Art Of Singing:
Classification Of The Voice
General Conservation Of The Voice
Development Of Voice
Interpretation And Expression
Read More Articles About: Art Of Singing
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A normal human being does not usually talk for the mere sake of talking, but to say some-thing which he desires another or others to hear ; he talks to some one, and that some one is at a point more or less distant, as the case may be. This commonplace statement is, however, an illustration of a definite object that should be borne in mind by every person who is in any manner using his voice professionally. The vocal gesture, as it may be termed, permits us to put into vibration the hearing centers of the individual addressed, or, perhaps, the hundreds or thou-sands of people assembled in an auditorium. Se-curing this responsive vibration is the aim or goal which is stimulating our effort and movement.
One does not talk for the purpose of influencing his own thought by his own sound vibrations. It is done in order to communicate to others the set of vibrations originating in the brain of the speaker. If a certain thought, for example, be expressed by me by means of certain vibrations, I know that those vibrations will mechanically convey that thought to others; but those vibrations must without fail reach the ears of such other persons.
These are the simple things; so simple, indeed, that we nearly always forget them when studying singing, with the sad result that we lose the real aim of the vocal tone. In that case no matter how wonderfully controlled is the tone, even though it be to the point of entire satisfaction to the singer's self, the voice is constricted, the tone misplaced, and instead of a free, soaring, sonorous, carrying tone, the product of complete naturalness, the tone will be long in effort and short in effect. The sound waves either will not be sufficient to meet the demands of the hall or theater, or, on. the other hand, will not be pleasurably received if more tone is used than the place requires. If the singer be earnest and intelligent, he will soon notice these false results, and try all kinds of vocal expedients in an endeavor to remedy the situation. For instance, a new and wonderful method (at first all seem wonderful enough) will be substituted for the old one. A new manner of breath control may appear to be just the thing wanted. But the real future of a singer who through artificial and alleged scientific methods works unconsciously against his natural make-up lies not on the stage or plat-form, but unfortunately in the hands of the throat physician.
Supports of the Voice.—The factors which reinforce the tone, and give the singer ability to place it at a desired point of destination, are termed the supports of the voice.
When reinforcing the tone in the different cavities and resonating chambers of the vocal machinery, such as chest, throat, mouth and nose, it is necessary to make use of such reinforcement in a way that will not block the free exit of the tone. Only in this way will the tone have clear and definite character and carrying qualities.
If a tone be directed not toward the audience but to one of the back facial cavities, it fails, as a natural result, to sonorize the air which surrounds the singer, and although it may seem to be a very loud tone to the singer himself, it has nevertheless lost its entire carrying power. The French call this process sombrer la voix (clouding the voice) , and the Italians describe it as voce oscura (the obscured voice) ,both phrases, you will note, mean exactly the same thing.
I shall call it darkening the voice, inasmuch as this production always gives the impression of an unnaturally dark, confined, dull tone.
There are different kinds of "darkenings," of course. The stifling of the tone may occur by reason of a wrong or over-use of the chest, the throat, the mouth or the nose. And yet for some special effects in expression in the intentional darkening of tones by these means is both permissible and proper, though dangerous and to be made use of by the experienced artist only.
The darkened voice, rumbling within the singer because prevented from vibrating outside, re-quires much muscular strength and effort to be heard, and the vocal machinery soon becomes fatigued.
Darkening has created many different tone productions, all wrong and ultimately disastrous, and yet it seems to be a favorite method with teachers of a certain class.
Correctness of tone production is in direct pro-portion to its naturalness. The naturalness of a tone depends upon the harmony or balance maintained in the use of the breath, larynx and resonators. If one of these factors works in an exaggerated or inefficient manner, the whole scheme or production is wrong, the voice is defective.
Defective voices, of which unfortunately a large proportion even among professionals may be so designated, can be fairly classified as:
1. Voices defective by reason of wrong use of the mechanism of tone production, breath, etc.
2. Voices defective on account of wrong tone focus, imperfect use of the resonating cavities.
3. Voices defective for other reasons.
Misuse of Vocal Machinery.—The mere passing of the breath through the vocal cords is generally assumed to produce tone. This is not entirely true, however. Without resonating surfaces the sound would be so weak as to be hardly worthy of the name, and the result would be what is called "theoretical sound." Experiments have been made by scientists, using the larynxes of dead persons, testing through the medium of electricity, and the sound produced was hardly audible to ordinary ears. Of course such experiments are at best hardly satisfactory or conclusive, for with the intention to produce sound there could hardly be any tightening of the cords, and the result is bound to be more or less the same as when endeavoring to draw tone from a violin string before it is brought up to somewhere near its natural pitch. The balance of proportion, in other words, between breath and vocal cords must be maintained. The use of too much or too little breath causes over or under work of the vocal cords, and thus are evolved the voices coming within this category.
The opposite extremes in defective voices such as we are discussing may be described as those singing on the breath, and those singing on the timbre.
In singing on the breath the air passes through the vocal cords without sufficient vocal tension, as mentioned before. This production causes a slight tardiness of attack, which is thus weak and lacking decision. This method is at least inoffensive, but gives the effect of a certain laziness in singing which may be a great obstacle to proper tone production.
The exact opposite of this fault is singing on the timbre where, owing to the exaggerated contraction of the vocal cords, which latter are worked to the utmost while other parts of the vocal machinery are but little if at all engaged, a certain sharpness of the voice is noticeable.
This result could fairly be described as developing to the extreme so-called voce teorica, or the glottic sound. Production of this kind is found to be very popular with the second and third class opera singers who, lacking the necessary foundation in voice training, are saving themselves in what appears to them the easiest possible manner. This relief is very temporary, however, because singing on the timbre is ultimately most harmful to the voice.
Somewhat similar to singing on the timbre is the pinched voice, in which the use of the glottis is also excessive, and the tone is slightly restricted or confined.
Forced Voice.—The use of too much breath in the tone has a deplorable effect on the vocal cords. The respiratory effect is felt and heard in the musical articulation. With this tone production it is impossible to sing a long phrase even with an unnatural amount of air in the lungs. This sort of singing tends to create breaks and a quantity of registers in a healthy voice.
Drawn-out Voice.-This is similar to singing on the breath.
Quivering Voice.—In the quivering voice the air pressure upon the vocal cords is far too strong, thus hampering the freedom of the vocal machinery, making the voices shaky and in some cases resulting in a confirmed tremor. Often this habit leads to an unpleasant tremolo.
Enlarged Voice.—To me the enlarged or too open voice gives the impression of a certain unnatural thickness or breadth. An enlarged voice is short in range and has very little carrying quality. Some of the mezzo sopranos and contraltos are using this production in their low tones, and unconsciously are pressing the voice in the chest. This production very often causes a break in the tone, and does not permit of singing softly, nor does it enable one to sing a good legato. These weaknesses are due to the entire lack of overtone, a direct result of too much use of the chest register to the exclusion of a proper use of the resonating cavities. It should be remembered that the old masters said, "Chi non lega non canta" "He who is not uniting the voice is not singing."
Tense or Stiff Voice.—A voice a trifle similar to the forced or enlarged voice, in which the effort of phonation is noticeable to the audience as well as to the singer. In this kind of production again the vocal cords have to work too strenuously.
Vibrato.—As an effect the vibrato is occasionally useful. Its use often becomes a habit, to the serious damage of voices. Vibrato is nothing else than overtaxing the voice. The vocal machinery, breath and larynx, are used to full capacity and then it is attempted to add "some more." That "some more" is forcing, and forcing is necessarily disastrous to any voice.
Vibrato was introduced by Rubini, but Rubini was careful to make use of it only in places of great dramatic emotion.
Voices Using Resonators Imperfectly.—A lack of balance in the distribution of the resonating surfaces is caused by the voice becoming inclosed or confined in one of the resonating cavities. With the exception of the white voices (over-bright, lacking in breadth or depth) , all of these voices are darkened, and nearly all of them are lacking in the proper use of the articulating organs, a weakness fatal to proper tone production.
In all of the hereafter mentioned faulty tone productions, the singer leans more or less toward ventriloquism. His pronunciation is performed by organs whose functions are entirely different, and the net result might more aptly be called retronunciation.
Chest Voice.—If a noticeable sensation of vibration is felt at the interior of the chest, even when the voice is but slightly intensified, such may be called chest production, the maximum of effort being directed upon the lower vocal areas. The voice increases in size without in-creasing in carrying power, and becomes heavier. In seeking for beautiful, deep tones, many alto or contralto voices become heavy by confining the voice in the chest. Nothing could be more unpleasant or destructive. A mezzo, heavy in the low tones out of all proportion to the size of the rest of the voice, fails to become a contralto and is no longer a mezzo. Bassos commonly abuse their voices in this manner, which explains why it is so hard nowadays to find a good basso voice, most of them suffering from tremolo, lack of resonance, poor high tones, etc.
Dark or Deep Voice.—A voice with streng interior resonance, which rumbles more or less inside the vocal apparatus. This production helps the tone to gain in expressiveness, life and personality, but kills completely the carrying power of the tone. This production is much favored by the European vaudeville singers.
Closed Voice.—The exaggerated darkening of the voice in the high register causes the loss of carrying power. This is a very bad production, and injures seriously the higher registers of the voice. It is, unfortunately, very much recommended at present. Some term it "placing the tone between the eyes." He who closes the voice also forces it, and the two faults combined cause nodes (or calluses) on the vocal cords, then air escapes unused between the vocal cords and the condition is no longer one for a vocal teacher, but for a throat specialist.
Guttural Voice.—When the epiglottis is raised too much, the tension increases the thick ness at the base of the tongue, taking up room necessary for free resonance. There results a great confusion of closed-in sound waves, the voice becomes guttural, cracks on high notes, and has no carrying power whatsoever.
Hollow or Cavernous Voice.—The lowering of the soft palate and thickening of the back of the tongue produce a certain dark, deep tone. As this tone is lacking in plasiticity and life, it has no carrying power, and is damaging and in effective.
Backward Voice.—This voice vibrates inside, carrying but little outside. The forward part of the mouth seems to absorb the sound instead of assisting it toward the outside. The tone is dark, being formed in throat and "mask" (the shelf formed at the junction of the hard and soft palate) ; the effort of vocal reinforcement is at the back of the throat. This voice reminds one of the sounds sent forth by newspaper vendors.
Throaty Voice.—When the tone seems to vibrate in the throat just above the level of the glottis, this pharyngeal tonal support is called "throaty production," the maximum of effort being directed against the guttural pharyngeal surfaces. This tone is distinguished by its disagreeable timbre, having a rasping quality which suggests sore throat, tonsilitis, etc.
Smothered Voice.—The "mask," so called, is the shelf formed at the junction of the hard and soft palates. Tones directed too forcibly to these particular surfaces may be divided into two kinds :
Rear Mask.—Tones focused upon the rear mask, so called, resound in the head, in the region of the ears, the tones thus smothered often interfering with the proper functioning of the ears.
Forward Mask Tones directed to and supported by the upper pharynx are really focused in the nose, but do not sound nasal, as they are partly smothered.
Yawning or Gaping Voice.—By reason of opening the mouth very widely, as in yawning, the verbal timbre is breathy, the maximum of resonance being in the region of the palate and the eustachian tubes. On account of its poor timbre, the tone carries but little, and is without charm either verbal or vocal. The maximum sound is produced in the back of the throat and in the high pharynx. This method can be recommended only for raising higher and bringing nearer to forward accommodation, a voice which is too much in the throat. It is only a means of transition. It lends little to the articulation.
Humming, Mouth Closed.—To sing with the mouth closed is bad. To place the voice in a position which is not one of natural and normal phonation is absurd, no matter what the impression acquired through this original process may be. Humming is quite in favor today. The singers who close the high tones, thus preventing them from carrying, generally make use of this device Humming occasionally may help to free a throaty voice, but it is dangerous and may be said to be substituting one evil for another.
Snuffling Voice (Nasîllement).—Voice smothered behind the nose, and retained in some way in that region, with strong vibration of all the muscular parts of the nasal region, including the orifice of the nostrils. The air vibrates in the nose with sharp sonority. In this production, the excessive lowering of the soft palate prevents the tone's proper egress through the mouth, thus forcing a maximum nasal resonance.
Nasal Voice (Nasonnement) .—Its sonority is more deep than that of the snuffling voice and is less disagreeable. Certain baritones make too great use of this kind of tonal support, to give some "brass" to their quality; though it shortens the carrying capacity of their voices. This production is quite in favor by the French singers.
White Voice.—This voice is characterized by great verbal clarity, while lacking, from the vocal point of view, in body and sonority. It is produced by excessive opening or widening of the mouth. The voice takes an open tone from the throat, giving the impression of exaggerated articulation. The buccal (mouth) support is entirely lacking. The tone is too open, of a disagreeable quality, and without plasticity.
Tricky Voice.—A voice that, with the aid of wrong resonance, obtains the impression of possessing good tones, as, for instance, in singing a high "C" with chest resonance, which in reality seems to be almost impossible, the tenor will darken his mixed notes, and, taking as fundamental the resonances of the head, will add also the resonances of the lower pharynx.
Voices Defective for Other Reasons.—A small voice, owing to organic insufficiency, has not good carrying power. Its size is very limited, due to weak respiration or weakness of the vocal organs. This voice, however, can be improved in strength and carrying capacity by training in large rooms, but it will never have any professional value.
Sharp Voice.—Sharp voice is often due to organic defects, but in most cases is the result of forcing the voice and practicing in small rooms. Like the small voice, it should be trained in a large room, and the proper breadth obtained through exercises for elasticity and quick vocalization.
Clouded Voice (Voix Moiré) .—Voice full of great variations in quality of tone. This is not mere variation of tone colors, but a voice which vacillates very lightly. It is rather a series of contrasts between the successive tones of the voice, now very clear, and now very clouded, at short intervals.
Dry Voice.—The dryness of the walls of the mucous membrane, which should be smooth and damp, makes itself felt in the quality of the voice. The dry voice is hard to hear, and is equally as hard for the singer to produce. It easily be-comes raucous, and has not carrying power. It totally lacks charm and expression. Medical treatment and complete change of method of singing are necessary.
Tremolo.—It seems that the first admirer of tremolo was Ferri, a celebrated Italian singer of the last century. He intentionally sang tremolo on every note. Usually tremolo is the result of organic weakness, sickness, poor use of the breath, or stiffness of the vocal organs. If it is a fault of production, it can be corrected. Quick exercises only are advisable for curing this defect.
Undoubtedly defects in voices are far from having been completely listed above. There are many, many others with which a vocal teacher comes in contact. Each pupil, in fact, presents a combination of faults and every one of these defects must be differently treated. It is impossible to start voice training until all defects are removed.