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Through the lowering of the pillars of the
fauces, which is the same as raising the soft
palate, the outflowing breath is divided into
two parts.

I have sketched the following representa-
tion of it: —

Division of the breath.

By raising the pillars of the fauces, which
closes off the throat from the cavities of the
head, the chest voice is produced; that is, the
lowest range of all kinds of voices. This oc-
curs when the main stream of breath, spread-
ing over against the high-arched palate,
completely utilizes all its resonating surfaces.
This is the palatal resonance, in which there
is the most power (Plate A).

When the soft palate is raised high behind



the nose, the pillars of the fauces are lowered,
and this frees the way for the main stream
of breath to the head cavities. This now is
poured out, filling the nose, forehead, and
head cavities. This makes the head tone.
Called head tone in women, falsetto in men,
it is the highest range of all classes of voices,
the resonance of the head cavities (Plate C).

Between these two extreme functions of
the palate and breath, one stream of breath
gives some of its force to the other; and
when equally divided they form the medium
range of all classes of voices (Plate B).

The singer must always have in his mind's
eye a picture of this divided stream of breath.

As I have already said, in the lowest tones
of all voices the main stream of breath is
projected against the palate; the pillars of
the fauces, being stretched to their fullest
extent, and drawn back to the wall of the
throat, allow almost no breath to reach the
head cavities.

I say almost none, for, as a matter of fact,


Red lines denote division of the breath in the middle range.



a branch stream of breath, however small,
must be forced back, behind and above the
pillars, first into the nose, later into the
forehead and the cavities of the head. This
forms the overtones (head tones) which must
vibrate with all tones, even the lowest. These
overtones lead over from the purest chest
tones, slowly, with a constantly changing
mixture of both kinds of resonance, first to
the high tones of bass and baritone, the low
tones of tenor, the middle tones of alto and
soprano, finally, to the purest head tones, the
highest tones of the tenor-falsetto or soprano.
(See the plates.)

The extremely delicate gradation of the
scale of increase of the resonance of the head
cavities in ascending passages, and of increase
of palatal resonance in descending, depends
upon the skill to make the palate act elasti-
cally, and to let the breath, under control of
the abdominal and chest pressure, flow unin-
terruptedly in a gentle stream into the reso-
nating chambers. Through the previous


preparation of the larynx and tongue, it
must reach its resonating surfaces as though
passing through a cylinder, and must circu-
late in the form previously prepared for it,
proper for each tone and vowel sound. This
form surrounds it gently but firmly. The
supply of air remains continuously the same,
rather increasing than diminishing, notwith-
standing the fact that the quantity which the
abdominal pressure has furnished the vocal
cords from the supply chamber is a very small
one. That it may not hinder further progres-
sion, the form must remain elastic and sensi-
tive to the most delicate modification of the
vowel'sound. If the tone is to have life, it
must always be- able to conform to any vowel
sound. The least displacement of the form
or interruption of the breath breaks up the
whirling currents and vibrations, and conse-
quently affects the tone, its vibrancy, its
strength, and its duration.

In singing a continuous passage upward,
the form becomes higher and more pliant; the


most pliable place on the palate is drawn up-
ward. (See Plate A.)

When I sing a single tone I can give it
much more power, much more palatal or
nasal resonance, than I could give in a
series of ascending tones. In a musical figure
I must attack the lowest note in such a way
that I can easily reach the highest. I must,
therefore, give it much more head tone than
the single tone requires. (Very important.)
When advancing farther, I have the feeling
on the palate, above and behind the nose,
toward the cavities of the head, of a strong
but very elastic rubber ball, which I fill like a
balloon with my breath streaming up far back
of it. And this filling keeps on in even meas-
ure. That is, the branch stream of the breath,
which flows into the head cavities, must be
free to flow very strongly without hindrance.
(See Plate B.)

I can increase the size of this ball above,
to a pear shape, as soon as I think of singing
higher; and, indeed, I heighten the form


before I go on from the tone just sung, mak-
ing it, so to speak, higher in that way, and
thus keep the form, that is, the " propagation
form," ready for the next higher tone, which
I can now reach easily, as long as no inter-
ruption in the stream of breath against the
mucous membrane can take place. For this
reason the breath must never be held back, but
must always be emitted in a more and more
powerful stream. The higher the tone, the
more numerous are the vibrations, the more
rapidly the whirling currents circulate, and
the more unchangeable must the form be.

Catarrh often dries up the mucous mem-
brane ; then the tones are inclined to break
off. At such times one must sing with pecul-
iar circumspection, and with an especially
powerful stream of breath behind the tone:
it is better to take breath frequently. In a
descending scale or figure I must, on the con-
trary, preserve very carefully the form taken
for the highest tone. I must not go higher,
nor yet, under any circumstances, lower, but



must imagine that I remain at the same pitch,
and must suggest to myself that I am striking
the same tone again. The form may gradu-
ally be a little modified at the upper end;
that is, the soft palate is lowered very care-
fully behind the nose: keeping almost always
to the form employed for the highest tone,
sing the figure to its end, toward the nose,
with the help of the vowel oo. (This
auxiliary vowel oo means nothing more
than that the larynx is slowly lowered in

When this happens, the resonance of the
head cavities is diminished, that of the palate
increased; for the soft palate sinks, and the
pillars of the fauces are raised more and more.
Yet the head tone must not be entirely free
from palatal resonance. Both remain to the
last breath united, mutually supporting each
other in ascending and descending passages,
and alternately but inaudibly increasing and

These things go to make up the form: —


The raising and lowering of the soft palate,
and the corresponding lowering and raising
of the pillars of the fauces.

The proper position of the tongue: the tip
rests on the lower front teeth — mine even as
low as the roots of the teeth.

The back of the tongue must stand high
and free from the throat, ready for any move-
ment. A furrow must be formed in the
tongue, which is least prominent in the low-
est tones, and in direct head tones may even
completely disappear. As soon as the tone
demands the palatal resonance, the furrow
must be made prominent and kept so. In
my case it can always be seen. This is one
of the most important matters, upon which
too much emphasis can hardly be laid. As
soon as the furrow in the tongue shows itself,
the tone must sound right; for then the mass
of the tongue is kept away from the throat,
and, since its sides are raised, it is kept out of
the way of the tone.

It lies flattest in the lowest tones because




the larynx then is in a very low position,
and thus is out of its way.

Furthermore, there is the unconstrained
position of the larynx, which must be main-
tained without pressure of the throat muscles.
From it the breath must stream forth evenly
and uninterruptedly, to fill the form prepared
for it by the tongue and palate and sup-
ported by the throat muscles.

This support must not, however, depend
in the least upon pressure, — for the vibrat-
ing breath must float above, — but upon the
greatest elasticity. One must play with the
muscles, and be able to contract and relax
them at pleasure, having thus perfect mastery
over them. For this incessant practice is re-
quired, increasing control of the breath through
the sense of hearing and the breath pressure.

At first a very strong will power is needed
to hold the muscles tense without pressure;
that is, to let the tone, as it were, soar
through the throat, mouth, or cavities of the


The stronger the improper pressure in the
production of the tone, the more difficult it
is to get rid of. The result is simply, in
other words, a strain. The contraction of
the muscles must go only so far that they
can be slowly relaxed; that is, can return
to their normal position easily. Never must
the neck be swelled up, or the veins in it
stand out. Every convulsive or painful feel-
ing is wrong.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III