Historical Perspectives: Witherspoon’s Seventeenth Lesson

Lesson 17


If you have difficulty in singing high notes, as nearly everyone has, please study this lesson very carefully.

Take exercise 46, singing it with the vowels AH and E.

It is a good exercise to practice this alternately with these vowels, first with E, then with AH.

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The E vowel tends to free the palate, to permit full resonance in the head and face, and it also demands close approximation of the vocal chords [sic].

AH, especially in male voices, tends to “OPEN” the tone too much and by drawing up the palate cuts off the face resonance. Also it may cause a fundamental too large for the higher tones.

If E causes the larynx to ascend, which is fatal to high tones, giving a throaty and strained sound, use the MING syllable again until the E vowel can be pronounced freely without interfering with the larynx position.

Sing the exercise again on E, then follow with AH. Soon the voice will gain head resonance and the tones will not be open and “YELLY.”


This is simply an absurd idea. The voice does not “go back” nor does it “turn over.”

When you sing high notes all that happens is a more exaggerated application of the vocal law, a further adjustment of the vocal organs for the sake of the new formation of the modified fundamental tone and vowel and necessary resonance of all the vocal tract, especially the head. (ED. Witherspoon seems to go everywhere to solve issues with registration but registration itself.)

Practice the repeated attacks, octave leaps, and the descending scales in exercises Nos. 22, 25, 26, 28, 38, 44.

Use the arm gestures if you feel any awkwardness of discomfort.

Singing should be always easy and comfortable, never accompanied by swelling of the throat or the veins in the the throat; no red faces or staring eyes, no hoarseness after practice.

If the “Adam’s Apple” persists in rising, you may sing some scales piano on OO. OO tends to keep the larynx lower and, therefore, will help you if you do not sing it loudly. OO modifies much especially in high voices on high notes, and then its effect on the larynx may be lost or diminished.


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