Historical Perspectives: Witherspoon’s Tenth Lesson

Lesson 10


Faulty pitch is the worst fault in singing.

No one need sing out of tune if he has a normal ear, and a normal vocal tract. If he has not these, then he has no right to try to become a singer. (Ed. OUCH!)

The common fault in singing out of tune is to sing flat. This is caused by faulty vocal action and is often due entirely to incorrect, un-natural breathing, or to local, forced control of the breathing muscles.

But often poor formation of the vowels causes flat singing.

Flat singing is of course due to lack of proper resonance, or delayed action of the vocal cords from tension in the throat. If one thing in the vocal organism goes wrong, then everything else goes wrong. It is all a matter of natural, free co-ordination.

Generally speaking, if you sing flat you are not getting enough upper resonance, and the vowel is not properly formed.

If you sing sharp, the mouth is not doing its duty in the formation of the vowel; there is too much “TOP” to the tone, not enough fundamental.

A musical tone in the human voice is the result of good vowels and perfect resonance, a perfectly formed fundamental, and well resonated overtones. Perhaps you have already learned something about the physics of sound. You know that a musical sound is a compound quality consisting of a fundamental sound or vibration and overtones which are excited in sympathy with the fundamental.

If these overtones and fundamental do not sound correctly the results will be bad.

We find that if we sing flat we must stimulate more overtones (ed. While Witherspoon decries “localized control” it appears he can’t wrest himself away from attempting to do so with resonance, something he referred to as a ‘bugaboo.’). If we sing sharp we must obtain more fundamental.

So if you sing flat, use the phonetics in the exercises, such as HM, MUMM, MING, HUNG, NAH, MAH, or perhaps MY if your sound is very dark and hollow. After practicing these sounds on short scales return to LAH and AH and AH, A, E, Exercise 9. You will soon hear the “LIFT OF THE BREATH” with a new upper resonance at the important note as given in Lesson 9.

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If you sing sharp, practice to gain more mouth tone, using LAH, RAH, MAW, NOH, OO, KAH, AH, AW, OH, using short exercises and listen for the “lift.” In this case you may find that the “LIFT” will change its location in the scale.

Always return to AH and see if you have corrected the fault.

Transpose all exercises by semi-tones higher and lower.

They are all written in the key of C for convenience.

Witherspoon, Herbert. Thirty-Six Lessons in Singing for Teacher and Student. Meissner Institute of Music. Chicago. 1930.




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