The Highest Head Tones

As we have already seen, there is almost no limit to the height that

can be reached by the pure head tone without admixture of palatal

resonance. Very young voices, especially, can reach such heights, for

without any strain they possess the necessary adaptability and skill

in the adjustment to each other of the larynx, tongue, and pillars of

the fauces. A skill that rests on ignorance of the true nature of the

n must be called pure chance, and thus its disappearance is

as puzzling to teacher and listener as its appearance had been in the

first place. How often is it paired with a total lack of ability to

produce anything but the highest head tones! As a general rule such

voices have a very short lease of life, because their possessors are

exploited as wonders, before they have any conception of the way to

use them, of tone, right singing, and of cause and effect in general.

An erroneous pressure of the muscles, a wrong movement of the tongue,

an attempt to increase the strength of the tone,--all these things extinguish

quickly and for all time the wonder-singer's little light.

We Lehmann children in our youth could sing to the very highest pitch.

It was nothing for my sister Marie to strike the 4-line e a hundred

times in succession, and trill on it for a long time. She could have

sung in public at the age of seven. But since our voices, through the

circumstances of our life and surroundings, were forced to early

exertions, they lost their remarkable high notes; yet enough was left

to sing the Queen of Night (in Mozart's opera Die Zauberfloete),

with the high f.

After I had been compelled to use my lower and middle ranges much

more, in the study of dramatic parts, I omitted the highest notes from

my practice, but could not then always have relied on them. Now that I

know on what it all depends, it is very easy for me to strike high

f, not only in passing, but to combine it with any tone through

three octaves. But upon the least pressure by any organ, the head

resonance loses its brilliancy; that is, the breath no longer streams

into the places where it should, and can create no more whirling

currents of sound to fill the spaces.

But one should not suppose that the head tones have no power. When

they are properly used, their vibrancy is a substitute for any amount

of power.

As soon as the head tones come into consideration, one should never

attempt to sing an open ah, because on ah the tongue lies

flattest. One should think of an [=a], and in the highest range even

an [=e]; should mix the [=a] and [=e] with the ah, and thereby

produce a position of the tongue and soft palate that makes the path

clear for the introduction of the breath into the cavities of the


Singers who, on the other hand, pronounce [=a] and [=e] too

sharply, need only introduce an admixture of oo; they thereby lower

the position of the larynx, and thus give the vowel and tone a darker


Since the stream of breath in the highest tones produces currents

whirling with great rapidity, the more rapidly the higher the tone is,

the slightest pressure that may injure the form in which they

circulate may ruin the evenness of the tone, its pitch, perhaps the

tone itself. Each high tone must soar gently, like the overtones.

The upper limits of a bass and baritone voice are

where, consequently, the tones must be mixed. Pure head tones, that

is, falsetto, are never demanded higher than this. I regard it,

however, as absolutely necessary for the artist to give consideration

to his falsetto, that he may include it among his known resources.

Neither a bass nor a baritone should neglect to give it the proper

attention, and both should learn to use it as one of their most

important auxiliary forces.

With what mastery did Betz make use of it; how noble and beautiful his

voice sounded in all its ranges; of what even strength it was, and how

infallibly fresh! And let no one believe that Nature gave it to him

thus. As a beginner in Berlin he was quite unsatisfactory. He had the

alternative given him either to study with great industry or to seek

another engagement, for his successor had already been selected. Betz

chose to devote himself zealously to study; he began also to play the

'cello; he learned to hear, and finally raised himself to be one of

our first singers, in many roles never to be forgotten. Betz knew,

like myself, many things that to-day are neither taught nor learned.