The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About

Natural Vocalism.

Many find the art of Voice-Production a sub­tle matter beyond their comprehension; yet there is none so facile, and that for a very excellent reason, viz.: the mechanism of the instrument is perfect. Given health, and an in­telligent study of the simple laws of pressure and resistance, the correct use of the voice is bound to follow. The beauty of the voice is another matter. A good quality as a foundation upon which to raise, by its enhancement and development, a beautiful superstructure, is a sine qua non for the singer who aspires to stand on the plane of artistic eminence.

Automatic Breath Control.

The secret of correct vocalization lies in automatic breath-control, with all unnatural obstructions above the larynx eliminated. All that is necessary for natural inspiration is correct position, followed by harmonious action of all the muscles concerned in enlarging the capacity of the chest-cavity. If the movements of the chest are sluggish, they must be stimulated by exercises; but care must be taken that the raising of the chest-walls be uniform and in correspondence with the descent of the diaphragm, all the inspiratory muscles contracting in harmony to produce a symmetrical increase in capacity of the chest-cavity. The raising of the chest-walls, and the descent of the diaphragm, must be simultaneous with the opening of the mouth. As the capacity of the interior is enlarged, there will be a diminution in pressure of the air in the lungs, and a new supply will enter through the mouth, larynx, and trachea, to equalize the pressures within and without the chest. There is only one proper way to accomplish this, viz.: to expand the body freely, easily, and nat­urally throughout. Then the lungs will be filled in­stantaneously. Raising the shoulders, assuming the “active chest,” relaxing the abdominal muscles, or combinations and modifications of these movements are inadequate; for it is evident that by such con­strained effort the form of the chest will be abnor­mal, one portion being enlarged at the expense of another; the descent of the diaphragm will be seri­ously hampered, and the expansion of the lungs be disproportionate and circumscribed. Moreover, the attention being directed to the institution and main­tenance of an unnatural form of the chest, the mouth will be improperly opened, and the tone started be­fore a quantity of air sufficient for an inflation of the lungs commensurate with the prescribed chest-form has entered; and the result will be an internal pressure appreciably below the external. The laws of atmospheric pressure will demand that the ca­pacity of the chest-cavity be immediately diminished in order to equalize the pressures internal and ex­ternal to the chest; and, on attempting to utilize the inspired air in song, a speedy collapse will result. Symmetrical decrease in size of the chest-form can­not occur; too great a strain will be put upon the groups of inspiratory muscles maintaining the abnor­mal position; physical distress will be followed by unnatural conditions of the throat; control will be impossible; outraged Nature will assert itself, and the air escape prodigally through the larynx.

The atmospheric pressure on the inside and out­side of the chest must be practically equal; and to prolong and utilize the singing-breath there must be a condition of repose within the diminishing lungs, viz.: the density of the air, and consequent pressure within must correspond with that external to the chest.

Balance of Muscular Action.

To utilize the singing-breath freely and entirely, the action of the muscles of expiration, which pro­duce a diminution in size of the chest and lungs, must be continuously resisted by their opposing muscles, that the process may be as gradual as pos­sible, and equilibrium maintained. Such resistance is necessary, not only for controlling the action of the expiratory muscles, but also because the tendency of the chest-walls is to relax rapidly by virtue of their elasticity, as in our ordinary respiration. As the abdominal muscles are the strongest agents in expiration, costal resistance is not sufficient for their control. The upward pressure they exert upon the floor of the chest-cavity must be governed as well as their depression of the anterior chest-wall. This is accomplished by the diaphragm’s being kept in a state of contraction after its inspiratory func­tion is properly ended, and giving way only grad­ually before their upward pressure. Thus, by having the expiratory pressure harmoniously distributed to all points of the lung-substance, while the air is commensurately exhausted, perfect equilibrium is secured, and at the vital point of resistance—the larynx — absolute breath-control. This resistance does not indicate voluntary effort, but only requires that the muscles be allowed to act as Nature dic­tates; and the singer experiences no more exhaustion than during the ordinary respiration of life. Instead, he is filled with a buoyancy, an indefinable sense of power which exalts his inner being; the song blooms on his lips; his soul exults in self-expression.

Elevation of Chest-walls.

Without symmetrical, initial elevation of the chest- walls there can be no subsequent effective elevations during the course of an expiration; and without such mobility the exigencies of power cannot be met. Aside from the variations in power demanded by musical expression, there is a constant necessity for variation in expiratory force, with changes in pitch; for the reason that, in ascending pitch, the tension of the vocal cords gradually increases, and more power is required to make them vibrate. While all eleva­tions of the chest-walls must be harmonious, their anatomy imposes various restrictions upon the de­gree of movement at different points. According to the freedom of movement will a corresponding im­pression be established in the mind. Hence the prac­tical consideration of the normal movements of the chest-walls becomes more or less localized. The ribs are fixed posteriorly to the vertebræ. Anteriorly, the superior seven are attached to the sternum (breast­bone), but the inferior five become more and more deficient at their anterior ends, from above down­ward; the first three being attached to the costal cartilages, and the last two (floating ribs) having free anterior extremities. Obviously the greatest mobility of the chest-walls is limited to their lower, anterior portion, viz.: the anterior extremities of the five inferior or false ribs; and provides for the control of the abdominal muscles. These muscles, having their superior attachments to the ribs, ordi­narily contribute to a sudden depression of the anterior chest-wall, driving upward of the floor of the chest-cavity, and expulsion of air from the lungs. In singing, to obviate this extreme action, an ele­vation and setting of the lower ribs is necessary whenever additional expiratory force is desired. By this elevation and setting of the lower chest-wall its depression is minimized, but not at the expense of expiratory power, which, in reality, is made more effective by reason of the fact that the setting of the lower ribs holds the superior ends of the abdom­inal muscles practically stationary, giving them a purchase, as it were, approximating that of their fixed, inferior attachments, and their contraction is thereby made more spontaneous and subject to control; and, moreover, what expiratory power is lost by the minimization of the depression of the lower chest-wall is counterbalanced by the bulk of the force exerted by the abdominal muscles, being transferred to the floor of the chest-cavity. Fur­thermore, any elevation of the lower chest-wall, during the course of an expiration, must have a tendency correspondingly to elevate the diaphragm which is attached to it; but the diaphragm, being in a state of contraction to assist in controlling the abdominal pressure, is stimulated to greater contrac­tion and descent, to counteract this effect. The re­sult of these two movements is clearly an increase in the capacity of the chest-cavity; for the raising of the lower chest-wall increases its antero-posterior and lateral diameters, and the involuntary augmenta­tion of the diaphragm’s contraction and descent lengthens its vertical diameter. As an increase in the capacity of the chest-cavity involves a diminu­tion of atmospheric pressure within its confines, an immediate decrease in its capacity will be demanded by the laws of atmospheric pressure, in order to equalize the pressures within and without the chest. This will be accomplished by the subsequent con­traction of the abdominal muscles, which, aided by the preponderating pressure of the external atmos­phere upon the body, will occur with surprising vigor. The force so exerted will be in the nature of a sud­den blow, yet limited and under perfect control. All three of these movements—the raising of the lower chest-wall, the secondary descent of the diaphragm, and the contraction of the abdominal muscles—takes place instantaneously.

Degree of Elevation.

The degree of elevation of the lower chest-wall varies with the expiratory force required, being slight for a slight increase in tone-intensity, and sudden and ample for great display of vocal power. These movements are natural; and, after being understood, occur without the singer’s giving them a thought. Their object is to gain increased expiratory force, with the minimum of diminution in chest-capacity; and, when correctly applied, all demands for increased expiratory power are met, and control still maintained. While sensation perceives them as local, they are really symmetrical enlargements of the entire chest-cavity, or harmonious inspiratory efforts occurring during an expiration. It is simply a case of equilib­rium’s being momentarily destroyed by a sudden overcoming of the expiratory by the inspiratory mus­cles; but immediately regained by virtue of a sec­ondary increase in contraction of the expiratory muscles, causing such a diminution in size of the chest-cavity and expulsion of air as shall again equalize the internal and external atmospheric pressures.

The singer should always be conscious of the mo­bility of the lower chest-wall; but, as regards the upper chest-wall, its movements, in comparison with the lower under symmetrical enlargement of the chest-cavity, are of such small extent that he should have the sensation of constantly holding it up, and be unconscious of its depression. The depression of the chest-walls should be an imperceptible movement which will take care of itself.

How Equilibrium is Maintained.

To understand properly how equilibrium is main­tained, it should be remembered that we breathe with but a portion of the lungs, and the tidal air, or amount constantly changed in respiration, represents but a fraction of the residual air which is renewed by diffusion only. After the most forcible expiration, the lungs are still filled with the residual air, at the normal pressure; and the discomfort is explained by reason of the fact that the diminution of the chest has passed comparatively far beyond the normal station. Such a condition is never properly reached during the natural act of singing. The lungs, under all healthy conditions, remain in contact with the floor and walls of the chest; and any expansion or diminution of the chest means a corresponding ex­pansion or diminution of the lungs. So, at the end of inspiration, and from the commencement to the close of expiration, the density of the air, and con­sequent pressure, within and without the chest, are practically identical, and equilibrium maintained.

To sum up: In the training of the voice the para­mount consideration is automatic breath-control. It is the gift of the Creator to every healthy being. Why not use it, or—if impaired by ignorance, the restrictions of modern abuse, or reglect (sic?)—seek to regain it? It is the perfection of simplicity, and when understood the development of the voice be­comes a revelation.—Walter B. Sample.

(Continued in The Etude for June.)

<< Registers.     Signor Sbriglia and Some of His Pupils. >>

Monthly Archives


You are reading Natural Vocalism. from the May, 1902 issue of The Etude Magazine.

Registers. is the previous story in The Etude

Signor Sbriglia and Some of His Pupils. is the next entry in The Etude.

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music