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Elasticity and Relaxation

Beauty of tone is the basis of all the value of the voice. All the range of its use as an instrument depends in the end on the beauty of the quality of the tone. The beauty of the tone comes as a result of the freedom of the tone production. Volume, range, the ability to sustain the long, flowing phrase, to run scales and arpeggi, in short all of vocal technic depends on freedom of tone production.

The moment the young pupil begins to sing there is tension, rigidity, stiffness and awkwardness all through the vocal machine. This is due to timidity, to self-consciousness and the uncertainty inevitable when dealing with a new and strange thing. It has nothing to do with talent for music or natural gifts of voice. Of course, there is great variation in individuals, some having much more courage than others, catching the idea more quickly and having the confidence to try. But to a greater or less extent every young student suffers from the inevitable results of the timidity all feel when trying to do something new.

Consequently one of the first things which must be done is to relax these various tensions so that the tone can get a chance to come out freely. Almost everybody now understands something of this principle—that the tone must flow freely, without rigidity in the throat or stiffness in the breath-controlling muscles. Almost all young students understand something, at least in theory, about the necessity of relaxing these various tensions, but in this question of relaxation there is a stumbling-block which has upset any number of earnest workers and so confused them that they did not know at all what they were trying to do.

The tone-producing mechanism is a part of our physical make-up, composed of muscles, ligaments and nerves which are governed by the same physical laws during tone-making that they are in any other form of muscular action. The process of making tone depends on the free, vigorous functioning of the entire mechanism, consequently tension and rigidity interfere in a fatal manner with making good tone; but complete relaxation of all the parts would bring about such a condition as would render it impossible to produce any tone at all. This is the confusing point when overmuch insistence is made about relaxation without a clear understanding of just how the mechanism works.

To make tone there must be a high degree of activity in the tone-producing muscles. Every instant of time while a tone is being made the breathing apparatus is performing a most complicated series of actions in regulating the outflow of the breath, while the tone-producing muscles of the throat are vibrating with an intensity and a delicacy of adjustment which is one of the most marvelous phenomena of nature. Any tension or rigidity which interfers (sic) with their freedom of action makes it impossible to produce a pure tone, while a complete relaxation of all these muscles would put them in a negative condition in which they could not produce any tone at all.

There are certain complicated series of muscles which have nothing whatsoever to do with tone-making, such as those of the neck, the jaw, and the muscles of the throat outside the larynx, and these must all be relaxed, as any rigidity in these muscles presses upon the larynx and prevents the actual tone-producing muscles within from performing their functions properly. But the tone-producing muscles are in a high state of activity during the production of tone and any notion of relaxation which interferes with this activity makes it impossible for them to work at all.

It is the same law which works all through every department of your active life. We have all seen graceful dancers, and we know that this grace of movement depends on perfect elasticity of muscular action. If the dancer be stiff his movements will be awkward, laborious and devoid of all grace. But if he should completely relax himself he would simply collapse in a heap on the floor, which certainly would not help matters any.

If the breath-controlling muscles should be completely relaxed the breath would leave the lungs in a feeble gasp and it would be impossible to produce a tone. Yet if these breath-controlling muscles be held too tight their action will be labored, there will be too heavy a pressure on the tone-producing muscles within the larynx and the tone will be forced and hard.

Therefore, relaxation is a term which must be used with understanding and in a great number of cases what people really mean is “elasticity.” Singing is action in which the mind must be alert and the tone-producing mechanism in a high state of activity. If this activity involves stiffness and rigidity in the muscles the tone will be bad, whereas if everything becomes too relaxed the tone will be flabby and colorless and if this relaxation be carried too far there will be no tone at all.

Any number of young pupils have become hopelessly confused for the time being on just this point. When they sought to relax themselves completely they found that they lost all control over the tone, yet they did not dare permit the normal vigor of the tone-producing muscles to work for fear they would be forcing. They realized that there was a flaw somewhere, but they knew not how to put their finger on it. They had heard so much about relaxation that they did not dare do anything at all lest they should be using improper force.

Singing is action, the result of muscular activity, and if the muscles whose function it is to produce the tone are completely relaxed it is evident that there will be no tone. Get this clearly into your head. The muscles which have nothing to do with tone-making must, of course, be completely relaxed so that they do not interfere. But the tone-producing muscles must be free to work as nature intended, with vigor and elasticity.

The thing you have needed to understand was not merely the law of relaxation but the law of elasticity. The tone-producing muscles must work and the conditions must be such that they can work freely and vigorously, or they cannot produce a tone worth listening to. They must all be elastic, supple and strong. For the actual tone-producing muscles it is not the negative law of relaxation which governs, but the active principle of elasticity.


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