Misconceptions Concerning Resonance

The confusion of concepts employed to rectify mechanical deficiencies without attacking the source of the problem may be seen from the variety of images students are often urged to act upon: “place the tone forward,”” direct it against the front teeth,”” feel it almost in, but not quite in the nose,”” feel the vowel between the eyes,”” resonate in the facial masque,”” sing the tone as though it were going out to the back of the neck and heard by someone standing behind you,”” focus the tone with the uvula,”” feel it deep and in the throat,” and/or “feel it in the head cavities.”

The concept(s) related to sensations of vibration noted above embrace no functional principle. They confuse ends with means, and merely prove that different physical sensations are the product of different kinds of physical coordination, each being comprised of certain positive attributes and limitations, and nothing more. Impressions are no substitute for physical reality, and unless sensations of vibration are properly identified with their causes, they do not merit serious consideration as a basis for developing vocal skills.

Some of the “impressionistic” solutions detailed above have unfortunately become standard pedagogic practice; “nasal resonance” and voice “placement” being foremost among them. That these solutions are without substance, however, has been proven by experiments, conducted by Charles Frederick Lindsley (1932), which demonstrated that the vibratory sensations experienced by the singer were misleading. The falsetto, for example, which appears to resonate exclusively in the “head,” he found to excite more response at the point of the larynx and trachea than in the head cavities. A more serious misconception is the belief that vibratory impulses are resonated in the nasal sinuses, or “masque.” This illusion was dispelled by Warren B. Wooldridge (1954), who, having filled the nasal passages with cotton gauze to dampen them, discovered no loss in tonal vitality. Undoubtedly, vibratory sensations can be”felt” in the facial masque, but they are due to bone conduction, not resonance.

The sensory impressions recorded during vocalization, however, are not wholly without pedagogic merit. Nevertheless, whether fancied or real, none should be considered an ultimate good, but subject to change as technical progress modifies both their intensity of feeling and sense of locale. Ideally, an awareness of the specific nature of the manner in which bodily organs respond to a musical stimulus requires that the singer consider his relationship to the communicative experience as a totality. To concentrate on isolated areas of vibratory sensation moves away from this objective. Therefore, if a particular sensation is thought of as a temporary expedient to be more desirable than another, it must be brought into being and introduced to the pupil’s consciousness with the concern for process rather than the replication of symptoms. The dynamics of the process itself involve the employment of those principles governing registration.

Pedagogic reliance upon sensation to effect a technical improvement usually develops weaknesses, since the sensations experienced by most singers are too closely associated with their problems to provide a solution and, indeed, usually create difficulties of even greater magnitude. Like perfect health, a correctly produced tone quality is free of localized symptoms. With everything “in-place” and full functioning, such an experience will record as a wonderfully exhilarating feeling of overall physical vitality and well-being.

Reid, Cornelius L. “The Nature of Resonance.” Essays on the Nature of Singing. Recital Publications, 1992.

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