Historical Perspectives: Witherspoon’s Thirty-Fifth Lesson

Lesson 35


Do not set the lips in a fixed position. Let them follow the demands of the vowels and consonants.

Do not grin, and do not shape the mouth like an Oh or Aw, except when you sing those vowels.

Do not show the lower teeth when singing. This is the snarling position, and the tone will suffer the same quality as the snarl. There is no stereotyped position of the mouth as part of a “VOCAL METHOD.” It is constantly changing.

With one or two fingers press the lower lip gently to the lower teeth so that they do not show and sing five notes up and down the scale with LAH or NAH and hear the added resonance you obtain in the face.

Do not stand “sway-back.” It is ruinous both to tone and to appearance.

Let your face express the mood of the piece you are singing. Do not look like a blank wall. Cultivate the ability to express what you are singing and also to interest your audience by your own interest in what you are doing.

Do not try to “place” the voice in any arbitrary manner.

If the E vowel is difficult for you, sing MING, MING, etc., on several notes or up and down the scale until you both hear and feel where the E is made and what it sounds like in this syllable. Then try the E again, first with ME and then E alone.

If the formation of any vowel is uncertain, whisper it several times, then speak it, then sing it.

Do not try to sing high tones until the lower and middle tones are free and easy.

Do not mistake shouting for real vibrant carrying tone. Anybody can yell.

Practise many descending scales from an upper middle note which seems to come easily and freely. “LEAN” on the breath gently so as to preserve an even scale downwards, without losing the upper resonance of the face. Do not try to sing too long on one breath. Increase the breath-endurance gradually, never to the point of losing quality of tone.

Above all things, do not fool yourself. You will not become a good singer in a few weeks or even months. It is a lovely art and worth working for. And remember that an even a mediocre voice can be made beautiful and an adequate medium for artistic expression.

Do not breathe noisily. The singer’s breath should not be heard.

Do not try to hold the tongue flat or raise the palate or hold down the larynx. Local effort is generally harmful.

Stand still when practising and do not wander about the room. You will only lose poise and breathe badly, and your attention will wander. Do not sing in your nose with the self-deception that you are obtaining “NASAL RESONANCE.”

If you practise with others or you are in a class with others remember these lines:

  • I will study with diligence and modesty.
  • I will criticise with kindness.
  • I will rejoice in the success of others.
  • I will put jealousy out of my heart.

If you practise what these lines say, you will become a real artist and you will still hold your friends.


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