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Hearing Tone Accurately

One of the most incomprehensible things about the study of singing for the young pupil—and, alas, in too many cases for those not so young!—is his inability to judge accurately of the quality of his own tone. At first this is so disconcerting, so contrary to all his preconceived ideas, that he is doubtful of the fact and apt to be resentful. This is one of the innumerable phases during the study of the art of singing where the teacher must use tact, which means “sympathetic appreciation of the pupil’s point of view.”

The average young pupil believes that if he knows anything in this world it is when he makes a good tone with his own voice. This appeals to everybody’s common sense, for anybody would think that if he knew anything at all it was the sound of his own voice. But in the study of singing the beginnings of practically all the difficulties lie in this fact, that the individual cannot hear with any accuracy the quality of his own tone. Yet as the contrary belief is so widespread and firmly fixed the teacher must handle the question with fine understanding if he is to produce any good results and maintain his authority.

Until the young student has learned to recognize good tone and to know accurately when he is making the right kind and when he is off the track, his practice will be of little value, his progress slow because he has no confidence in himself. This is one of the many reasons why it takes time to develop a voice and also why most parents and all admiring and criticizing friends must somehow be suppressed during this formative period.

How does it happen that this apparent paradox is true—that the student cannot tell accurately the sound of his own voice? Alas, this is but one more manifestation of the mystery of nature, since the most difficult task we are ever called on to solve is to understand ourselves, learn our own powers and how to make them of use. Was it not Burns who said, “Oh! wad some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as ithers see us”?

Have you never said to yourself, if not out loud to your neighbor, after hearing some young aspirant for vocal fame, “Well, if I sang like that, at least I would have sense enough to keep my mouth closed when anybody could hear me”? We all have thought it time after time, even if we may have been kind enough, or discreet enough, to keep our thoughts to ourselves. Yet taking these nasal, throaty, stiff and generally unpleasant voices and making something agreeable out of them is the regular daily routine of the real teacher.

Take the young person whose singing so much displeased you. Do you imagine that it sounded unpleasant to her? Have you not known many instances in which, although you thought it bad, the individual who was doing the singing gave every evidence of thinking that it was very good? The fact that she was mistaken about it does not prove that she was a fool—not by any means! She might be very intelligent, with fine natural talent for music and excellent vocal material, and despite all this sing very badly and be all the time blissfully unconscious of the fact.

If she comes to the studio of a vocal teacher he should know the moment she begins to sing that it is bad, and if he is worth a pinch of salt he will have to tell

her so. He must do it in a sympathetic way, not with any mealy-mouthed fear of telling the truth, but with appreciation for her mistake, and make her begin to realize it for herself. When she realizes that something is wrong, that her tone is not as good as it ought to be, while it will of course be something of a shock, if she, too, is worth a pinch of salt she will wish to correct her errors and learn to do something that shall be good. When two such people, teacher and student, come together they will produce results that will be worth something. These are the only people we are talking about, people who mean business and wish to do something worth while.

Beauty of Tone

Beauty of tone is the only thing which gives real value to a voice, since if there be beauty of tone people will like to listen to the singer. If people like to hear you sing then you are worth something, whereas if they do not wish to listen to you because the voice is unpleasant then it does not make much if any difference how high you can sing, or how long, or how loud, or how much technic you have gained. Young students are apt to be forgetful of this fundamental fact and in their desire for power and range are apt to overlook the elemental fact of beauty. But if they develop their vocal powers to the point of public appearance the audience will quickly set them right about this matter. The public may not know much about the details of vocal technic, but it is very sensitive to beauty of tone, and since it is the public for whose benefit you are seeking to develop your powers you would better keep this simple truth clearly in mind. By so doing you will save yourselves many tears and much wasted effort. This is a fact.

Beauty of tone comes as the result of freedom of tone production. This was the foundation of the old Italian method. The older Italians learned this centuries ago and it was the understanding of this law that enabled them to produce so many great singers. It is as true to-day as it was a hundred years ago. Freedom of tone production means precisely what it says. The absence of strain or rigidity so that the vocal mechanism can function with freedom and elasticity.

The young student almost invariably thinks power and range rather than beauty of tone. If he can sing a big high note he feels that he has done something worth while. But it may have been forced, of unpleasant quality and so produced as to work inevitable injury to his voice if persisted in. It is not merely the fault of youth, it is the very law of life this desire for big returns quickly attained. It is but another manifestation of that human instinct for big returns which enables the “get-rich-quick” men to flourish the world over. Everywhere there have to be laws to prevent people from being victimized because of their impatience. They will even try to cheat themselves and nowhere more than in the vocal studio.

Of course, if you can make a fine tone, then the more you have of it the better off you are. But you must be sure that it is a fine tone—and here is the rub. To learn to distinguish between good tones and bad tones you will have to go to a good voice teacher, one who knows his business and is not afraid of telling the truth.


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