Historical Perspectives: Witherspoon’s Twenty-First Lesson

Lesson 21


Take Exercise 39. Attacking the first note with a good firm tone, an easy forte, diminish this tone gradually to an easy piano listening for the overtone resonance or head quality, and then pass to the upper note an octave above, quite softly. Descend the scale, trying to preserve all the way down the scale the clear head quality.

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After a time you may swell the upper tone to an easy forte and after bringing it back to piano descend the scale as before.

This will gradually assist you in sounding the upper notes with ease and freedom and will prevent forcing. It will give you that poise and brilliancy on the upper notes so valuable for great singing. Do not open the mouth too widely. Let the mouth open a little more as you increase the tone.

If the jaw is stiff or the tongue in the way, place the thumbs at the back corners of the jaw, feel the jaw descend slightly as you inhale and then attack the note again. This will aid you in getting the correct mouth position and freedom of the tongue before you attack the note.

Now attack the octave above your lowest easy note and sing the scale downwards as in exercise 16. Make the attack clean and sure and preserve the head quality as you descend the scale. Follow with the same descending scale higher by semi-tones.

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Now pass to exercise 40 and you will find added freedom and sureness in singing these intervals with force and brilliancy.

It will be well to use the arm gestures in practising exercise 40 at first.

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After a time you will notice that your lower tones are gaining in upper resonance; they may sound less “chesty,” and will become more like the middle tones. But do not make the error of weakening the low tones by too much upper quality. All voices should have strong low tones, even the soprano and tenor. But they must not be “open” chest, with sounds which do not match the rest of the voice. There must be no sudden change in quality on these low tones.

This brings us to the subject of “REGISTERS” of which we still hear much, and which will be the subject for our next lesson.


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

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