Fads and Fancies in the Teaching of Singing

How many of these “Fads” are still being promulgated in modern-day pedagogy in the year 2016? Witherspoon’s book was written in 1925.

Read ’em and weep. Or laugh.

These fads and fancies were gathered by the author either directly from his own experience in various studios, or from books, or from others who have seen and heard them taught. No teacher or book is named. The fads and fancies are all facts in the sense that they have all been at some time or are now being taught.

(1) Placing for nasal resonance in a special locality, generally resulting in “nosey” singing.

(2) Continued use of the vowels AW and OH, causing dark, gloomy tones and “humped-up,” stiffened tongue.

(3) Trumpet lips, no matter what the vowel, consonant or word, ruinous to correct pronunciation.

(4) The lowered and relaxed soft palate, destructive of “ring,” and causing nasal “buzzy,” weak tone.

(5) The locally raised palate, generally causing stiffness of the voice organs, “roary” hollow tone, and very frequently tremolo as well.

(6) The raised larynx, causing “chicken” voice, tight, pinched, unyielding, frequently “white” voice.

(7) The locally lowered or pressed down larynx, causing dark, lugubrious tone with a “swallowed,” inactive tongue.

(8) Abdominal breathing, which inhibits rib breathing, and of course ruins correct coordination. There is really no such form of breathing, and it is a misnomer.

(9) The fad of making every attack with the aid of consonants, preventive of clear vowel attack and well-formed vowels.

(10) The avoidance of exercises, and the use of arias and songs as the only medium for development.

(11) The fad that a soprano should never develop good healthy lower tones.

(12) The use of descending scales as the principle exercises, so that head voice will be developed. This in time weakens the fundamental of tone and does not develop the lower tones. Common sense would dictate the use of both ascending and descending scales for the attainment of an even scale.

(13) Take a deep breath, close the mouth and sing the word “come” without opening the mouth.

(14) Here is a formula: “The body brain sends a message to the singing brain, and the articulator answers it.”

(15) Another: “Take a deep breath; perceive that the larynx rises; sing without letting the larynx fall. This gives the correct ‘pinch’ of the glottis.”

(16) Approximate the vocal cords two or three times, then sing. (Of course, a manifest impossibility)

(17) Put a feather upon the floor in front of the pupil, then let him stoop over and pick up the feather as he sings the high tones desired.

(18) Cause the cheeks to become hollow from without inwards, pout the lips as far out as possible in trumpet formation. This will add to the resonance of the voice, as the space between the teeth and the lips is the real resonator.

(19) Lie crosswise on your bed. Let the arms hang down on one side and your feet on the other, until the body feels well stretched. Extend the arms in the shape of a cross. Let the mouth open by letting the head fall down instead of lowering the jaw. Sing AH! This will send the voice in the head, take the strain off the throat, widen the chest!

(20) Feel tired, so as to get relaxation.

(21) Do not get ready to sing.

(22) Open the mouth as wide as possible, because the larger the mouth opening the larger the resonance and volume of tone.

(23) Stand erect, press on the ground with the soles of the feet when taking a high tone.

(24) Distend the nostrils as much as possible.

(25) The fad of psychology and the avoidance of all things physical in the voice.

(26) The fad of lying upon the floor with heavy books upon the chest, which books are to be raised by the pupil on inhaling, so as to strengthen the chest.

(27) The practice of standing in a patented machine, so equipped with arms and contact buttons that any false movement of the breathing organs will cause a bell to ring.

(28) The practising of the most closed OO for several years until the voice is “placed up.”

(29) The singing of ZIM, ZAM, ZUM, to perfect resonance.

(30) This one is marvelous: Raise the palate as high as possible, push down the larynx as low as possible, force out the upper abdomen, place the voice against the spine.

(31) The fad of raising the chest as high as possible, never lowering it during inhaling or exhaling, until it grows and remains in this position.

(32) The collapsing of the chest, relaxing it more and more day by day, so as to free the throat from tension.

(33) The making of the “foolish face” in order to relax. After this is accomplished, the pupil must place his hands behind his back, bend over, and chase an imaginary dove around the room. This will relax the “whole person.”

(34) The fancy to sing very loudly before singing very softly, because it takes more breath to sing softly.

(35) The fad of blowing upon a visiting card held perpendicularly in front of the lips. This is followed by putting the handkerchief folded in a certain fashion into the mouth, firming the lips around the end of the folded handkerchief, and singing AU. This is supposed to “put the voice in the head.”

(36) The fad of the raised upper lip and wrinkled nose, making the singer look like a “jack-rabbit,” or as if he were smelling a very bad odor.

(37) The fad of bowing the head, or making the “goose-neck,” when singing high tones. This is supposed to “turn the voice over” into the head.

(38) The fad of separate muscle control, including the attempt to move or relax or tense various separate muscles in the throat or voice organs.

(39) The fad of placing the voice in any one spot of the singer’s anatomy.

(40) The attempt to flatten or groove the tongue for certain notes or for the entire scale, ruinous to free activity and to coordination.

(41) The fad and fancy of a certain kind of coughing from the bronchial tubes, at the commencement of the lesson, so as to “clear the pipes,” remove all mucus, and improve resonance. What this will do is self-evident.

(42) Standing near the piano, a grand, breathing with abdominal breathing, push with the abdomen against the piano while singing. This is supposed to develop breath control, but in reality only makes good piano movers.

(43) The fad of “vomiting” tones into a convenient brass urn, so that the tones will come “from deep down.”

(44) The silly fancy of counting one, two, three, four, five, or more, before attacking “AH.” Ruinous to attack, as the tone should be attacked upon suspension of breath, clearly and perfectly without delay.

(45) The fad of producing high tones with the aid of the aspirate H, which causes either “flatus” in the tone, or gives a distressing, forcing sound.

(46) The fad of curling up the tip of the tongue towards the roof of the mouth so as to focus the tone. Destructive of vowel sound, because the tongue position is incorrect.

(47) The grinning smile in supposed imitation of the old school. This tightens the throat, whitens the voice, and makes “color” impossible.

(48) Resonance is only established by singing Lll, Lll, etc., with no vowel.

(49) Place a stick between the two rows of teeth to insure correct opening of the mouth.

(50) If the tongue is unruly, press it down with the handle of a teaspoon or a patented silver-plated article made for the purpose. (I am the fortunate possessor of several.)

(51) Put two corks in the nostrils in order to cure singing through the nose.

(52) Sing AH while thinking OO. Gradually think less OO until the AH is perfect.


Is it necessary to waste time or thought or printer’s ink on such nonsense? I have stated what would be the results of a few of these practices. Most of the others are self-evident.

But it is sad history of any profession which contains such a collection as the above. Certainly we are living in an age possessed of enough knowledge to refute such questionable methods of procedure, and to substitute for them in all minds something really worth while.”

Witherspoon, Herbert. Singing. New York: G Schirmer (1925).

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