Franklyn Kelsey On “Sensations of Tone”


The writings of the old school, on the other hand, dealt with the nature of the human instrument; they went back to the very foundations of human sound-generation. Nothing was taken for granted, least of all the normal processes of everyday speech. Nothing was described in terms of subjective sensation; in the whole of Manuel Garcia’s writings it is hard to find a single mention of the kind of sensation which a singer may expect to feel when singing.  This does not mean that Garcia never used this method of teaching; but it certainly suggests that he realized the dangers of putting sensations into books.  The difficulty here is that the sensations of singers arise from a combination of the workings of individual cerebro-nervous systems and an individual gift of what may be termed “sensory awareness”; and the more closely the singer tries to analyse these sensations the more misleading they can be.  When a whole group of great singers attests to what may be called an ‘overall’ sensation, the evidence is often of great value, but the process of taking sensations to bits in order to see how they work is dangerous.  The great Lilli Lehmann wrote a book on these lines, in which she attempted to clarify the analysis of her sensations by means of a number of carefully executed illustrations in line and colour. The book is quite incomprehensible, even to an experienced singer.

Kelsey, Franklyn. “The Riddle of the Voice.” Music and Letters 29.3 (1948): 238-248.

One thought on “Franklyn Kelsey On “Sensations of Tone”

  1. When I first read Lilli’s book I was very confused. However, in her defense, the more I develop my voice, the more her words make sense. Take this picture for example. I just when through the pitches using a soft falsetto (No vibrato, and no breathiness either but the dynamic of a soft whisper, u works, but the advanced oh or ah enables more feeling). I can feel those puffy air currents hitting those spots in my mouth and palates with surprising accuracy. I did not direct the breath there, it goes there naturally (that’s key). If I were to focus and swell that tone with the i vowel, sometimes that breath gets so concentrated it is like a pin piercing that spot, especially F, F# and G above middle C. It isn’t where I feel the sound, it is where I feel the breath stream hitting. I therefore wonder how “subjective” this really is. I suspect that in the studio of Lilli Lehmann, this may have actually been objective sensations felt by all of her students at some point along their training journey.

    Lilli says something along those lines on page 29:

    “The sensations in singing must coincide with
    the ones here described, if they are to be considered
    as correct; for mine are based logically on
    physiological causes, and correspond precisely
    with the operation of these causes. Moreover,
    all my pupils tell me often, to be sure, not till
    many months have passed how exact my explanations
    are; how accurately, on the strength of
    them, they have learned to feel the physiological

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