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The Alto Voice In Male Choirs
General Remarks
Mutation Of The Voice
Vowels Consonants Articulation
Registers Of The Voice
Physiology Of The Voice
Compass Of The Child-voice
How To Secure Good Tone
Position Breathing Attack Tone Formation

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Position Breathing Attack Tone Formation
How To Secure Good Tone
Compass Of The Child-voice
Physiology Of The Voice
Registers Of The Voice
Vowels Consonants Articulation
Mutation Of The Voice
General Remarks
The Alto Voice In Male Choirs

Position Breathing Attack Tone Formation

One way to secure good position is to require the pupils to stand.
Unless the singing-period directly follows a recess, or the drill in
physical exercises, the pupils will welcome the opportunity. As soon as
standing becomes irksome resume the seats. No further direction in
regard to sitting position is necessary than that the body should be
held not stiffly, but easily erect and self-supporting, resting neither
upon the back of chair nor upon the desk in front. A doubled-up, cramped
position is, of course, all wrong, and may be avoided if the pupils are
permitted to alternate between sitting and standing positions; but, if
required to sit as suggested for too long a time, the rule will soon "be
honored more in the breach than in the observance." This brings us to
the consideration of


for the latter in its relations to vocalization depends much upon
position. The breath is the motive power of the voice in speech or song,
and the fundamental importance of managing it aright has been understood
by every teacher of voice since the time of Porpora.

How for singing purposes breath shall be taken, how exhaled, how managed
in short, is not yet entirely settled and presumably never will be, for
people are not born wise, and some never acquire wisdom, of whom a few
teach music. Browne and Behnke, in "Voice, Song, and Speech," p.
138-142, describe the process of breathing as follows:

"There are three ways of carrying on the process of respiration, namely,
midriff breathing, rib-breathing, and collar-bone breathing. These three
ways are not wholly independent of one another. They overlap or partly
extend into one another. Nevertheless, they are sufficiently distinct
and it is a general and convenient practice to give to each a separate
name, according to the means by which it is chiefly called into
existence. The combined forms of midriff and of rib-breathing constitute
the right way, and collar-bone breathing is totally wrong and vicious,
and should not in a state of health be made under any circumstances.
When enlarging our chests by the descent of the midriff, we inflate our
lungs where they are largest and where consequently we can get the
largest amount of air into them. When expanding our chests by raising
the shoulders and collar-bones, we inflate the lungs where they are
smallest and where, consequently, we get the smallest amount of air into
them. The criterion of correct inspiration is an increase of size of
the abdomen and the lower part of the chest. Whoever draws in the
abdomen and raises the upper part of the chest breathes wrongly."

In normal breathing the body at inspiration increases in girth at the
waist, and the abdomen moves slightly outward as the viscera are forced
downward by the descent of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large
muscle which serves as a partition between the thorax or chest-cavity
and the abdomen. When relaxed its middle portion is extended upward into
the chest-cavity, presenting a concave surface to the abdomen. At
inspiration it contracts, descending so as to assume very nearly a plane
figure. At expiration the process is reversed, the diaphragm relaxes and
the abdominal viscera, released from its pressure and forced by the
abdominal muscles which contract as the diaphragm relaxes, moves upward
and inward.

This kind of breathing in which the muscular contraction of the
diaphragm calls in operation atmospheric pressure, supplies the body,
when tranquil, with nearly or quite enough air. When for any reason a
larger quantity of air is demanded, it may be secured by raising the
ribs, thereby increasing the chest-cavity.

In singing, the breath must be managed so that the air passing through
the larynx at expiration shall be set into vibration at the vocal bands.
Expiration, then, which ordinarily occurs very quickly must be retarded
by slowly relaxing the muscles which contract at inspiration. At the
same time the throat must be open, and the muscles surrounding the
resonance cavities relaxed to allow free movement of the sound-waves set
up at the vocal bands. Any upward movement of the shoulders and chest at
inspiration involving the contraction of many powerful muscles of back
and neck will occasion a stiffening of the throat, which prevents free
vibration of the vocal bands and seriously interferes with the resonance
of tone.

The conclusion of the whole matter is, that in singing we should take
breath exactly as in the ordinary quiet respiration, and avoid any
lifting of the shoulders. This is at least enough to say to a class of
children upon the subject.

The means adopted in education should be as simple and direct as
possible. It will be found unnecessary to say very much about breathing
in dealing with classes of children. In the first place, the moment the
subject is broached and the direction "take a good breath" or a similar
one given, each child will draw up the chest and shoulders prepared for
a mighty effort; while, if nothing is said about it, position alone
being attended to, the breathing will be all right. And again, while
adult singers for various reasons, one of which may be the supposition
that the more energy put forth the better the tone, often present
themselves to the voice-teacher with a fine assortment of bad
breathing-habits, children, on the contrary, are sent to school at so
young an age that a little watchfulness on the part of the teacher only
is necessary to avoid improper ways of taking breath and establish good
habits. If young children, then, are not permitted to raise the
shoulders, they will perforce breathe properly.

It seems inadvisable also to give any instruction regarding the emission
of air from the lungs in singing. None but cultivated singers, after
long practice and through a complete command of the muscles concerned,
can vocalize all the air at the vocal bands. The absolute purity of
tone which is thus secured is a result that may or may not be reached in
any particular case. It depends upon the mental and physical
organization of the pupil as well as upon the method of the teacher.

Exercises which are adapted to the formation of good breathing-habits
are much more to the point in practical teaching than efforts at
explanation. Therefore, a few hints are given, which, it is hoped, may
be of practical value, for it is very important that good
breathing-habits be formed in school singing.

The change in structure which the larynx undergoes at puberty,
demolishing as it does the boy-voice, and rendering of no avail the
training of childhood in so far as it affects the larynx, does not
extend in its effects to the breathing-apparatus. So, a habit of
breath-management, good or bad, formed in school may continue through
adult life. Special breathing-exercises are sometimes recommended, but
their efficacy may be doubted, even if the length of time devoted to the
music lesson permits them. The inclination of pupils in such exercises
is to raise the chest and fill the lungs too full of air. The result is
too much air pressure at the vocal bands, and a stiffening of throat and
jaw muscles. The tone then will be loud; in fact, strong pressure of air
at the vocal bands is almost sure to force them into the fullest
vibration; that is, into the thick register, and, as a result of
contracted throat, the tone will be pinched, or throaty. It is
recognized, however, that it is just as easy to teach good habits of
breathing as bad.

This exercise may occasionally be given: The pupils first standing,
shoulders well set, but with no pushing out of chest, place hands at the
waist so that the movements of normal breathing may be felt. Now let the
pupils take a little breath quickly. The movement at the waist must be
outward and downward, never inward, at inspiration. The breath may be
held a few seconds by keeping the waist expanded-- keeping an imaginary
belt filled, for instance-- and then let go by relaxing at the waist.
If, however, there is any stiffening of the throat, as if it were
thought to cork up the air in the lungs, the object of the exercise, in
so far as it relates to the formation of good breathing-habits suitable
for easy vocalization, is defeated. Every teacher must use his judgment
in this matter of breath-management in singing. If pupils are, unguided,
using correct, easy methods, there is then no need to interfere. If some
are inclined to take too much breath and lift the shoulders, a few hints
may put them on the right track. Loud singing and had breathing-habits
go together. If the first is desired, the lungs must work at full
capacity, and hard blowing from the lungs forces the voice. On the
contrary, soft singing promotes quiet habits of breathing; and, if the
pressure of air at the larynx is moderate, soft tone is possible. If
thin, soft singing alone be allowed, quiet deep breathing will be
practiced instinctively.

The easy control of the muscles whose relaxation permits the exhalation
of air from the lungs is, as already said, gained by their proper
exercise in speaking and singing, for the same mechanism is called into
operation in speech as in song. In childhood the lungs can neither hold
as much, nor retain it so long and easily as in adult life.

There is no better way, perhaps, to acquire the ability to regulate the
air-pressure at the vocal bands than by soft, sustained singing. The
"continuous tone" described in a preceding chapter, secured in scale
drill by letting each child breathe at will, is an excellent exercise
for developing good breathing-habits. As there is no nervous tension
whatever, each pupil will naturally sustain tone until the need of
another breath is felt, when it will be taken quickly and the tone at
once resumed.

To sum up: Sit or stand in good position, the chest neither pushed out
nor in a state of collapse. Avoid any, even the slightest, upward
movement of the shoulders. Point out the movements at waist occurring at
inspiration and at expiration if necessary, not otherwise. Let the
breath be taken quickly, not too much at a time, and as often as need
be, and sing softly.


The beginning of each tone is called attack. The common faults of attack
in class-singing are sliding to the pitch instead of striking it
accurately, and beginning to sing with the mouth still closed, or only
partly open. When the attack presents the combined effects of these two
common habits, a quite realistic caterwaul is the result.

Both faults may be generally overcome or prevented by calling attention
to them. Good mental attention is the most infallible cure for slovenly
habits of attack. It may be that there are in all schools a certain
proportion of the pupils who have very weak and imperfect vocal organs;
in their cases, even good attention cannot overcome physical inability.

In repose the vocal bands are separated to allow the free passage of air
to and from the lungs. At phonation the bands are drawn toward each
other, meeting just as it commences. There need be no preliminary escape
of air. Also the resonance cavities above should be open, that the
vibrations generated at the vocal bands may find expansion and
resonance. The mouth and throat should then be opened a moment before
tone is attacked, when, if the pitch to be sung is clearly pictured in
the mind, both the "slide" and "hum" will be avoided.


Beauty of tone implies absence of disagreeable qualities, and freedom
from unpleasant sounds. Faulty tones are called nasal, guttural,
palatal, throaty, muffled, and so on, the peculiar timbre of each
suggesting the name. If the throat is relaxed, and if the soft parts of
the vocal tube lying between the larynx and the teeth are kept out of
the way, most of the disagreeable qualities of voice enumerated
disappear. Certain requisites are necessary to good tone-formation.

First, a movable lower jaw.

It is astonishing that so many of young and old will, when they wish to
open the mouth for song, try to keep it closed. Paradoxical as the
statement is, it nevertheless describes a very common phenomenon-- the
"fixed jaw," it may be called. As soon as the teeth are parted slightly,
the muscles of the face and neck which control the movement of the lower
jaw contract, holding it in a fixed position, and incidentally
tightening the muscles of the throat until the larynx is in a grip as of
rubber bands. The mouth must not be held open as if the jaws were pried
apart. It is opened by the relaxation of the closing muscles and should
hang by its own weight, as it were. If then the lower jaw drops easily,
and with no accompanying muscular contraction of face or throat, the
tone may be formed or shaped well forward in the mouth, unless the soft
parts referred to obstruct it.

These soft parts are the tongue and the soft-palate. The soft-palate is
a structure which hangs from the posterior edge of the hard-palate. The
uvula, the pillars of the palate, and the tonsils are parts of the

The tongue which, when the mouth is closed, nearly fills it, should in
vocalization lie as much out of the way as is possible. If the tip be
pressed against the lower teeth and its sides upon the molars, it forms
a floor to the cavity of the mouth. If the tip turns toward the roof of
the mouth, or if it is drawn back and under, so as to arch the tongue,
tone is seriously interfered with, while if the root of the tongue is
drawn backward, the tone is shut in.

If the soft-palate is not raised in singing, the tone is diverted into
the cavities of the nose, and that color given to the tone called nasal.
If the lower jaw is held too high, the tone is again forced through the
nose. A nasal quality can be modified by opening the mouth. The muffled
voice is sometimes the result of the tongue's unruly behavior. The
throaty, pinched voice, due to a stiff and pinched throat, will hardly
appear if good conditions as regards position, breathing, soft tone,
open mouth, etc., are maintained. The tone should not be swallowed nor,
on the other hand, blown out of the mouth. It should be formed in the
mouth and kept vibrating within it. When the right conditions are hit
upon, the tone seems to sing itself. Whether soft or loud, the tone
should fill the mouth, so to speak.

It must now be remembered that beauty of tone improves along with growth
of thought and feeling. Encourage discrimination in tone-quality and
help in any way advisable the growth of good ideals, and verily shalt
thou be rewarded.

Next: Vowels Consonants Articulation

Previous: Compass Of The Child-voice

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