How To Secure Good Tone

The practical application of the teaching of the two preceding chapters

may at first thought seem to be difficult. On the contrary, it is quite

easy. We have favorable conditions in schools; graded courses in music,

regular attendance, discipline, and women and men in charge who are

accustomed to teach. No more favorable conditions for teaching vocal

music exist than are to be found in a well-organized and

ned school. The environments of both pupils and teachers

are exactly adapted to the ready reception of ideas, on the one hand,

and the skilful imparting of them, on the other.

The abilities of the trained teachers of to-day are not half

appreciated. They often possess professional skill of the highest order,

and the supervisor of music in the public schools may count himself

exceedingly fortunate in the means he has at hand for carrying on his

work. But knowledge of voice is no more evolved from one's inner

consciousness than is knowledge of musical notation, or of the Greek

alphabet; therefore, if regular teachers in the school permit singing

which is unmusical and hurtful, it is chiefly because they are following

the usual customs, and their ears have thereby become dulled, or it may

be that even if the singing is unpleasant to them, that they do not

know how to make it better. As before said, all energies have so far

been directed to the teaching of music reading. Tone has been neglected,

forgotten, or at most its improvement has been sought spasmodically. The

carelessness regarding tone, which is so prevalent, is due to an almost

entire absence of good teaching on the subject of the child-voice-- to

ignorance, let us say-- not altogether inexcusable.

Now and then, when listening to the soprani of some well-trained

boy-choir, sounding soft and mellow on the lower notes and ringing clear

and flutey on the higher, it may have dimly occurred to the teacher of

public school music that there might be things as yet unheard of in his

musical philosophy, a vague wonder and dissatisfaction, which has slowly

disappeared under the pressure of routine work.

When one reflects upon the results which the patience and skill of our

regular teachers have accomplished in teaching pupils to read music; it

can never be reasonably doubted that the same patience and skill, if

rightly directed, will be equally successful in teaching a correct use

of the voice.

Two principles form the basis of good tone-production as applied to

children's voices.

1st. They must sing softly.

2d. They must be restricted in compass of voice.

If these two rules are correctly applied in each grade, if pupils sing

softly enough, and carry their tones neither too high nor too low,

always taking into account the grade or average age of the class, then

the voice will be used only in the thin or head-register, and the

tones of the thick or chest-register will never be heard. But the two

rules must be as one, for if soft singing be carried too low with infant

voices, they are forced to use the thick tones; and children of all

ages, even if singing within the right compass of voice, will use the

thick register if permitted to sing too loud.

There is nothing particularly original in insisting upon soft singing

from children. The writer has never seen a book of school music that

does not mention its desirability, nor hardly a reference to the

child-voice in the standard works or writings of the day of which this

idea has not formed a part.

The general direction "Sing softly" is good so far as it goes, but is,

first, indefinite. Softly and loudly are relative terms, and subject to

wide diversity of interpretation. The pianissimo of a cultivated singer

is silence compared to the tone emitted by vocalists of the main

strength order, when required to produce soft tone. Secondly, the

direction is seldom or never found coupled with instruction upon the

vocal compass of children. Hence, it does not seem very strange that the

injunction "Sing softly" has not corrected vocal errors in school


It is not easy, it is even impossible, to accurately define soft

singing, and no attempt will be made further than to describe as clearly

as may be the degree of softness which it is necessary to insist upon if

we would secure the use of the thin or head register.

The subject of register has already been discussed, but it may not be

amiss to repeat just here that in the child larynx as in the adult the

head-register is that series of tones which are produced by the

vibration of the thin, inner edges of the vocal band. If breathing is

natural, and if the throat is open and relaxed, no strain in singing

this tone is possible. It is evident in a moment that children with

their thin, delicate vocal ligaments can make this tone even more easily

than adult sopranos, whose vocal ligaments are longer and thicker; and

it is also perfectly evident that no danger of strain to the vocal bands

is incurred when this voice is used, for all the muscles and ligaments

of the larynx are under far less tension than is required for the

production of tones in the thick register.

It must also be remembered in connection with this fact, that children

often enter school at five years of age, and that according to

physiologists the larynx does not reach the full growth in size,

incidental to childhood until the age of six years. We must then be

particularly careful with infant classes-- for the vocal bands of

children prior to six years of age are very, very weak. Speaking of

infant voices, Mr. W. M. Miller, in Browne and Behnke's afore-mentioned

work, "The Child-Voice," is quoted as saying; "Voice-training cannot

be attempted, but voice-destruction may be prevented. Soft singing is

the cure for all the ills of the vocal organs." It would be hard to find

a more terse or truthful statement than the first sentence of the above

as regards the voices of little children from five to seven or eight

years of age. It is unmitigated foolishness to talk about vocal training

as applied to children of that age. The voice-culture which is suited to

little children is that sort of culture which promotes growth-- food and

sleep and play. As well train a six months' old colt for the race track,

as attempt to develop the voice of a child of six or seven years with

exercises on o, and ah, pianissimo and fortissimo, crescendo,

diminuendo and swell. Their voices must be used in singing as

lightly as possible. This answers the question, how softly should they


Children during the first two or three years of school-life may be

permitted to sing from

[Music: e' e'']

or if the new pitch is used from

[Music: f' f'']

Two or three practical difficulties will at once occur to the teacher

with reference to songs and exercises which range lower than E first

line, and with reference to the customary teaching of the scale of C as

the initial step in singing.

The subject of compass of children's voices will be discussed at some

length in a following chapter, but for the present it may be said that

the difficulty with songs and exercises ranging below the pitch

indicated may be overcome easily by pitching the songs, etc., a tone or

two higher. If they then range too high, don't sing them, sing something

else. In teaching the scale, take E or F as the keynote, and sing either

one or the other of those scales first. The children must sing as softly

as possible in all their singing exercises, whether songs or note drill.

They should be taught to open their mouths well, to sit or stand erect

as the case may be, and under no circumstances should the instructor

sing with them. Too much importance can hardly be given to this last

statement. If teachers persist in leading the songs with their own

voices and in singing exercises with the children, they can and most

probably will defeat all efforts to secure the right tone in either the

first, or any grade up to that in which changed voices are found. This

sounds rather cynical, and might seem to imply that instructors cannot

sing well. The meaning, however, is quite different.

The quality or timbre of the adult woman's voice is wholly unlike that

of the child's thin register. Her medium tones, even when sung softly,

have a fuller and more resonant quality, and if she lead in songs, etc.,

the pupils, with the proverbial aptitude for imitation, will inevitably

endeavor to imitate her tone-quality. They can only do so by using the

thick register, which it is so desirable to utterly avoid. It is worse

yet for a man to lead the singing. Neither should one of the pupils be

allowed to lead, for not only will the one leading force the voice in

the effort, but a chance is offered to any ambitious youngster to pitch

in and outsing the leader; from all of which follows naturally the idea

that all prominence of individual voice must be discouraged, forbidden

even. The songs and exercises must be led, it is true, but by the

teacher and silently. Then, again, unless the teacher is silent she

cannot be a good critic. Think of a voice-trainer singing each solfeggio

and song with his pupil during the lesson.

Certainly it is often necessary for the teacher to sing, but only to

illustrate or correct, or to teach a song. In the last, if the teacher

will remain silent while the class repeat the line sung to them, and

will proceed in the same way until the whole is memorized by the class,

not only will time be economized, but the tone can be kept as soft as is

desired and individual shouters checked. Once more it must be insisted

that soft, very soft singing only, can be allowed. And this applies to

the entire compass used. Children of the ages mentioned can, as has

already been shown, break from the thin to the thick voice at any pitch,

it only requiring a little extra push for the upper tones.

Finally, as an excellent test to settle if the tone is soft enough to

ensure the use of the thin register beyond doubt, require the class to

sing so that no particular voice can be distinguished from the others,

which will make the tone as that of one voice, and perhaps lead you to

doubt if all are singing, until convinced by the movement of their

mouths. The tone will seem pretty light and thin, but will be sweet as

the trill of a bird.

To Distinguish Registers.

The difficulty which may be experienced in attempting to distinguish

between the two registers must not be disregarded. If the voices of

children were never entrusted to any save professional voice-teachers,

a very few hints upon their management would perhaps suffice, for the

ear of the teacher of voice and singing is presumably trained in the

differentiation in tone-quality occasioned by changes in the action of

the vocal mechanism. When, however, we reflect that of the thousands of

teachers in our public schools very few, indeed, have ever heard of

voice-registers, and much less been accustomed to note distinctions in

tone-timbre between them, the need of a detailed plan of procedure is


It is safe to assert that anyone with a musical ear can with a little

patience learn to distinguish one register from another. There is no

vocal transition so marked as the change from thick to thin register in

the child-voice, unless it be the change from the chest to the head or

falsetto in the man's voice. Suppose we take a class of say twelve from

the fourth year averaging nine years of age. Give them the pitch of C.

[Music: c']

Require them to sing up the scale loudly. As they reach the upper tone

[Music: c'']

stop them and ask them to sing that, and the two tones above very

softly. The change in tone will be quite apparent. The tone used in

ascending the scale of C, singing loudly, will be reedy, thick and

harsh-- the thick register. The tone upon

[Music: c'' d'' e'']

singing very softly, will be flute-like, thin and clear-- the thin

register. Again, let them sing E first line with full strength of voice

and then the octave lightly, or have them sing G second line, first

softly and then loudly, or, again, let them ascend the scale of E

singing as light a tone as possible, and then descend singing as loud as

they can. In each case the change from thick to thin voice, or vice

versa, will be illustrated; and in singing the scale of E as suggested,

the break of voice a little higher or lower in individual cases will be

noticed. It is quite possible that some members of the class may use the

thick voice on each tone of the descending scale beginning with the


Care must always be taken that in singing softly the mouth be well

opened. The tendency will be to close it when required to sing lightly,

but the tone, then, will be nothing but a humming noise. It may as well

be said here that a great deal of future trouble and labor may be

avoided, if, from the first, pupils are taught to keep the mouth fairly

well opened, and the lips sufficiently apart to permit the free emission

of tone. Let the lower jaw have a loose hinge, so to speak. It is well

enough to point out also that when the lower jaw drops, the tongue goes

down with it, and should remain extended along the floor of the mouth

with the tip against the teeth while vowel-sounds are sung.

There are many other ways than those already suggested, in which the

distinction between the registers may be shown. Let the whole class sing

[Music: d'' c'' b']

softly, and then the next lower tone or tones loudly. The thick quality

will be heard easily enough. Or from the room select a pupil, one of the

class who has, in the phraseology of the schoolroom, a good voice, to

sing the scale of D ascending and descending. If the pupil be not timid,

and the kind referred to are not usually, and if loud singing has been

customary, the tone will be coarse and reedy throughout. Now let another

pupil who has what is called a light voice, and who daily sits modestly

in the shade of his boisterous brother, sing the same scale. The tone in

all likelihood will be pure and flutey, at least upon the higher notes.

Take the scale of E now and have each pupil in the room sing it alone.

There may certainly be some who cannot sing the scale, and if the daily

singing has been harsh, the number may be large, but postponing the

consideration of these so-called monotones and directing the attention

wholly to the quality or timbre of tone used by the different pupils, it

may be observed that some use the thick voice only, some use the thin

voice, others break from the thick voice into the thin at one pitch as

they ascend, and from the thin to thick voice at a lower pitch as they

descend; and if required to sing again, may perhaps pass from one voice

to the other at different pitches. Others again may exhibit a blending

of the two voices at certain pitches. In fact, unless the degree of

power is suddenly changed, a break from the thick tone upon one note to

the thin tone upon the next note or vice versa seldom occurs.

The same illustrative tests may be applied to children of any grade, or

of any age up to the period when the voice changes, only the break will

occur lower with older pupils. Suppose, now, the teacher has obtained a

tolerably clear idea of the differences between the registers; she

should then arouse a perception of tone-quality in her pupils. Let the

beauty of soft, light tone as contrasted with loud, harsh tone be once

clearly demonstrated to a class, and the interest and best efforts of

every girl or boy who has the germ of music within them will be

enlisted. Those who grumble because they may not sing out good and loud

may be disregarded, and with a clear conscience. The future will most

likely reveal such incipient lovers of noisy music as pounders of drums

and blowers of brass.

Select now a number of the class who upon trial have been found to have

light, clear voices and who are not prone to shout. Let them sing

[Music: e'' {or} f'']

and then slowly descend the scale of E or F, singing each tone softly,

and those below C

[Music: c'']

very lightly. This will insure the uninterrupted use of the thin

register to the lowest note. Let them now sing up and down the scale

several times, observing the same caution when notes below C or B are

sung, and also insisting that no push be given to the upper notes. Now,

first excusing monotones, let the other pupils in the room sing first

down the scale and then up, imitating the quality and softness of tone

of the picked class. Recollect, you are asking something of your pupils

which it is perfectly easy for them to do. It may be that the strength

of well-formed habits stands opposed to the change, but, on the other

hand, every musical instinct latent, or partly awakened, is becoming

alert and proving the truth of your teaching better and faster than can

any finespun reasoning. Illustrate the difference in tone-quality

between the thick and thin register as often as it is necessary, to show

your pupils what you wish to avoid and how you wish them to sing. When

in doubt whether or not the thin quality is being sung, require softer

singing until you are sure. It is better to err upon the side of soft

singing than to take any chances.

In time teachers will become quick to detect the change in register, and

in time also the pupils who are trained to sing in the thin voice will

yield to the force of good habit, as they once did to bad habit, and

seldom offend by too loud or too harsh tone.

The inquiry may naturally have arisen ere this: Are syllables, i.e.,

do, re, mi, etc., to be used, or the vowel-sounds? It is

immaterial from the standpoint of tone-production, whether either or

both are used. Until children are thoroughly accustomed to sing softly,

they will be kept upon the thin register more easily when singing with a

vowel-sound, than when using the syllables. The reason is that the

articulation of the initial consonants of the syllables requires

considerable movement of the organs of speech, viz., the tongue, lips,

etc., and these movements are accompanied by a continually-increasing

outrush of air from the lungs, occasioning a corresponding increase in

the volume of sound. Adult voices show the same tendency to increase the

volume of tone when first applying words to a passage practiced

pianissimo with a vowel-sound. It is advisable then to sing scales and

drill upon them with a vowel-sound, and to recur to the same drill for a

corrective, when a tendency to use the thick voice in singing note

exercises appears.

Scale drill may be carried on as follows: If the scales are written upon

a blackboard staff, they may from day to day be in different keys. It is

a very easy matter to extend the scale neither above nor below the

pitches within which it is desired to confine the voice. For example,

the scale of E or F may be written complete, that of G as follows:

[Music: {scale in G running down to e' and up to e''}]

or A

[Music: {scale in A running down to e' and up to f#''}]

or B{b}

[Music: {scale in B{b} running down to e{b}' and up to f''}]

and so on. Now let the teacher with a pointer direct the singing of the

class upon the selected scale in such a manner as to secure the desired

result in tone, and incidentally a familiarity with pitch relations,

etc. Of course, if charts are used the trouble of writing scales is

saved, only it is advised that the notes lying outside the prescribed

compass be omitted in the lower grades entirely, and in the upper until

the habit of good tone is established, when, of course, the tones may be

carried below E with safety. The extent and variety of vocal drill which

can be given with a pointer and a scale of notes is wonderful; but

nothing more need be now suggested, than those exercises which are

peculiarly intended to secure good tone, and fix good vocal habits,

although it must be evident that all such drill is very far-reaching in

its effects.

A few exercises which are very simple are here suggested. First, taking

the scale of

[Music: {scale in F running down to e' and up to f''}]

for example. Let the teacher, after the pitch of the keynote is given to

the class, place the pointer upon F, and slowly moving it from note to

note, ascend and descend the scale, the class singing a continuous tone

upon some vowel, o for instance. The pointer should be passed from

note to note in such a manner that the eye can easily follow it. If the

notes are indicated to the class by a series of dabs at the chart or

blackboard, the pointer each time being carried away from the note

several inches, and then aimed at the next note and so on, the eye

becomes weary in trying to follow its movements, and the mental energy

of the pupils, which should be concentrated upon tone, is wasted in

watching the gyrations of the pointer. If, on the other hand, the

pointer is made to glide from note to note, passing very quickly over

intervening spaces, then the eye is not wearied in trying to follow it.

These directions may seem pretty trivial, but practical experience has

proved their importance. The vowel o is suggested because it has been

found easier to secure the use of the head-register with this vowel than

with ah, when it is sought to break up the habit of singing loudly and


The term continuous tone used to describe the style of singing desired

is meant literally. If the class in this scale-drill all stop and take

breath at the same time, making frequent breaks in the continuity of the

tone, there will be found with each new attack a tendency to increase in

volume of sound. For certain reasons, which will be explained in the

chapter on breath-management, the attack of tone will become more and

more explosive, demanding constant repression. This irritating tendency

may, in a short time, be almost entirely overcome, if, instead of

letting the class take breath and attack simultaneously, each pupil is

told to take breath only when he or she is obliged to, and then at once

and softly to join again with the others. This will effect the

continuous tone, useful not alone as a corrective for the tendencies to

loud singing, but also to establish good breathing-habits.

This same swift, silent breath-taking and succeeding soft attack of tone

must be insisted upon in all school singing.

The exercise already suggested is slow singing or rapid singing of the

scale with the vowel o softly, and with continuous tones. Other simple

exercises are obtained by repetitions of the following exercise figures

at higher or lower pitches throughout an entire scale, or parts of a

scale, ascending and descending progressively:

[Transcriber's Note:

The exercises in Figure I are in the key of F in 4/4 time; those in

Figure II are in E, 6/8 time; and those in Figure III are in B{b},

4/4 time on eighth notes. All text is from the original.]


[Music: Ascending.

(Same figure tone higher.)

(Again raised.) etc.]

[Music: Descending.

(Same figure tone lower.)

(Again lowered) etc.]

The next figure, in which the voice ascends or descends four tones at

each progressive repetition, has a different rhythm.


[Music: Ascending.

(Same figure raised.)

(Again raised.) etc.]

[Music: Descending.

(Same, tone lower.)

(Still lower.) etc.]

Another exercise figure is to use five ascending and descending tones.

In the illustration which follows, in the key of B flat, it is shown how

the exercises may be sung, beginning upon the keynote, and keeping

within the voice-compass.

[Music: FIGURE III. etc.]

[Music: (Same Ex. inverted.) etc.]

These exercises are to be sung with vowel-sounds, softly, four measures

with one breath, if possible, and in strict time.

Only so many of these tone-groups may be sung in any one scale, as lie

within the extremes of pitch set for the grade, but if different scales

and upward and downward extensions of the same be used, then all

possible combinations of tones in the major scale may be sung, that is,

these exercise figures may upon a piano be repeated seven times in any

key, in phrases of four measures each, both ascending and descending,

but, owing to the limitations of the vocal compass, only a certain

number of ascending or descending phrases can be sung in any one key.

While it is suggested that drill upon these musical figures or groups of

tones may be given from scales, the teacher tracing out the tones with a

pointer with a rhythmical movement, yet it is still better to practice

these groups or some of them from memory, the teacher keeping time for

and directing the class.

[NOTE.--The directions given are for rooms in which the teacher

has only a pitch pipe or tuning-fork to get pitch from. If there

is a piano the drill work for tone will be conducted a little


Pages of musical phrases adapted to vocal drill might be given, but to

what end except to produce confusion. Our greatest singers use but few

exercises to keep their voices in good condition, but they practice them

very often. The exercises suggested are intended for daily practice, and

the fewer in number and simpler in form they are, the better will be the

results in tone. This vocal drill which should precede or begin the

daily music lesson must not be for over five minutes at most. Half of

that time is enough, if it be spent in singing, and not frittered away

in useless talk, and questions and answers. A practical application of

the vocal drill is to be made to the note-singing from the book and

chart, and to the school repertoire of songs.

The phrases voice-culture, voice-training, voice-development, etc., have

been avoided in treating the subject of children's voices, because of

possible misapprehension of their intended meaning. The terms are not,

of course, inapplicable to children's voices, but they must convey quite

a different significance than they do when applied to the adult voice.

In each case, the end of voice-culture is the formation of correct vocal

habits; but it would seem, that while it is possible to develop the

adult voice very considerably in power, range and flexibility, we ought,

in dealing with children's voices, to adopt those methods which will

protect weak and growing organs. The aim is not more power, but beauty

and purity rather. It should not be inferred that beauty of tone is not

equally the aim in culture of the adult voice, but in that case it is

consistent with development of strength and brilliancy of voice, while

with young children it is not. If the tone is clear, beautiful, well

poised, and under the singer's control, then the training is along safe

lines. If the tone is bad, harsh, pinched or throaty, then the training

is along unsafe lines. When the parts act harmoniously together, and

there is a proper and normal adjustment of all the organs concerned in

the production of tone, the result is good. Bad tone follows from the

ill-adjustment of the parts concerned in voice production. It is the

office of the teacher to correct this ill-adjustment and bring about a

perfect, or nearly perfect functional action. The teacher must judge of

the proper or improper action of the parts concerned in tone production

by the sense of hearing. No accumulation of scientific knowledge can

take the place of a careful and alert critical faculty in training

voice. Tone color must guide the school teacher in determining register

as it does the professional voice trainer. But we can also call the

mental perceptions of the child to our aid, and will find a more lively

sense of discrimination in tone quality than the average adult shows. We

can encourage the growth of high ideals of tone-beauty. We can cultivate

nice discrimination. We can, in short, use music in our schools not to

dull, but to quicken, the musical sensibilities of childhood.