Hygiene Of The Voice

I should say that no one should be more scrupulous in his habits than

the singer. It is more difficult to keep the keen edge of the voice in

good repair than that of the sharpest razor, and nothing should be done

to dull it. No one more than the singer requires to observe the moral

and physical laws. The singer should always be in training, always

in the pink of condition. By nature, women should be more subject to

irment of voice than men. But they are not. They are brought up

to take better care of themselves and, to put it bluntly, to behave

themselves better. As a result, in spite of recurring disorders, they

stand up and do the work demanded of them when men do not or cannot.

Every pupil should be instructed to fall naturally into an attitude of

attention when coming into the presence of the teacher--as much so as

in the presence of a distinguished host or hostess. Morale, esprit

de corps, cannot be instilled too soon. They may well be considered

psychical elements in general vocal hygiene.

Personal cleanliness is, of course, one of the first requisites to

health. But, while bathing should be regular, it should not be extreme.

A cold bath stimulates at first, but is followed by a bad reaction in

a few hours. A hot bath, followed by exposure to the open air or a

draught, is apt to develop a cold by night. I recommend for singers

a lukewarm bath.

When singers have had their hair cut, they should watch themselves

carefully for the next twenty-four hours. If possible, they should have

it cut shortly before going to bed and should protect the head with a

light hood. Some singers catch cold every time they have their hair cut,

and bald-headed singers always are catching cold. And while on this

subject, it cannot be stated emphatically enough that any hair tonic

that stimulates the scalp too much is bad. The glands in the scalp

absorb the lead, cantharides, cayenne pepper, or whatever the specific

poison in the tonic may be; this is carried to the respiratory tract,

and creates the symptoms of a cold.

Singers are not apt to take much exercise. For this reason they should

be careful in their diet. They should avoid beef, lamb and mutton. The

white meat of fowl is the best meat diet for the vocalist. Milk, eggs,

toasted bread, string beans, spinach, lettuce, rice and barley are

excellent. Potatoes should be mashed, with milk and butter. Fruit is

better taken stewed and with little sugar. Ice cream clears the voice

for about twenty minutes, but the reaction is bad.

Regarding tea and coffee, inasmuch as a singer is not a cat on a back

fence, but a human being, there is no reason why he should not be

permitted to follow the social law in respect to these, provided he is

not a sufferer from indigestion. In fact, there are times when a cup of

coffee taken at the right moment will carry a singer, tired from travel

or other cause, over a crisis. There can be no harm in a cup of coffee

(Java and Mocha mixed), a cup of Phillip's Digestible cocoa, or a cup of

tea (Oolong or Tetley's Ceylon) for the singer who is in good condition.

I always have held that a singer could drink a small quantity of

alcohol--claret, for example--if he takes with it enough lithia or other

alkaline water to counteract the acid in the wine. Smoking, however, is

very injurious. A famous tenor of to-day whispered during a performance

in the Metropolitan Opera House to the prima donna in the cast, "I

smoked too many cigarettes yesterday; I feel it in my voice." Myron W.

Whitney always left off smoking for two weeks before the Worcester


For travel the singer should be prepared for atmospheric changes as no

one else in the world. He should be especially cautious at night. A

singer who filled an engagement in Savannah started from there for the

North at night. He had been in perfect voice. As the night was warm he

left one of the windows of his berth open. At Washington he woke up with

cold. It was snowing, and snow had come in through the open window on to

his berth. His nose was "stuffed." He had no voice when he reached New

York. This was due to the sudden intensification of all the things

that belong to a cold. If he had worn a dressing-gown with a hood--not

necessarily a heavy one--that would have saved him. A garment of that

kind should be worn by singers at night when traveling. They can

regulate the bed-covering accordingly, so as not to be too warm.

Clothing should give correct aeration for the season. Silk underclothing

I regard as dangerous, because silk is a non-conductor. Good Lisle

thread or flannel giving proper aeration is excellent. No one should be

more careful about their clothing than New Yorkers, because of the

sudden changes in temperature there. Stiff, high collars are injurious,

because they are irritants to blood-vessels and nerves and are

non-conductors. Collars should be worn from a quarter to half an inch

away from the skin, for the less the Adam's apple--the highest forward

point of the larynx--is irritated, the better.

There are certain periods of the year and even one special day when

singers should especially look out for their voices. From January

15th-20th is the period of January thaw and of colds from melting snow.

From March 19th-25th the earth is beginning to ferment and this is a

period for spring fever and intestinal troubles, which indirectly affect

the voice. May 9th usually is cold and rainy. The latter part of May and

nearly all June, rose cold or June cold is prevalent. About August 1st

come the dog days and hay fever. In fact, from August 1st until the

autumnal equinox is an anxious time for the singer. From November

11th-25th there is apt to be alternate cold and warm weather conducive

to asthma.

With the singer, more even than with any one else, the ounce of

prevention is the pound of cure. The first sneeze should send the singer

to his physician; and he also should realize--as only too few people

do--that after a cold nature requires from a week to nine days to repair

the damaged processes, and that he should not work too soon. Rest is a

great cure.

One of the most distinguished French laryngologists, Dr. G. Poyet, was

interviewed for the European edition of the N. Y. Herald on the

subject of hygiene for the singer. Although what Dr. Poyet says on some

points is a repetition of matters already gone over here, while other

points will be more thoroughly gone into than was possible for him in

the space at his command, a summary of what this clever man had to say

on a subject of such importance to the singer will serve capitally the

purpose of this chapter.

Dr. Poyet began by saying that, since the voice has intimate relationship

with the entire organism, it follows that a well-understood hygiene

should concern the totality of the functions. First of all, it is

indispensable to avoid any cause of disturbance of the circulation, and

particularly of the pulmonary functions.

"The singer, as much as possible, should inhabit sufficiently large

apartments. He should avoid rooms warmed by apparatus which may produce

carbonic acid or which remove from the air the watery vapor it contains

normally. Every day on rising he should practise exercises in deep

breathing and, if possible, some of the gymnastic exercises which it is

possible to practise in a room. Walking is undoubtedly the best

exercise, and every singer who is careful of the soundness of his

lungs--which is equivalent to the soundness of his voice--should walk

for an hour every morning before his repast." (This advice of Dr. Poyet

can hardly be taken literally, and should be determined largely by the

physique of the individual.)

In order to avoid colds, bronchitis, sore throat, catarrhal laryngitis,

the singer should regulate in a fitting manner the thickness of his

clothing in accordance with the prevailing temperature. If by misfortune

he catches cold, a little laryngitis, a coryza, all of which cause

hoarseness, he should immediately abstain from singing. Neglect of this

rule may bring about the persistence of vocal accidents often very

long in curing. It is because professional singers cannot interrupt

their work in such cases that they more often than any others suffer

from laryngitis and above all in the so dangerous form of chronic

inflammation of the vocal cords, which determines the deplorable

"singers' nodules."

The cutaneous secretions should be watched in persons who have need

of a clear voice. Almost all catarrhal affections of the respiratory

organs are due to chills. Advice is therefore given to every person who

has practised violent singing-exercises, which cause perspiration,

immediately to change his clothing after having been rubbed down with

a horsehair glove or with flannel sprinkled with alcohol.

Like the respiration, the alimentation ought to be watched by the

singer. As much as possible during the process of digestion no violent

or prolonged singing-exercise should be undertaken. Digestive troubles

are often the cause of deterioration of the voice, either because the

swelling and distension of the stomach by gas trammels the play of the

diaphragm, and consequently that of the lungs, or because intestinal

troubles bring on constipation or diarrhoea.

Very nutritive and very digestible food should be chosen for a singer,

and a mixed alimentation should be employed. Among drinks preference

should be given to wine and beer. Alcoholic liquors, Dr. Poyet thinks,

should be absolutely forbidden. However, he advises a singer in the

course of a fatiguing performance sometimes to moisten the throat with,

and even to take a few mouthfuls of, cold water, to which has been added

a little old cognac or "vin de coca"; but never, on any account, to take

an iced drink just after singing.

Everybody who sings ought first to observe in the strictest manner

the rules of general hygiene. Thanks to this hygiene it is possible

completely to develop all the faculties of the larynx and to regulate

the voice in such manner as to assure its regular operation. General

hygiene, moreover, will permit the singer to preserve himself from the

external influences which may bring about aphony or dysphony, that is,

loss of voice or difficulty of voice.

A person who sings should always assume a natural attitude, since this

aids the play of the respiratory organs. This play should be mixed, that

is to say, costal and diaphragmatic. The respiration should be well

regulated. The singer ought never to take too sudden inspirations, for

he would thus run the risk of rapidly irritating the vocal cords. When

it is a question of vocal exercises, one always should proceed from the

simple to the complex, taking care not to prolong the exercises at the

beginning. That is, the first singing-exercises should not be too

prolonged. Moreover, in these first exercises the singer should never

attempt to attain the extreme notes of his vocal range. The exercises

should lie in the middle register.

Keen impressions, whether of joy or pain, are, in Dr. Poyet's opinion,

bad for the voice. Great fear may cause a passing but instantaneous loss

of voice. "Vox faucibus haesit." The emotion of singing in public, as

everyone knows, prevents many artists from showing their full capacity.

Only custom, and sometimes reasoning, can free them from "stage-fright."

People who sing, and who desire to preserve the integrity of their

voice, should abstain from smoking. Because some singers--Faure, in

particular--have had a brilliant career despite the inveterate use of

tobacco, there is no reason that this example should be followed.

Tobacco irritates the pharynx, reddens the vocal cords, and may cause

heart troubles harmful to singing.

Pungent scents should be proscribed for singers. The odors of some

flowers are for certain artists the cause of persistent hoarseness.

Mme. Carvalho could not endure the scent of violets, which instantly

caused her to lose her voice. Scents often determine a rapid congestion

of the mucous membrane of the nose to such an extent that in certain

persons they cause veritable attacks of asthma. Dr. Poyet also puts

singers on their guard against scented toilet powder. "I knew," he says,

"a great singer who was obliged to renounce the use of the toilet powder

called 'a la Marechale.'"

In ending the interview, he calls attention to the fact that the larynx,

while very delicate, is an extremely resistant organ, since it can face

fatigues that no other human organ could support; but because it shows

signs of fatigue only by hoarseness, is no reason to call on it for

too prolonged efforts. "To work two hours a day, either in study or

in singing, seems to me a maximum that should not be overstepped by a

person careful of his vocal health."

Another distinguished foreign specialist is Dr. N. J. Poock van Baggen,

of The Hague, Holland, who has contributed to the Medical Record a

series of articles on throat diseases caused by misuse of the voice,

and their cure.[A]

[Footnote A: These articles have been reprinted in four slim but

interesting pamphlets published by William Wood & Co., New York.]

Clergyman's sore throat, as Dr. Van Baggen says, is a disease known

to every throat specialist. "It is produced by misuse of the voice,

and the same disease, often in more aggravated form, is produced in

the singer and by the same cause. The patient, after singing, will

experience a dry and hot feeling in the pharynx and larynx, irritation,

and a frequent cough. Examination of the patient discloses catarrh of

the pharynx and of the larynx; congested and swollen mucous membrane;

pillars of the fauces swollen and unduly developed; all these symptoms

accompanied by paresis of the vocal cords, which are red or yellow and

do not approximate well. To this paresis of the cords is united a

paresis of certain muscles of the larynx; to which is added, in serious

cases, a swelling of the aryepiglottic ligament."

That this disorder is not organic, but functional--not caused by

enlarged tonsils, adenoids, nasal polypus or malformation of the tongue,

but by misuse of the voice--can be proved by the beneficial effect

produced upon the organs by complete rest from singing; the symptoms

sometimes disappearing entirely, only to reappear, however, when singing

is resumed--further proof that misuse of the voice is at the root of

the evil.

"Dividing the muscles into those used in breathing, in articulation of

consonants and in vowel enunciation, the physician will find that in

his patient there is no proper coordination between these three groups

of muscles--that through faulty respiration and articulation the

respiratory and articular muscles fail to support sufficiently the vocal

muscles, with the result that the vibration of the vocal cords is

weakened. One fault begets another. The faulty use of the respiratory

muscles directs the vibrating air-column to the soft palate, where the

tone is so smothered that the singer has to over-exert himself to be

heard, instead of directing it against the hard palate, where it would

gain vibrance and carrying quality."

The faulty use of the muscles of articulation is disclosed when the back

of the tongue rises like a flabby partition between the opening of the

mouth and the pharynx, the consonants being formed thereby far back in

the mouth, instead of forward with the tip or middle of the tongue

leaning against the hard palate. The articulation is, in consequence,

thick and dull. The vocal muscles are contracted to an unnatural degree,

and every vocal tone is accompanied by an audible shock or spasm of the

glottis. All this adds to the exertion required of the singer to make

himself heard, an exertion and strain which eventually result in the

symptoms that have been described, and which most singers believe due

to colds and other troubles, whereas they are the result of the singer's

own misuse of his voice.

I have said that correct breathing is one of the fundamentals of correct

voice-production. No wonder, therefore, that incorrect breathing is one

of the most potent factors in the misuse of the voice that sends the

singer as a patient to the physician. I have stated that there are three

kinds of breathing--clavicular, costal and diaphragmatic; and these

have been described. It has also been pointed out that the teacher who

instructs in one kind of breathing to the exclusion of the other two

makes a serious mistake. For in correct breathing, all three are

coordinated. Usually it is spoken of as mixed costal and diaphragmatic.

In truth, however, it is mixed costal, diaphragmatic and clavicular;

but, aside from the awkwardness of combining all three terms in

characterizing correct breathing, the clavicles play a less important

part in it than the diaphragm and the ribs. In their relative importance

to correct breathing the diaphragm comes first, the ribs next and then

the clavicles. I feel certain that Dr. Poyet means the coordination of

the three when he speaks of mixed costal and diaphragmatic breathing,

and that Dr. Van Baggen also means this when he speaks of diaphragmatic

breathing. In fact, his description of diaphragmatic breathing involves

the ribs; and if he omits mention of the clavicles, this may be

explained by the slight part they play in correct breathing, merely

topping off, as it were, the action of diaphragm and ribs.

Dr. Van Baggen, in the breathing-exercises which he describes as

beneficial for restoring a voice impaired by misuse, lays emphasis on

the control of expiration and on the brief retention of the breath

before exhaling it. In his first exercise the abdomen is pushed forward

and contracted, the idea of breathing being excluded in order to

concentrate attention upon making the movements correctly.

The second exercise consists of these same movements, but now combined

with inspiration and expiration through the nostrils. When first

started, the exercises are limited to a few minutes four or five times

a day. When this method of breathing has become natural to the patient,

there is added the brief retention of the breath and expiration under

control--that is, gradual expiration. This constitutes the third


In this it is recommended to inhale slowly through the mouth, which

should be in position to pronounce f, that is, not too open. Hold the

breath while mentally counting three. Exhale, pronouncing a prolonged

s and finishing on t. The pronunciation of f during inhalation

and of s and t during exhalation is advised in order to provide

evidence that inhalation and exhalation are carried out evenly and

without shaking or breaks.

Built upon this is the exercise for teaching the vocalist to inhale

quickly, hold his breath a brief space, and exhale as slowly as possible,

as must be done in singing. The inspiration now is through the nostrils;

the pause is not quite so long, but the expiration on s and t is

longer--say as mentally counting 40 would compare with counting 10.

Whoever has read carefully the chapters on breathing in this book will

have discovered by this time that the breathing-exercises just described

lead up to the principles of artistic breathing set forth in those

chapters; and that whoever has read them and will carry them out never

will require breathing-exercises to correct misuse of the voice from

that source, because his breathing will be absolutely correct. The same

is true of the exercises given by Dr. Van Baggen to make the

breathing-muscles cooperate with the articulation and vocal muscles.

Nevertheless, since there are people who do not read carefully, or who

go along in the same old faulty way until brought up suddenly by the

dire effects of misusing the voice, I may add that Dr. Van Baggen's

exercises for articulation will be found in detail in the pamphlets


When a singer who is suffering from misuse of the voice comes to a

specialist for treatment, the specialist must for the moment become a

singing-teacher and instruct the singer in the artistic coordination of

breathing, articulation and vocal muscles. The patient, having gained

proper breath-control and having had impressed upon him the importance

of forward placement and of the normal position of the tongue to correct

articulation of consonants, is ready for correction of the faulty

action of the vocal cords. This faulty action is due chiefly to faulty

attack--a faulty coup de glotte--manifest mainly on initial vowels in

an audible stroke, shock or check and in the emission of unvocalized

breath. This latter is the so-called spiritus asper, because the

emission of unvocalized breath which precedes phonation gives an

aspirated or h sound, so that, instead of ah, we hear haa. The

spiritus asper is caused by a too slow contraction of the vocal cords

and their too gradual approach for phonation.

In the audible shock of the glottis (sometimes called the "check

glottid") the vocal cords are pressed together and the retained breath

causes a shock or explosion. Dr. Van Baggen says that the vowel which

is thus formed might be called an articulated vowel, which accurately

describes the effect, the vowel being enunciated with the circumstance

of the articulated consonant instead of with the ease of the phonated


With a normal attack--the spiritus lenis in contradistinction to the

spiritus asper--the glottis is in position for phonation at the moment

breath passes through it. No unvocalized breath precedes it and no

explosion follows it. The vowel-attack is clear, precise and distinct.

Not only is the voice-emission pure, but there is no needless fatigue

of voice, because all superfluous movement of the glottis is avoided.

The "check glottid" or glottic shock, on the other hand, involves an

undue effort of the vocal muscles, and the compression of the vocal

cords causes irritation. The audible shock of the glottis cannot be

avoided when it is necessary to accentuate a word beginning with an

initial vowel. Constantly used, however, it is part of the misuse of

the voice. Dr. Van Baggen recommends, as a method of correcting the

too frequent use of the audible shock, that when a word beginning with

an initial vowel appears in the middle of a phrase, this word should

be united to the preceding one, somewhat after the manner (but more

lightly) of the French verbal "liaison," in which the final consonant

of a word becomes the initial consonant of the following word beginning

with a vowel. For example in "vous avez," the s of "vous" is drawn

over to and pronounced with the a of "avez," the effect being

"vou-z-avez." If the phrase that is to be sung commences with a word

beginning with an initial vowel, care must be taken to employ the normal

coup de glotte, or spiritus lenis.

Although I have devoted two chapters to the registers of the voice,

I shall also quote Dr. Van Baggen on the faulty use of these and the

physical ills that result therefrom, since there are but few singers who

do not know the difficulties which the registers of the voice offer; and

many who spoil their voices forever by the misuse of those registers.

Generally, the misuse consists in the exaggeration of a lower register

at the expense of the higher; that is, in order to produce "big tone,"

forcing a register up instead of bringing the higher one down.

Especially with dramatic singers, this fault is frequent. There is no

voice, however strong it may be, which can endure this overstraining of

the registers, and sooner or later the singer must experience the

disastrous results of his or her fault--hoarseness, fatigue, roughness,

and impureness in singing, and last, but not least, premature wearing

out of the vocal organs.

The exaggeration of the registers is generally united with faulty

breathing, which first of all must be corrected. Only after good results

have been obtained with regard to breath practice, can exercises for the

correction of the use of the registers be made with success.

When the fault consists in the exaggeration of the low register, the

singing in this register must be avoided for some time; when both the

low and middle registers have been used beyond their limit, exercises

can at first be sung only in the high register.

The pupil, while practising (in the first case in the middle and high

register, in the second only in the high register), must limit himself

to a few tones, singing always downwards and very softly. The tones will

be weak, husky, and often impure in the beginning; by and by, however,

they will improve. When those few tones are pure and clear, the pupil

may extend the exercises downwards, always singing pianissimo and

avoiding the lower register. The high and middle registers, or only the

high register, must be extended downwards as far as possible. Only after

all the tones, sung as indicated, are clear and pure and have gained

sufficiently in strength, may the low or the low and middle registers

be used again, but even then not more than is strictly necessary.

The extending downwards of a higher register is also an excellent help

in smoothing out the break in the voice at the passage from one register

to the other. This extending downwards of the higher registers always

can be done without any danger to the voice. The "timbre" of the voice

will even gain considerably in brilliancy and fullness by exercising in

this way.

Closely united to the stretching and relaxing of the vocal ligaments is

the moving up and down of the larynx. Many believe that the larynx must

be kept as motionless as possible and in a low position. The large

number of voices which have been spoilt by this unnatural fixed position

of the voice-box are a manifest proof of the evil of this way of

operating, against which every singer must be warned.

The larynx must be completely free in its movement, its positions

varying according to each tone and to the pronunciation of each vowel.

We can easily follow the movement of the larynx by laying the finger on

the prominence in the throat formed by the junction of the two wings of

the thyroid cartilage, commonly called "Adam's apple." When pronouncing

successively "oo, ow, oh, ah, eh, ay, ee," we shall notice that the

voice-box rises and inclines slightly backwards; and, while at "oo" its

position is lowest, it is highest at "ee."

Also when singing upwards we feel the larynx going up, while the

inclination backwards can be observed even better than when pronouncing

the vowels. Especially when singing a high tone after a low one we can

feel how considerably the position of the larynx changes, and it is

clear that every obstruction in its movement hinders normal


When examining the patient the physician should observe the action of

the larynx and feel if there are no spasmodic movements and if the

flexibility is satisfactory. The action of the larynx can be exercised

and improved by singing seconds, thirds, etc. The keynote always may

be sung on oo; the second, third, etc., on ee.