Look, But Don’t Touch!

We have here the only law of vocal management:

– The vocal organs adjust themselves instinctively and automatically to produce the tones demanded by the mental ear.

To apply this law to the training of the voice, it is necessary that the vocal organs be not interfered with in their operations. When there is any interference the tone cannot be correctly produced and the voice cannot be properly trained. Throat stiffness, an excessive tension of the muscles of the vocal organs, is the influence which most frequently brings about this interference.

Intense writing with a vice-like grip leads to cramped, ugly writing.

A simple illustration will serve to show how muscular stiffness may interfere with our voluntary actions. Take a pencil and a sheet of paper and start to write a few lines. Grip the pencil as hard as you can, and press with all the force of your arm on the paper. You will find that when you write with your hand and arm in this stiffened condition, the writing is cramped and ugly, and your hand grows tired.

When the vocal organs are in a condition of strain, similar to that illustrated by writing with the hand and arm cramped, it is impossible for the voice to respond perfectly to the demands of the mental ear. This does not mean that the instinctive connection between the voice and the mental ear is broken. On the contrary the voice makes the best response that it can. But in their stiffened condition the response of the vocal organs is not perfect, as it would be if there were no interference. Throat stiffness does not prevent the use of the voice; it only impedes the free operation of the vocal organs. The greater the degree of throat stiffness, the more the voice is hampered, and the worse the tone production becomes.

Even when the natural untrained voice is free from throat stiffness, it still requires cultivation before its tone production is perfect. In the course of correct training a change of some kind takes place in the operations of the voice. Several theories are offered as to the nature of this change. But the vocal student is not concerned with this matter. Even if the operations of correct tone production were thoroughly understood, that would not help the student in acquiring perfect control of the voice. For the voice needs no help of any kind, no directions from the OUTSIDE as to how its adjustments are to be made.

Voice training is not the acquiring of the ability consciously to direct or manipulate the vocal organs. Provided the mind has the right conception of artistic tone, and there is no interference from throat stiffness, correct tone production is acquired by the practice of singing under the sole guidance of the ear.

Taylor, D. C. “Self help for singers.” New York: The HW Gray Co (1914).

2 thoughts on “Look, But Don’t Touch!

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Justin. I am am 40-something male who has started singing seriously only 3 years ago, and despite hearing similar messages from 2 different voice teachers during that time, reading reams on the topic, paying for online courses and watching every video I can find, it has taken me until just recently to understand that relaxation is actually important. For the longest time I honestly thought it was just something singing teachers say in order to get students to continue buying lessons. This is a concept that is so simple yet takes an eternity to sink in when a person is used to always just trying *harder* and pushing *more* to achieve success in whatever they are working toward in life.

    1. Perhaps one of the most vexing pedagogical realities is *maybe* singing isn’t as hard as we think it is, or should be. This sense of ease and freedom comes up too many times in the oldest writings to make us comfortable today. David Clark Taylor seemed to see the fallacy of controlling the voice by direct management of the various ‘parts;’ a view I have come to accept and adopt wholeheartedly. All the greatest singers in history learned to sing by LISTENING and practicing with the ear as guide, not by controlling or managing various ‘parts.’

      Taylor’s work (along with other ‘old school’ pedagogues listed in my resource section) has planted enticing seeds for us, but we need the courage to 1) LISTEN and then 2) learn. Some paradigms need to shift.

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