Equalizing The Voice; Breath; Form

Through the lowering of the pillars of the fauces, which is the same

as raising the soft palate, the outflowing breath is divided into two


I have sketched the following representation of it:--

Division of the breath.

By raising the pillars of the fauces, which closes off the throat from

the cavities of the head, the chest voice is produced; that is, the

t range of all kinds of voices. This occurs when the main stream

of breath, spreading over against the high-arched palate, completely

utilizes all its resonating surfaces. This is the palatal resonance,

in which there is the most power (Plate A).

When the soft palate is raised high behind the nose, the pillars of

the fauces are lowered, and this frees the way for the main stream of

breath to the head cavities. This now is poured out, filling the nose,

forehead, and head cavities. This makes the head tone. Called head

tone in women, falsetto in men, it is the highest range of all classes

of voices, the resonance of the head cavities (Plate C).

The singer must always have in his mind's eye a picture of this

divided stream of breath.

As I have already said, in the lowest tones of all voices the main

stream of breath is projected against the palate; the pillars of the

fauces, being stretched to their fullest extent, and drawn back to the

wall of the throat, allow almost no breath to reach the head


I say almost none, for, as a matter of fact, a branch stream of

breath, however small, must be forced back, behind and above the

pillars, first into the nose, later into the forehead and the cavities

of the head. This forms the overtones (head tones) which must vibrate

with all tones, even the lowest. These overtones lead over from the

purest chest tones, slowly, with a constantly changing mixture of both

kinds of resonance, first to the high tones of bass and baritone, the

low tones of tenor, the middle tones of alto and soprano, finally, to

the purest head tones, the highest tones of the tenor-falsetto or

soprano. (See the plates.)

The extremely delicate gradation of the scale of increase of the

resonance of the head cavities in ascending passages, and of increase

of palatal resonance in descending, depends upon the skill to make the

palate act elastically, and to let the breath, under control of the

abdominal and chest pressure, flow uninterruptedly in a gentle stream

into the resonating chambers. Through the previous preparation of the

larynx and tongue, it must reach its resonating surfaces as though

passing through a cylinder, and must circulate in the form previously

prepared for it, proper for each tone and vowel sound. This form

surrounds it gently but firmly. The supply of air remains continuously

the same, rather increasing than diminishing, notwithstanding the

fact that the quantity which the abdominal pressure has furnished the

vocal cords from the supply chamber is a very small one. That it may

not hinder further progression, the form must remain elastic and

sensitive to the most delicate modification of the vowel sound. If the

tone is to have life, it must always be able to conform to any vowel

sound. The least displacement of the form or interruption of the

breath breaks up the whirling currents and vibrations, and

consequently affects the tone, its vibrancy, its strength, and its


In singing a continuous passage upward, the form becomes higher and

more pliant; the most pliable place on the palate is drawn upward.

(See Plate A.)

When I sing a single tone I can give it much more power, much more

palatal or nasal resonance, than I could give in a series of ascending

tones. In a musical figure I must attack the lowest note in such a way

that I can easily reach the highest. I must, therefore, give it much

more head tone than the single tone requires. (Very important.) When

advancing farther, I have the feeling on the palate, above and behind

the nose, toward the cavities of the head, of a strong but very

elastic rubber ball, which I fill like a balloon with my breath

streaming up far back of it. And this filling keeps on in even

measure. That is, the branch stream of the breath, which flows into

the head cavities, must be free to flow very strongly without

hindrance. (See Plate B.)

I can increase the size of this ball above, to a pear shape, as soon

as I think of singing higher; and, indeed, I heighten the form

before I go on from the tone just sung, making it, so to speak,

higher in that way, and thus keep the form, that is, the

propagation form, ready for the next higher tone, which I can now

reach easily, as long as no interruption in the stream of breath

against the mucous membrane can take place. For this reason the breath

must never be held back, but must always be emitted in a more and

more powerful stream. The higher the tone, the more numerous are the

vibrations, the more rapidly the whirling currents circulate, and the

more unchangeable must the form be.

Catarrh often dries up the mucous membrane; then the tones are

inclined to break off. At such times one must sing with peculiar

circumspection, and with an especially powerful stream of breath

behind the tone: it is better to take breath frequently. In a

descending scale or figure I must, on the contrary, preserve very

carefully the form taken for the highest tone. I must not go higher,

nor yet, under any circumstances, lower, but must imagine that I

remain at the same pitch, and must suggest to myself that I am

striking the same tone again. The form may gradually be a little

modified at the upper end: that is, the soft palate is lowered very

carefully behind the nose: keeping almost always to the form employed

for the highest tone, sing the figure to its end, toward the nose,

with the help of the vowel oo. (This auxiliary vowel oo means

nothing more than that the larynx is slowly lowered in position.)

When this happens, the resonance of the head cavities is diminished,

that of the palate increased; for the soft palate sinks, and the

pillars of the fauces are raised more and more. Yet the head tone must

not be entirely free from palatal resonance. Both remain to the last

breath united, mutually supporting each other in ascending and

descending passages, and alternately but inaudibly increasing and


These things go to make up the form:--

The raising and lowering of the soft palate, and the corresponding

lowering and raising of the pillars of the fauces.

The proper position of the tongue: the tip rests on the lower front

teeth--mine even as low as the roots of the teeth.

The back of the tongue must stand high and free from the throat, ready

for any movement. A furrow must be formed in the tongue, which is

least prominent in the lowest tones, and in direct head tones may even

completely disappear. As soon as the tone demands the palatal

resonance, the furrow must be made prominent and kept so. In my case

it can always be seen. This is one of the most important matters, upon

which too much emphasis can hardly be laid. As soon as the furrow in

the tongue shows itself, the tone must sound right; for then the mass

of the tongue is kept away from the throat, and, since its sides are

raised, it is kept out of the way of the tone.

It lies flattest in the lowest tones because the larynx then is in

a very low position, and thus is out of its way.

Furthermore, there is the unconstrained position of the larynx, which

must be maintained without pressure of the throat muscles. From it the

breath must stream forth evenly and uninterruptedly, to fill the form

prepared for it by the tongue and palate and supported by the throat


This support must not, however, depend in the least upon

pressure,--for the vibrating breath must float above,--but upon the

greatest elasticity. One must play with the muscles, and be able to

contract and relax them at pleasure, having thus perfect mastery over

them. For this incessant practice is required, increasing control of

the breath through the sense of hearing and the breath pressure.

At first a very strong will power is needed to hold the muscles tense

without pressure; that is, to let the tone, as it were, soar through

the throat, mouth, or cavities of the head.

The stronger the improper pressure in the production of the tone, the

more difficult it is to get rid of. The result is simply, in other

words, a strain. The contraction of the muscles must go only so far

that they can be slowly relaxed; that is, can return to their normal

position easily. Never must the neck be swelled up, or the veins in

it stand out. Every convulsive or painful feeling is wrong.