The vocal wisdom of Clippinger

I have been really enjoying reading some of the writings of D. A. Clippinger. His book, “Head Voice and Other Problems” has some terrific pearls of wisdom for teachers of voice, and further emphasize the importance of registration as the bedrock of vocal training.

Clippinger Head Voice

This particular book was published by Oliver Ditson Company in 1917.

On the importance of not ‘fixing’ the larynx in a rigid position, he remarks:

When the larynx is free it will not and should not be in the same position at all times. It will be a little lower for somber tones than for bright tones. It will be a little higher from the vowel e than for oo or o, but the adjustments will be automatic, never conscious. It cannot be too often reiterated that every part of the vocal mechanism must act automatically, and it is not properly controlled until it does.

Here is a perfect example of the agreement of older teaching on INDIRECT versus DIRECT control. When singers make conscious muscular actions upon the voice, the sound becomes hardened, stiffer, and less free. The above quote could easily have been written by Manuel Garcia as well, who believed that the larynx should be free to move within the guidelines of the two timbres: the clear timbre (la voix claire) and the somber timbre (la voix sombre) as laid out in his Traité de l’Art du Chant of 1841.

He is also in agreement with Garcia and other bel canto writers on the importance of the head voice in both women AND men:

There is nothing in the tone world so beautiful as the male or female head voice when properly produced, and there is nothing so excruciatingly distressing as the same voice when badly produced.

He also cautions against the singing of higher pitches in a loud and raucous manner, denoting a misapplied balance between the chest and falsetto/head mechanisms:

The ability to use the full power of the upper voice when occasion demands is necessary and right, but merely to be able to sing high and loud means nothing. All that is required for that is a strong physique and determination. Such voice building requires but little time and no musical sense whatsoever; but to be able to sing the upper register with power, emotional intensity, musical quality and ease, is the result of long and careful work under the ear of a teacher whose sense of tone quality is so refined that it will detect instantly the slightest degree of resistance and not allow it to continue.

In contrast to the loud, overblown singing in much of the higher tones in classical music, Clippinger asserts that the head voice should be led by softer, more gentle exercises and vocalization:

Such a display of force discloses an erroneous idea of how to produce the upper voice. When there is the right relation existing between the breath and the vocal instrument, when there is proper poise and balance of parts, no such effort is necessary. On the contrary the tone seems to flow and the effort required is only that of a light and pleasant physical exercise. The pianist does not have to strike the upper tones any harder than the lower ones in order to bring out their full power. Why should the upper part of the voice require such prodigious effort?

These are very important sentences to remember, especially for classical men’s voices, which are accustomed to a tremendous desire for power and ‘ring’ in the upper part of the voice; usually achieved by pushing more breath and over-modifying vowels. The head voice can be the tool that guides the development of the voice in a healthy, efficient, and long-lasting way.

In closing, Clippinger addresses the issue of developing this head voice:

There is but one way to the solution of the problem; the singer must get rid of resistance. When he has succeeded in doing that the problem of the head voice is solved. The bugaboo of voice placing permanently disappears. The difficulty so many having in placing the upper voice lies in this, that they try to do it without removing the one thing which prevents them from doing it. When the voice is free from resistance it places itself, that is, it produces without effort whatever quality the singer desires. The term “head voice,” doubtless grew out of the sensation in the head which accompanies the upper tones, and this sensation is the result of the vibration of the air in the head cavities. Many have taken this sensation as a guide to the production of the head voice, and in order to make sure of it they instruct the student to direct the tone into the head. This is not only an uncertain and unnecessary procedure, but is almost sure to develop a resistance which effectually prevents the tone from reaching the head cavities. When there is no interference the tone runs naturally into the proper channel. It is not necessary to use force to put it there.

Clippinger, David Alva. The Head Voice and Other Problems: Practical Talks on Singing. Oliver Ditson Company, 1917.



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