinctively assert itself. Even if this should not happen, the tones will still be beautiful and large; but for the purpose of smooth phrasing and easy diction, and still more for the purpose of tone shading and expression and other special effects, correct breathing is essential.

Many attempts have been made to establish different systems of breathing, but they are all more or less based upon opinions and experiences of singers and teachers who believed that their system was the best possible. Some good has been accomplished by these means, but such systems could not cover all points and cases, because in the first place the systems were not written out in the exact and scientific manner which alone can explain and direct the correct way of inhaling and exhaling breath. Furthermore, it requires not only a general knowledge of physiology to establish the use of the true breathing muscles, but also a most painstakingly minute search and long experience, which is generally acquired only by the specialist.

The confusion which still exists in regard to breathing is best illustrated by referring to the differences of opinion in regard to abdominal, chest or diaphragmatic breathing. As a matter physiological fact, neither one alone is correct or even possible. We do not, for instance, inhale at all, nor is the breath ever expelled.

To inhale the breath would take up too much time. It could not take place as instantaneously as is required for the minute pauses between phrases in singing and speaking. What we really do is to create a vacuum which is at once filled by the air. This vacuum is created by a set of muscles specially adapted for this purpose. Then to convert this air or breath into tone, an entirely different set of muscles is put into action. These two separate functions govern the chest, diaphragm and abdomen so that each has a certain share in the work accomplished. No single one of these predominate in correct breathing.

Although the breathing organs are a most necessary and indispensable part of the entire vocal apparatus, yet that apparatus is by nature divided into the vocal organ from breast and collar bone upward, and the breathing organ from these bones downward. So it was deemed best not to overburden the student with too much material and perhaps, in the end, confuse him/her.

The chief end and aim of art should be to give joy, to arouse noble sentiments, by speaking to the heart first. In music this is done by beautiful sounds, therefore the singer’s object should be to develop his/her voice so that all the beauty and nobility which exists in such superabundance about us, can be set free. Only after such beauty of tone is at the command of the singer will the study of songs become of any value. Then intelligence will be added to emotion, and the two united into one perfect work of art. Voice is the result of physical conditions, very much as in any other musical instruments. It is subject to similar laws, and in the case of tone quality, to identically the same laws.

In the lessons on the “Theory of Sound” it will be shown that tone quality is dependent upon the perception by the ear of the overtones arising out of the fundamental tone. But the overtones cannot be strong enough or numerous enough unless the primary or fundamental tone is strong, hence the fuller the tone the more numerous are the overtones and because of this the finer and sweeter is the quality of the tone to the ear.

Now in order to gain a larger volume of tone, we must utilize all the vocal material which we possess. That means, that all the muscles which constitute the vocal chords must unite and condense into practically a single chain of muscles. In addition to this we must be able to stretch this chain of muscles. This can be done only by the external laryngeal muscles, and of these again only the tongue muscles, and of these again only the tongue muscles need to be trained and developed. This reduces voice study down to a few simple exercises.

These simple exercises gradually change the weak muscles into strong muscles, and as soon as the full strength is acquired, the full beauty and power of the voice is possible, and to the author’s positive knowledge this voice will be one of glorious beauty.

Exercises: Lesson 20

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