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The Voice Its Production And Hygiene


VOICE may be defined as a moving column of breath set in vibration by its own impact with the vocal bands and reinforced by its diffusion through the various resonators into the surrounding atmosphere. According to this definition there are three important elements to be considered in relation to voice namely, the moving column of breath, the vocal bands, and the resonators. We shall consider these elements in their order.

The Moving Column of Breath. This column may be regarded as having the diaphragm for its base, and as being set in motion by the respiratory muscles. This motor process has been called the breathing of voice production, and it differs from ordinary so called natural. breathing in that the one is active and voluntary, while the other is passive and automatic. Ordinary breathing is simply for the purpose of aerating the blood. The breathing if voice production performs this function only incidentally, its main purpose being something far more complicated and difficult of execution. The large thoracic and abdominal muscles, some of them among the strongest in the body, must be controlled with precision and accuracy they work to a great extent in pairs, and of these pairs the one muscle opposes the other. For instance, the contraction of the diaphragm results in a protrusion of the abdominal walls (Fig. 664), and the strength of this protrusion depend upon the force of the contraction, which may be made very great. This outward motion of the abdominal walls is checked by the contraction of the abdominal muscles, which oppose in their action that of the diaphragm. In a similar way the costal muscles oppose each other, one set tending to elevate the ribs and the other to depress them. Thus the vocalist utilizes in breathing the principle of opposition of forces, by means of which perfect equilibrium of the various organs is maintained, and great strength becomes compatible with great delicacy of action.

Very little breath is required for the production of tone, and the function of the respiratory muscles is not so much to force breath out of the lungs, as to sustain and control the breath in the lungs and to give to the thorax a certain drum like tension which is very essential to a resonant and well balanced voice. Just as the drummer tightens his drum strings, so the vocalist contracts his thoracic and abdominal muscles. This may be best explained, perhaps, by describing the muscular action in the production of a single prolonged tone. There are two distinct processes : first, that of preparation, and second, that of actual tone making. The preparatory process is similar to that which naturally takes place just prior to any other muscular act, as, lifting a weight or striking a blow. There is a slight inspiratory movement caused by the contraction of those muscles the function of which is to elevate the ribs. The diaphragm should have no part in this action, for its contraction depresses the ribs, and therefore it must be considered as an expiratory muscle. The second process, or that of production of tone, now follows, and consists, not, as many would have us suppose, in a complete relaxation of these inspiratory muscles, allowing the ribs to fall to their original position, but in a continuation of this tension and a simultaneous and stronger contraction of the expiratory muscles. The strength of this latter contraction should be proportionate to the strength of the desired tone and to the amount of breath which it requires.

Thus we have to deal with two distinct sets of muscles; one, the inspiratory, tending to elevate the ribs ., and the other, the expiratory, tending to depress them. It is the nice adjustment of these opposing forces that gives to, the thorax that degree of tension upon which the accuracy of breath control and the consequent equilibrium and smoothness of the voice so much depend ; and it is the education of these muscles which constitutes the first step in the cultivation of either the speaking or the singing voice. So far as possible, each muscle must be brought under perfect control and trained to respond promptly and accurately to an intelligent volition.

The Vocal Bands (Fig. 665). These bands correspond to the strings of the violin. They are composed of small elastic threads of yellow fibrous tissue, and are from one half to three quarters of an inch in length, longer in the male than in the female, and situated in the larynx, or voice box, so called because it encloses and protects these essential organs of voice (Fig. 542). The framework of this box is composed of cartilage, a material more flexible than bone, yet more rigid than muscular or ligamentous tissue. These cartilages, nine in number the thyroid, the cricoid, the two arytenoids, the two cornicula larynges, the two cuneiform cartilages, and the epiglottis articulate with one another by means of freely movable joints, and they are held together by numerous ligaments and controlled by still more numerous muscles. It is the motion imparted to the cartilages by these muscles which serves not only to place the vocal bands in the phonating position, but also to give them the necessary degree of length, weight, and tension. The arytenoid cartilages, to which the vocal bands are attached posteriorly, are freely movable at their points of articulation with the cricoid cartilage, and they are made to rock and revolve upon these points (Fig. 666) by means of various sets of muscles. The same principle of opposing forces applies here as in the management of the muscles controlling the column of breath. The contraction of one set of muscles tends to revolve the cartilages in an inward direction, thus approximating the vocal bands; and the contraction of the opposing set tends to revolve them in an outward direction, retracting the bands and opening the glottis.

The lateral crico arytenoids and the arytenoid combine in their action to close the glottis, and their opposing muscles, the posterior crico arytenoids, tend to dilate the glottis ; and it is by the nice adjustment of these forces that the vocal bands may be made to assume any position from that of close apposition to the sides of the larynx to that of close approximation in the median line, or even partial overlapping of the posterior edges, thus shortening the vibrating surface. When the vocal bands thus approach approximation, with only a narrow chink between the thin edges, their degree of tension is determined in the following manner: The thyroid cartilage, to which the vocal bands are attached anteriorly, is freely movable at its points of articulation with the cricoid, and its tilting forward upon the cricoid tends to remove it farther from the arytenoids (Fig. 666), and thus to make tense the vocal bands and also to elongate and attenuate them (Fig. 564). The forward tilting of the thyroid cartilage is accomplished in part by the crico thyroid muscle, but chiefly by a muscle extrinsic to the larynx, the sterno thyroid. The muscles opposing this downward and forward movement of the thyroid cartilage are the thyrohyoid and thyro arytenoid (intrinsic muscles) and the stylo hyoid and digastric (extrinsic muscles). The importance of these extrinsic muscles of the larynx is not generally understood. In addition to controlling the degree of tension of the vocal bands, they serve to fix the larynx firmly against the cervical vertebra¬during the emission of strong resonant tones.

The thyro antenoid muscles also serve, by means of their intimate relation with the vocal bands, to limit the amount of their lateral vibrating surface and to adjust the lips of the glottis (Figs. 667, 668).

In the untutored larynx and throat these muscles are practically involuntary, and may perform their function very imperfectly; but in the process of the cultivation of the voice many of them may be brought under control of the will and thus trained to perform their function with greater efficiency. A laryngoscopic image of the larynx shows the vocal bands to be slightly separated posteriorly during ordinary breathing, and widely separated and flattened out against the sides of the larynx during deep breathing (Fig. 541). The extent of the separation depends upon the action of the abductor muscles, which turn the arytenoids outward. When the adductor muscles those which turn the arytenoid cartilages inward contract and the abductors relax, the bands come together in the median line and shut off all communication between the trachea and the pharynx. This always takes place immediately before the act of coughing or clearing the throat. But when the abductor muscles contract in conjunction with the adductors, the arytenoids become nicely poised upon their pivots, turning one way or the other by a minute fraction of an inch, as the vocal bands are required to be separated or approximated. It has been estimated that as slight a change as one seventeen thousandth of an inch is necessary to produce the wonderfully minute variations in pitch of which some of our noted singers are capable.

The Resonators. Strictly speaking, the whole body is a resonator of the voice ; and not only so, but the platform upon which the speaker or the singer stands, and the house in which that platform is built, are all in a certain sense resonators of the voice. The chief resonators, however, and those which contribute most to the individual characteristics of the voice and to its reinforcement, are the thorax, the trachea, the larynx, the pharynx, and the oral and nasal cavities with their contiguous structures.

The thorax, although not always so regarded, is one of the important resonant organs. The column of breath, resting as we have shown upon the diaphragm, receives vibrations from the vocal bands in the same way that the air above the bands receives vibrations; and when the ribs are slightly elevated and the muscles taut, the thorax becomes tensioned like a drum, and adds to the voice a peculiarly characteristic and pleasing quality.

The trachea is also an important resonator, and it is so constructed that the trained vocalist can increase or diminish its size both longitudinally and transversely, thus making it equivalent to a series of organ pipes. It is for this reason, and because of the bellows like function of the lungs, that the vocal mechanism is said to resemble that of the pipe organ (see page 843).

The larynx itself probably has more to do with determining the quality of voice than any other part of the mechanism. Its size varies greatly in different individuals, and this variation is the chief cause of the wide differences in the qualities of voices. One illustration of this fact may be found in the marked change which takes place in the male voice at puberty. With the increase in size and density of the various parts of the larynx we have a sudden change in the quality of voice. The thin, childish treble grows into the heavy baritone or basis; and the transition stage is an important one, and should be treated with great care. Many a voice is injured irreparably by overwork at this period. Another illustration of the manner in which the size of the larynx determines the quality of voice is found in comparing the male and female larynges and voices. In almost exact proportion as the female voice is lighter and more flexible than the male voice, will the various parts of the female larynx be found to be lighter and more flexible than those of the male larynx. Of course ', the differences in the other resonators contribute somewhat to these distinguishing characteristics, but the chief cause exists in the laryngeal variations. The ventricles of the larynx two depressions immediately above the vocal bands and parallel with them and the ventricular bands situated immediately above the ventricles, influence the voice mainly by governing and directing ille stream of vocalized breath after it leaves the glottis. The ventricles unite to form a little vestibule, the entrance to which is the chink of the glottis, or the space between the lips or edges of the vocal bands ; and the exit is the space bounded by the corresponding thicker edges of the ventricular bands. During its entrance into, the vestibule the breath is set in vibration or vocalized ; this vocalized breath transmits its vibrations to the air already in the vestibule ; and these vibrations are directed out through the ventricular exit into the upper larynx, the pharynx, and the month. The position of the larynx also has much influence on the voice. If it be held firmly fixed against the spine by the extrinsic muscles, the vocal resonance will be greatly increased. The entire spinal column may thus become a resonator of the voice.

We now come to a consideration of the pharynx as a vocal resonator. It is a funnel shaped muscular bag with seven openings, and, like the mouth, it forms an important part of the alimentary canal, with the opening into the esophagus at its lower and posterior portion. The size and shape of the pharynx, however, and its general physical condition are important elements in the formation of voice. The posterior wall of the pharynx, a portion of which may be seen by direct inspection through the mouth, is well adapted in its construction to gather the sound waves as they are reflected from the epiglottis, and project them forward beneath the soft palate against the firm sounding board formed by the hard palate and the teeth. Covering the solid, bony framework of the posterior wall of the pharynx we have the constrictor and palatopharyngeal muscles, which by their numerous contractions serve so to shape the reflecting surface that the vocalized breath may be directed toward any desired point. The training of these pharyngeal muscles forms a very important part of the work of the vocal teacher; and the care of the mucous membrane in this region is of the utmost importance to the voice. Inflammatory adhesions and thickenings act in various ways to injure the voice. They encroach upon the size of the pharyngeal space, they interfere with the free action of the muscles which have been mentioned, and they transmit to the larynx and trachea their deleterious influence both by force of gravity and by continuity of structure. That the condition of the pharyngeal vault is an important factor in the resonance of the voice is shown by the marked change which takes place in the character of tone whenever this space is encroached upon by glandular or other hypertrophy. Adenoid vegetations, for instance, on account of their peculiar moist and spongy consistency, serve to damp the voice and destroy the resonance that comes from this region. The posterior pharyngeal wall (Fiz. 670) ascends verticallv to a Mint about on a level with the floor of thee nose, and then gradually inclines forward, making a graceful curve over to a point just above the choanae. The shape of this portion of the pharynx has been imitated in nearly all the artificial sounding boards, whether constructed for the reflection of the voice or of the sounds of other musical instruments.

It is the function of the soft palate and the uvula to act as a kind of valve controlling the sound waves and directing them either tip through the pharyngeal vault into the nostrils when the palato glossi muscles contract and diminish the size of the fauces, or out through the fauces into the month when the palato pharyngei muscles contract and draw the palate back toward the pharyngeal wall, diminishing or cutting off entirely the passage way to the post nasal space. These to and fro and up and down movements of the soft palate during articulation are well demonstrated by a very ingenious in¬strument devised by the late Dr. Harrison Allen. It consists of a moderately stiff wire passed along the floor of the nostril until the distal end, which is slightly curved downward, rests upon the soft palate. The proximal end is placed against a revolving cylinder, and upon its prepared surface the up and down movements of the palate are accurately traced. This device furnishes a valuable aid to the study of an important part of the oral mechanism.

The nasal chambers themselves and their communicating cavernous bones contribute much to the agreeable quality of the speaking voice, the nasal element being essential to the fullest and richest tones. For the sustained tones of the singing voice the palatal and pharyngeal muscles are tense, and the soft palate is held fixed against the pharyngeal wall, the sound waves being directed entirely through the mouth. This tense condition of the palate is necessary in order that the palato pharyngel and other extrinsic muscles of the larynx may perform their function. It is these variations in the size and shape of the vocal organs which determine the character or timbre of tone and distinguish one voice from another. There are no two voices alike, any more than there are two faces or two leaves on the trees alike. People are recognized by their voices as they are by their faces, and there are certain distinguishing characteristics in both which may not be changed. Not all voices may become great voices any more than all faces may become beautiful ones; but all voices may be improved by training, as all faces may be improved by care and cultivation.

Many of these resonators of the voice, such as the lips, the teeth, the tongue, the soft palate, the pharynx, and even the upper part of the larynx, may be regarded as belonging to an entirely different mechanism viz., that of articulation. We have considered the voice producing organs; these are the speech producing organs. The organs of voice manufacture the sound, and the organs of speech articulate it. The mechanism of articulation is as important as that of phonation to the singer as well as to the speaker; and these two mechanisms must work together in perfect harmony if we would have good speech and good song. The articulation of the singing voice differs in no respect from that of the speaking voice. It consists simply in the moulding of sounds into syllables and words which mean something to the ear, whether they be the sounds of' speech or of song.

The palate is probably the most important organ of articulation. Fairly intelligible speech has been shown to be possible without a tongue, but the lips and teeth could more easily be dispensed with. Furthermore, the larynx and lungs are not absolutely indispensable to the production of tone, as has been proved by at least one person who can speak and even sing without any larynx and with the lungs entirely cut off from the pharyngeal and oral cavities. Not all persons, however, would learn to speak without a tongue or without a larynx. Indeed, most people speak badly enough who are not thus handicapped; and it is interesting to notice how slight a deviation from the normal in some of these organs will result in the most glaring defects of speech. All irregularities of the vocal and speech organs, whether acquired or congenital, should be corrected as early in life as possible, before the habits of speech are fully formed.

The Hygiene of the Voice. The hygiene of the voice includes the hygiene of the whole physical organism, for there is scarcely any portion of the body which is not related directly or indirectly to the mechanism of the voice. Disease of any kind is reflected in the voice as clearly and as undeniably as in the face, and the cheerful ringing tones of exuberant health are known to us all. Therefore, whatever contributes to the well being of the physical organism contributes also to the well being of the voice.

It is a mooted question among specialists whether catarrh of the stomach is the cause of catarrh of the upper respiratory and vocal passages, or whether catarrh of these passages is the cause of catarrh of the stomach. This much we know, that the pharyngeal and oral cavities are continuations upward of the alimentary canal, and are lined with the same membrane; that the color and general condition of the tongue are clear indications of the condition of the stomach below. A coated tongue means a coated stomach, and, if I may use the expression, a coated voice. The care, of the digestion, then, is of the first importance to the vocalist, both because of its direct influence upon the organs of voice and because of its indirect influence through the circulatory and nervous systems. Strong healthy nerves are essential to a good voice, and these, nerves are dependent upon good blood properly circulating; and this, in turn, is dependent upon good digestion, and this upon good food thoroughly masticated. Articles of food affect the voice also by direct contact with the organs, and therefore highly seasoned and stimulating food should be avoided. Tea, coffee, liquors, and the after dinner cigar may injure the voice in the same way, and can be beneficial only when they offset these deleterious effects by assisting in the digestion of nourishing foods. No absolute rule can be laid down regulating the diet of individuals, for what is food for one is poison for another. Someone has well said that every man over forty years of age should be his own physician as far as diet is concerned, and I would place the age limit ten years earlier. The man who cares more for his stomach than for his voice will never make a great singer or a great speaker. The vocalist must eat to live, and not live only to eat; and no little self denial, in this and in other respects, is the price which must be paid for a well preserved voice.

Madame Patti has said that a draught of air has always been the dread of' her life. The cutaneous surface of the body should be classed among the organs of respiration. Indeed, it has been called the "outer lungs," on account of its absorbing and eliminating capacity. The skin should be kept active, therefore, by suitable exercise and judicious bathing. General exercise should never be carried to the point of fatigue, lest it result in the Deedless expenditure of that vital energy which is so necessary to the working of the vocal mechanism, and in the abnormal development of certain muscles, which prevents that harmonious action and nice adjustment and coordination so essential in the management of the vocal machinery. The matter of bathing should also receive careful attention. Many people bathe too much, and many more bathe too little. It should be remembered that the hot bath extracts beat from the body, and heat is only another word for energy. Only the very vigorous should take frequent hot baths, and they should be taken only upon retiring. The cool, daily plunge may be indulged in to advantage by many; but perhaps the cold hand or sponge bath, both morning and evening, is better for the average person. The feet, the tipper chest, the neck, and the face should be hardened by frequent cold douches. These parts are the vulnerable ones in the singer and speaker.

As to the matter of dress, I am inclined to think that the less dress the better. As some one has said, "Man is not by nature a clothed animal." Whole races have been swept from the face of the earth, with not one left to tell the tale, because they were compelled by their conquerors to wear clothes. Heavy winter flannels, which may not be changed to suit the conditions of the moment, are positively contraindicated because they interfere with the breathing of the outer lungs. In other words, they interfere with the natural functions of the skin, throwing its work upon the mucous membrane or " inner skin," as it has been called. The natural result of this overwork of the mucous membrane is congestion, with all its deleterious effects upon the voice. We say we have " taken cold ; " but " cold " does not express it any more than would " heat " or " indigestion," for either is probably a more frequent cause of the condition.

Voice training. This brings us to the training of the voice, which is, after all, the most practical part of our subject. “There are methods and methods," as some one has said, "and there is good in every one of them, but no one of them has a monopoly of the good."

Methods have their origin in the necessities of certain cases. We are too apt to reason in this way: My method eradicated my faults in vocalization and developed my voice to its present magnificent proportion; therefore it will eradicate your faults and develop your voice, forgetting that no two of its are exactly alike, and that my faults are not necessarily your faults, nor is my voice your voice.

I do not believe, therefore, in so called methods for the training of the voice, any more than I believe in iron clad rules for the treatment of disease. Quinin is a good thing for malaria, but not ever case of malaria may take quinin. The vocal teacher should use methods just as the skilled physician uses remedies. He should study the necessities of the case; he should make a thorough diagnosis, if you please, of the conditions as they exist, and then decide upon his plan of procedure, thus putting vocal training upon a scientific basis. This necessitates a thorough knowledge of the organs involved, and of their functions, both natural and special. The physical training of the voice, reduced to its final essence, consists in the development and specializing of certain definite muscles. This, of course, can be carried to its highest perfection only when there is a corresponding Psychical development. The one stimulates the other, and it is a question which takes precedence in the evolution of the singer or speaker. Written rules for the training of the voice are impracticable one must have the living teacher, the choice of whom should be made with great care, for more harm than good is often done by bad teaching.

The ear is also an important factor in the training of the voice. It must be taught to stand guard over every tone, to become a fair and unprejudiced critic, exacting to the last degree. Defective hearing, therefore, is one of the greatest obstacles to vocal development. The man who cannot see his faults will rarely, if ever, eradicate them; and every man must perceive his vocal imperfections through the medium of the ear. Therefore the greatest care should be taken to preserve the functions of' this organ. Acute inflammations of the ear should be promptly attended to by the skilled aurist ; and at the first intimation of uneasiness in the ear, or beginning deafness, professional advice should be sought for then, if ever, can the hearing be saved. An ounce of prevention at this time is worth a ton of cure later OD. The cause of deafness is often traced to some catarrhal trouble in the nose or throat; and. fortunately, the vocalist generally discovers this trouble before, the ear becomes seriously affected.

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