The Tremolo

Big voices, produced by large, strong organs, through which the breath

can flow in a broad, powerful stream, are easily disposed to suffer

from the tremolo, because the outflow of the breath against the vocal

cords occurs too immediately. The breath is sent directly out from

the lungs and the body, instead of being driven by the abdominal

pressure forward against the chest and the controlling apparatus. Not

till this h
s been done, should it be admitted, in the smallest

amounts, and under control to the vocal cords. It does not pause, but

streams through them without burdening them, though keeping them

always more or less stretched, in which the muscular power of

contraction and relaxation assists. Streaming gently out from the

vocal cords, it is now led, with the support of the tongue, to its

resonance chambers, all the corners of which it fills up equally. Even

the strongest vocal cords cannot for any length of time stand the

uncontrolled pressure of the breath. They lose their tension, and the

result is the tremolo.

In inhaling, the chest should be raised not at all or but very little.

(For this reason exercises for the expansion of the chest must be

practised.) The pressure of the breath against the chest must be

maintained as long as it is desired to sustain a tone or sing a

phrase. As soon as the pressure of the abdomen and chest ceases, the

tone and the breath are at an end. Not till toward the very end of the

breath, that is, of the tone or the phrase, should the pressure be

slowly relaxed, and the chest slowly sink.

While I am singing, I must press the breath against the chest

evenly, for in this way alone can it be directed evenly against the

vocal cords, which is the chief factor in a steady tone and the only

possible and proper use of the vocal cords.

The uninterrupted control of the breath pressure against the chest

gives to the tone, as soon as it has found a focal point on the raised

palate at the attack, the basis, the body, which must be maintained

even in the softest pianissimo. Control of the breath should never

cease. The tone should never be made too strong to be kept under

control, nor too weak to be kept under control. This should be an

inflexible rule for the singer.

I direct my whole attention to the pressure against the chest, which

forms the door of the supply chamber of breath. Thence I admit to the

vocal cords uninterruptedly only just so much as I wish to admit. I

must not be stingy, nor yet extravagant with it. Besides giving

steadiness, the pressure against the chest (the controlling apparatus)

establishes the strength and the duration of the tone. Upon the

proper control depends the length of the breath, which, without

interruption, rises from here toward the resonating chambers, and,

expelled into the elastic form of the resonating apparatus, there must

obey our will.

It can now be seen how easily the vocal cords can be injured by an

uncontrolled current of breath, if it is directed against them in all

its force. One need only see a picture of the vocal cords to

understand the folly of exposing these delicate little bands to the

explosive force of the breath. They cannot be protected too much; and

also, they cannot be too carefully exercised. They must be spared all

work not properly theirs; this must be put upon the chest tension

muscles, which in time learn to endure an out-and-out thump.

Even the vibrato, to which full voices are prone, should be nipped in

the bud, for gradually the tremolo, and later even worse, is developed

from it. Life can be infused into the tone by means of the lips--that

is, in a way that will do no harm. But of that later.

Vibrato is the first stage, tremolo the second; a third and last, and

much more hopeless, shows itself in flat singing on the upper middle

tones of the register. Referable in the same way to the overburdening

of the vocal cords is the excessive straining of the throat muscles,

which, through continual constriction, lose their power of elastic

contraction and relaxation because pitch and duration of the tone are

gained in an incorrect way, by forcing. Neither should be forced;

pitch should be merely maintained, as it were, soaring; strength

should not be gained by a cramped compression of the throat muscles,

but by the completest possible filling with breath of the breath-form

and the resonance chambers, under the government of the controlling


Neglect of the head tones (overtones) is paid for dearly.

The more violent exertions are made to force them, and to keep them,

the worse are the results. For most of the unhappy singers who do

this, there is but one result: the voice is lost. How pitiful!

If the first and second stages of tremolo are difficult to remedy,

because the causes are rarely understood and the proper measures to

take for their removal still more rarely, the repair of the last stage

of the damage is nothing less than a fight, in which only an

unspeakable patience can win the victory.