First Hear, then Know

(All bold highlights are the emphasis of the blog writer).

From Husler and Rodd-Marling’s Singing: The Physical Nature of the Vocal Organ

Both singer and teacher are urgently advised, however, to proceed from the concrete to the abstract. In other words, to begin with the sound-picture and later to acquire exact knowledge, never the reverse. So in the first place, the perceptivity of the ear must be heightened until the different tonal qualities can be distinctly heard. When the various sound phenomena found in the singing voice can be distinctly heard, and distinguished one from another, the time will have come to try to understand the fundamental connections that exist between them and the organ that produces them.

The science of voice physiology has provided singer and voice trainer with the basis for their work. But scientific conclusions, especially for the singer, are liable to prove a useless form of erudition more likely to harm than to help him, if his ear has not learned to interpret their meaning. 

The eye, to which this science owes its existence, possesses a fundamentally different mentality to that of the ear. Compared to sight, hearing is by far the more primitive sense, at the the height of its powers in pre-logical times (Man was probably more of a hearer before he began to see, in our sense of the word). The ear does not operate like the eye, thinkingly; that is, its original nature has no reasoning power with which to differentiate between cause and effect. It still makes use of the age-old practice of invocation; i.e., solely by using its imaginative powers it is able to summon up causes.

This is a fact that cannot be disregarded, for the ear has not altered its constitution, its condition alone has changed. It has become so deaf, in this respect, that it is now incapable, normally speaking, of finding the organ of voice…that is why the ear must be trained until finally a connection is formed between it and the thinking, interpretive eye.

In a recent comprehensive work on vocal research, however, we find the following statement:

Control of the voice in singing does not in fact take place through the ear but by means of an inner sensory path; having localized certain inner sensations, the singer is able to make use of them.

G. Panconcelli-Calzia. Die Stimmatmung. Liepzig, 1956. (quoting Husson)

We would like to supplement this sentence which, since it states only have the case, could give rise to misconceptions:

Vocal qualities are processes translated into sound according to the manner in which they occur in the vocal organ; they are the outcome of these processes and their accurate portrayal. Through such sound-pictures the singer’s sense of hearing identifies the various processes which his EAR unthinkingly knows how to ‘read.’ They lead him to his vocal organ and, being remembered, give him a certain control over it. 

In addition, sound phenomena thus perceived provide the IMPULSE, the stimulating agency, by means of which the various processes and their accompanying ‘inner sensations’ are released. ‘Inner sensations’, sensory-motor responses of this kind, are eventually stabilized when they, too, exercise a certain controlling function.

The auditory sense existed first:

The organ of hearing is in fact older phylogenetically than the phonatory apparatus, whose extraordinary efficiency in Man was apparently first developed under the former’s control.


normal phonation is only possible if the activity of the vocal apparatus takes place under the control of the ear.

Lullies, Hans. Physiologie der Stimme und Sprache. Berlin, 1953.

The simple fact is: voices have always been trained by imitation of things heard. 

Imitation is necessary in learning to speak or to sing: a Canary’s egg, hatched by a Sparrow, will not produce a bird with powers of song if there are not musical parents to teach it.

Negus, V.E. The Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of the Larynx. London, 1949.

Whoever has no hearing, though possessing a vocal organ, has no voice (deaf-mute).


Husler, Frederick, and Yvonne Rodd-Marling. Singing: the physical nature of the vocal organ: a guide to the unlocking of the singing voice. Vintage, 1976.

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