Do Ya Feel It?

I couldn’t resist sharing this wonderful quote from David Clark Taylor on teaching “sensations of tone.” He sums up quite nicely the futility of trying to teach a student by what they ‘should’ feel.

Correct singing teaches correct sensations.


Under the influence of the idea of mechanical vocal management there is little room for choice between voice culture along empirical lines, and the accepted type of scientific instruction. Modern empirical voice training has little practical value. Describing to the student the sensations which ought to be felt, does not help in the least. Even if the sensations felt by the singer, in producing tone correctly, are entirely different from those accompanying any incorrect use of the voice, nothing can be learned thereby. The sensations of correct singing cannot be felt until the voice is correctly used.An effect cannot produce its cause. Correct tone-production must be there to cause the sensations, or the sensations are not awakened at all. Nothing else can bring about the sensations of correct singing, but correct singing itself.

Further, these sensations cannot be known until they are actually experienced. No description is adequate to enable the student to feel them in imagination. And, finally, even if the sensations could be described with all vividness, imagining them would not influence the vocal organs in any way. This is true, whether the description is given empirically, or whether it is cited to explain a mechanical feature of the vocal action. Instruction based on the singer’s sensations is absolutely valueless.

Taylor, David Clark. The psychology of singing: a rational method of voice culture based on a scientific analysis of all systems, ancient and modern. The Macmillan Company, 1917.

Franklyn Kelsey On “Sensations of Tone”


The writings of the old school, on the other hand, dealt with the nature of the human instrument; they went back to the very foundations of human sound-generation. Nothing was taken for granted, least of all the normal processes of everyday speech. Nothing was described in terms of subjective sensation; in the whole of Manuel Garcia’s writings it is hard to find a single mention of the kind of sensation which a singer may expect to feel when singing.  This does not mean that Garcia never used this method of teaching; but it certainly suggests that he realized the dangers of putting sensations into books.  The difficulty here is that the sensations of singers arise from a combination of the workings of individual cerebro-nervous systems and an individual gift of what may be termed “sensory awareness”; and the more closely the singer tries to analyse these sensations the more misleading they can be.  When a whole group of great singers attests to what may be called an ‘overall’ sensation, the evidence is often of great value, but the process of taking sensations to bits in order to see how they work is dangerous.  The great Lilli Lehmann wrote a book on these lines, in which she attempted to clarify the analysis of her sensations by means of a number of carefully executed illustrations in line and colour. The book is quite incomprehensible, even to an experienced singer.

Kelsey, Franklyn. “The Riddle of the Voice.” Music and Letters 29.3 (1948): 238-248.