The Free Voice New Edition

The Free Voice has been republished by Oxford University Press. 

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Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five, Aesthetic Judgment:

There are many influences at work in determining quality. But beyond such factors as technical condition, aesthetic goals, and musicality, there is a quality which is intrinsic to the personality and the mechanism itself. This “natural” quality is determined by anatomical structure, combined with peculiarities of temperament. The thickness of the vocal cords, the size and shape of the cavities of the mouth, throat, and head, all contribute to a state of being that fixes the boundaries of ultimate potential. The way the instrument is used, however, alters the character of the tonal emission and to a considerable extent leaves potential unrealized. According to the efficiency of the vocal response, quality will be either a true or false likeness of the intrinsic timbre. As the natural quality of the voice is almost always unknown because of mechanical imperfections, no attempt should ever be made during training to cultivate what is thought to be the natural quality. Genuine tone quality can only be revealed by purifying the vowel quality and correcting the imbalances within a maladjusted registration.


Nasal Resonance vs. Nasality

    There is a fundamental functional distinction to be made between what seems to be nasal resonance and nasality. Nasal resonance (one of the ‘mere appearances’ referred to by Garcia) finds the throat relatively open with the so-called ’head’ register dominant. Under these conditions symptoms of vibration do appear to concentrate in the ‘masque,’ the area of the sinuses and the antrim. Symptoms, however, must never be confused with causes. Genuine resonance can only be achieved when the technique is open-throated and free of interfering tension, never by ‘placing’ the tone ‘forward’ or into the nasal passages. A common pedagogic error is to attempt to establish this freedom through resonance rather than registration.

Nasality is quite another matter. Without exception it is associated with throat constriction, and the proportion of nasality always corresponds exactly to the degree of constriction present in the tone. Few singers possess a technique of singing where the throat is really free and open and nasality is one of the more common vocal faults.    

The Chest Voice

    As summed up by eighteenth century authorities the ultimate goal of training was not only register unification, but success in combining the registers in such a way as to make the voice appear not only to be of one register, but to reflect the influence of the natural or chest voice.   To quote Giambatista Mancini, “It is a rare case when the two registers are both united into a chest register in one person. This total union is generally produced only by study and the help of art.” Given this emphasis on the chest voice, it is important to understand the dynamics of this register in detail.

Mechanics of the Falsetto

Whether a quality is perceived as being false or legitimate is dependent upon the way in which the configuration of the glottis is regulated by tension assumed by the arytenoid system.  When the response of the arytenoids is of such a kind that they are incapable of thickening the vocal folds as intensity is increased, the tonal product will express itself in terms of a variety of different types of false tone qualities.

The essential mechanical difference among the numerous types of falsetto is that each reflects a substantial difference in the balance of tension distributed between the openers and the closers of the vocal folds.  As cricothyroid (stretchers) tension is countered exclusively by the posterior cricoarytenoids (openers) the falsetto will be pure. When tension shifts to the lateral cricoarytenoids (closers), the result will be an occlusion of the vocal folds, the falsetto will gradually lose its falseness as the tone quality  becomes more full-bodied and complete.

A Teacher’s Obligation

It is a teacher’s obligation to release a singer’s instinct.  By definition, any overt control or manipulative effort can do nothing but hinder that process.  A singer studies singing so as to remove all impediments to his innate sense of singing.  The approach to releasing the singer’s instinct is to discover the faults and remove them one by one.  When all faults are removed the voice indeed sounds as if it is an instinctual utterance. 

Laryngeal Musculature

In an ideal technique of singing there is always a fixed relationship between the amount of tension assumed by the cricothyroids and the physical dimensions of the vocal folds.  However, more frequently than not their tension is disproportional to the pitch, in which case the arytenoid system must react not ideally but in such a way as to compensate for the faulty tensing capability of the cricothyroids.  As a result, the interaction between these two tensor mechanisms of the vocal folds creates interfering tensions which invite wrong tensions among peripheral areas of function, to a greater or lessor degree, throughout the entire vocal tract.  As a consequence, singing becomes effortful with evidence of malfunction exhibited by tongue and jaw tension, poor breath management, etc.

Functional Vocal Training

Functional vocal training is founded on the belief that a correct technique must be an extension of free organic movement; that such movement is the expression of a life process subject to nature’s laws; and that training procedures adopted must be based upon principles which conform to those laws.  This premise is not widely accepted, most training methods preferring to concentrate on functional effects, rather than functional causes.  This error has led to another misjudgment, even more serious: confusing the process of learning to sing with the art of singing.  Procedures designed to restructure a faulty vocal technique, therefore, cannot have validity until a clear distinction is made between art, aesthetics and function.

Preface, Voice: Psyche and Soma