Art Of Singing:
Classification Of The Voice
General Conservation Of The Voice
Development Of Voice
Interpretation And Expression
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Development Of Voice
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Intensity.—The intensity of a sound depends upon the quantity of vibrations of the sonorous body.
The breath is the principal factor in developing the intensity of a voice, but not the only one. The resounding chambers are also of vital importance. Among them the mouth holds first place as it has the faculty of regulating the in-tensity of a tone. As I said before, we are not singing for ourselves but for those who are listening to us. The vibrating air that comes from our vocal machinery should put into vibration the air in the hall, and in the end it is the hall that serves as the chief resonator of our tones. The voice must have the necessary carrying power in order to be able to profit by the resonance of the hall. This can be obtained by releasing the tone completely and concentrating exclusively on the distance desired. An "inside" voice (one in which the tone is not "let go") will not answer the purpose. The intensity will be exaggerated, the work of the vocal organs too heavy. A sort of internal explosion will be the net result (tremolo).
Timbre.—The timbre is the leading quality of the voice. Upon a single note, without knowing the range or power of the voice, we are able to judge that voice. Already it has pleased or displeased us by its so-called quality or timbre.
The timbre is formed in the larynx and in the different resounding chambers, and is the characteristic quality of every voice, which cannot be substantially changed, but can be modified and improved. (Sometimes operations upon the nose, tonsils, etc., change the form of the resounding chambers and consequently affect its timbre.)
The mouth gives the final and strongest imprint to the voice, and it is this "timbre" that we grasp most.
It is necessary, then, to make the mouth re-sound, and through it the hall.
Different positions of the mouth, lips, tongue, etc., form the vowels, those vowels are fundamentally five in number, viz., a, e, i, o, u, and vary greatly in pronunciation in the different languages. Thus in Italian we have "e" and "o," for instance, pronounced differently (closed and open), and in French the "e" has several shadings. I do not find it possible to describe properly all those names. I just state the fact ; the conscientious teacher will be able to indicate the variations in pronunciation.
As to the vowels to be used during vocalizing, I have no particular preference, for practice on all is necessary. In the scale it seems as if the dark vowels ("o" and "u") reinforces the low notes best, and the clear ("i" and "e") the high. (This is an old theory to which I am not fully committed, for it depends upon organic individuality.)
As the mouth is the principal resonator, it must be well controlled, serving as the parting point for every note. If the mouth be properly sonorized the hall will also be fully sonorized.
When the singer learns how to listen to the sound of his voice at the point of destination, he will without giving it a thought impart to it the desired timbre. Whenever he thinks of his vocal machinery he suggests that thought to his hearers, a most unpleasant substitute for the sentiment of the song.
The voice placed in the mouth carries and seems to form itself in the hall, even round the ears of the audience. Thanks to that work al-most exclusively of the "accommodation buccal," that is to say, the resonances above the glottis and of the mouth articulation, the larynx tires but slightly, and after a great deal of work the vocal chords remain white and smooth as before.
Range; Registers.—The range of a voice is undoubtedly a most important element for its classification, but as already stated, it is but one of many factors to be considered.
It is also true that a poorly or slightly trained voice can hardly demonstrate its entire scope. Voices spoiled by bad training methods have frequently a false range.
A conscientious teacher is compelled to "make haste slowly" in passing judgment upon a pupil's voice, for its true character may take considerable time and care to discover. Meanwhile avoid all use of the extreme notes, the high as well as the low, and concentrate attention upon equalizing those notes within whose limits the teacher thinks it wise to keep the voice.
We here reach the widely discussed question of registers ; and I shall try to describe them clearly.
The word "register" was first applied to the organ, and is still used to designate in that instrument a series of tubes having the same character or tone (timbre) . In wind instruments the total range is divided into three or four such sections or registers, such as low, middle, high, etc.
Even in the stringed instruments, the existence of registers could be easily indicated if it were necessary or desirable.
It is anything but easy, however, to establish how and when this word "register" first came into vogue in connection with that complex and very peculiar instrument which is called the human voice. And it is still less easy, notwithstanding the zeal which throat specialists and teachers of singing have devoted to the treatment of this theme, to establish how many and what registers the human voice may have. Some say one, some two, some three. Some designate them one way, some, another. Some speak of a register of falsetto in the higher range, claiming that the much lower notes admit of a second register of falsetto which they call "falsetto basso." The disagreement is complete.
Even though the progress in physiological science is enormous, we are yet far from knowing all the details about the working of the vocal apparatus.
The laryngoscope, invented by Garcia, has been of great help, but perhaps more to humanity in general than to the singers in any special way. In using this instrument, the uvula is spasmodically contracted and the tongue outstretched. Then what liberty of function of the vocal organs remains, and what certainty of judgment can be assured?
At all events, while entering upon such a vexed question it is my desire to state only those principles solidly established, and to bring to bear upon them a little common sense.
The vocal cords, as the voice ascends the scale, grow gradually thinner. But their thinning may take place gradually, note by note, or by leaps, that is, by groups of notes. In the first case, therefore, each single note, and in the second case each group of notes, is bound to have a special characteristic. It is this special characteristic that is the foundation (if any there be) for the designation "register."
If no author has dared yet to speak of twenty-three or twenty-four registers. (which number there could be if each note were taken the most appropriate thickness of the vocal cords) , it is be-cause practically one particular thickness of the cords serves for several adjacent notes. But what happens in such a condition? The voice proceeds by jumps or breaks and though it for a time seems successful it is accomplished by a disastrous effort of larynx.
To explain it more fully, let us take an ex-ample. The fourth string of a violin (the G) could, if desired, render almost all the sounds in the range of the instrument, but to attain this it would be necessary, as soon as the natural limits convenient to its thickness were exceeded, to stretch it up to the breaking point, and at the same time to increase more and more the pressure of the bow. To avoid this very thing, the violin has four strings.
The same may be said of the human voice. If we, for a given space of its range, retain the same thickness of the cords, we compel them to stretch themselves beyond the normal point, while at the same time we must increase the pressure of breath out of all proportion. Such efforts are dangerous. If a violin string, when stretched beyond bounds, breaks, the vocal cords, stretched more than necessary, are also bound to collapse, but, unlike the strings of the violin, it would be impossible to replace them.
On the other hand, though the violin has but four strings, the strings of a piano are far more numerous, and change thickness at every three or four notes, which means that there are three or four sounds given by strings of the same thickness.
The human voice can do even more, for the thickness and the tension can change with every note, thus giving the muscles of the larynx the utmost liberty while not exacting of them or of the lungs any exorbitant effort.
Many singers thicken and stretch the cords more than necessary in the belief that by such means, they lend more sonority to the voice. That is how the so-called registers come into being, and the voice going from one into the other undergoes a leap which, under the name of passagio, has attracted the attention of all the "method" teachers, who in turn, to avoid those sudden changes in the character of the sounds, speak of equalizing the voice, etc., while none seems to think of curing the very cause of the in-equality. This can he done only by giving to each note the proper thickness and tension of the vocal cords. In other words, it can be effected in going from lower to higher notes, by decreasing thickness at every note and increasing the tension within restricted limits.
In such a way the true equalization and liberty of the voice is attained, and we should no longer speak of registers, or, if we wish to adhere to this word, we shall have to admit that the human voice has as many registers as there are notes.