Fads and Fancies in the Teaching of Singing

How many of these “Fads” are still being promulgated in modern-day pedagogy in the year 2016? Witherspoon’s book was written in 1925.

Read ’em and weep. Or laugh.

These fads and fancies were gathered by the author either directly from his own experience in various studios, or from books, or from others who have seen and heard them taught. No teacher or book is named. The fads and fancies are all facts in the sense that they have all been at some time or are now being taught.

(1) Placing for nasal resonance in a special locality, generally resulting in “nosey” singing.

(2) Continued use of the vowels AW and OH, causing dark, gloomy tones and “humped-up,” stiffened tongue.

(3) Trumpet lips, no matter what the vowel, consonant or word, ruinous to correct pronunciation.

(4) The lowered and relaxed soft palate, destructive of “ring,” and causing nasal “buzzy,” weak tone.

(5) The locally raised palate, generally causing stiffness of the voice organs, “roary” hollow tone, and very frequently tremolo as well.

(6) The raised larynx, causing “chicken” voice, tight, pinched, unyielding, frequently “white” voice.

(7) The locally lowered or pressed down larynx, causing dark, lugubrious tone with a “swallowed,” inactive tongue.

(8) Abdominal breathing, which inhibits rib breathing, and of course ruins correct coordination. There is really no such form of breathing, and it is a misnomer.

(9) The fad of making every attack with the aid of consonants, preventive of clear vowel attack and well-formed vowels.

(10) The avoidance of exercises, and the use of arias and songs as the only medium for development.

(11) The fad that a soprano should never develop good healthy lower tones.

(12) The use of descending scales as the principle exercises, so that head voice will be developed. This in time weakens the fundamental of tone and does not develop the lower tones. Common sense would dictate the use of both ascending and descending scales for the attainment of an even scale.

(13) Take a deep breath, close the mouth and sing the word “come” without opening the mouth.

(14) Here is a formula: “The body brain sends a message to the singing brain, and the articulator answers it.”

(15) Another: “Take a deep breath; perceive that the larynx rises; sing without letting the larynx fall. This gives the correct ‘pinch’ of the glottis.”

(16) Approximate the vocal cords two or three times, then sing. (Of course, a manifest impossibility)

(17) Put a feather upon the floor in front of the pupil, then let him stoop over and pick up the feather as he sings the high tones desired.

(18) Cause the cheeks to become hollow from without inwards, pout the lips as far out as possible in trumpet formation. This will add to the resonance of the voice, as the space between the teeth and the lips is the real resonator.

(19) Lie crosswise on your bed. Let the arms hang down on one side and your feet on the other, until the body feels well stretched. Extend the arms in the shape of a cross. Let the mouth open by letting the head fall down instead of lowering the jaw. Sing AH! This will send the voice in the head, take the strain off the throat, widen the chest!

(20) Feel tired, so as to get relaxation.

(21) Do not get ready to sing.

(22) Open the mouth as wide as possible, because the larger the mouth opening the larger the resonance and volume of tone.

(23) Stand erect, press on the ground with the soles of the feet when taking a high tone.

(24) Distend the nostrils as much as possible.

(25) The fad of psychology and the avoidance of all things physical in the voice.

(26) The fad of lying upon the floor with heavy books upon the chest, which books are to be raised by the pupil on inhaling, so as to strengthen the chest.

(27) The practice of standing in a patented machine, so equipped with arms and contact buttons that any false movement of the breathing organs will cause a bell to ring.

(28) The practising of the most closed OO for several years until the voice is “placed up.”

(29) The singing of ZIM, ZAM, ZUM, to perfect resonance.

(30) This one is marvelous: Raise the palate as high as possible, push down the larynx as low as possible, force out the upper abdomen, place the voice against the spine.

(31) The fad of raising the chest as high as possible, never lowering it during inhaling or exhaling, until it grows and remains in this position.

(32) The collapsing of the chest, relaxing it more and more day by day, so as to free the throat from tension.

(33) The making of the “foolish face” in order to relax. After this is accomplished, the pupil must place his hands behind his back, bend over, and chase an imaginary dove around the room. This will relax the “whole person.”

(34) The fancy to sing very loudly before singing very softly, because it takes more breath to sing softly.

(35) The fad of blowing upon a visiting card held perpendicularly in front of the lips. This is followed by putting the handkerchief folded in a certain fashion into the mouth, firming the lips around the end of the folded handkerchief, and singing AU. This is supposed to “put the voice in the head.”

(36) The fad of the raised upper lip and wrinkled nose, making the singer look like a “jack-rabbit,” or as if he were smelling a very bad odor.

(37) The fad of bowing the head, or making the “goose-neck,” when singing high tones. This is supposed to “turn the voice over” into the head.

(38) The fad of separate muscle control, including the attempt to move or relax or tense various separate muscles in the throat or voice organs.

(39) The fad of placing the voice in any one spot of the singer’s anatomy.

(40) The attempt to flatten or groove the tongue for certain notes or for the entire scale, ruinous to free activity and to coordination.

(41) The fad and fancy of a certain kind of coughing from the bronchial tubes, at the commencement of the lesson, so as to “clear the pipes,” remove all mucus, and improve resonance. What this will do is self-evident.

(42) Standing near the piano, a grand, breathing with abdominal breathing, push with the abdomen against the piano while singing. This is supposed to develop breath control, but in reality only makes good piano movers.

(43) The fad of “vomiting” tones into a convenient brass urn, so that the tones will come “from deep down.”

(44) The silly fancy of counting one, two, three, four, five, or more, before attacking “AH.” Ruinous to attack, as the tone should be attacked upon suspension of breath, clearly and perfectly without delay.

(45) The fad of producing high tones with the aid of the aspirate H, which causes either “flatus” in the tone, or gives a distressing, forcing sound.

(46) The fad of curling up the tip of the tongue towards the roof of the mouth so as to focus the tone. Destructive of vowel sound, because the tongue position is incorrect.

(47) The grinning smile in supposed imitation of the old school. This tightens the throat, whitens the voice, and makes “color” impossible.

(48) Resonance is only established by singing Lll, Lll, etc., with no vowel.

(49) Place a stick between the two rows of teeth to insure correct opening of the mouth.

(50) If the tongue is unruly, press it down with the handle of a teaspoon or a patented silver-plated article made for the purpose. (I am the fortunate possessor of several.)

(51) Put two corks in the nostrils in order to cure singing through the nose.

(52) Sing AH while thinking OO. Gradually think less OO until the AH is perfect.


Is it necessary to waste time or thought or printer’s ink on such nonsense? I have stated what would be the results of a few of these practices. Most of the others are self-evident.

But it is sad history of any profession which contains such a collection as the above. Certainly we are living in an age possessed of enough knowledge to refute such questionable methods of procedure, and to substitute for them in all minds something really worth while.”

Witherspoon, Herbert. Singing. New York: G Schirmer (1925).

Foreman’s Historical Perspectives: 20th Century Pedagogy – Part I

At no time in history has the diversity of ways in which vocal sound can be manipulated been more apparent. Nor has there ever been less agreement on how to achieve those diverse sounds, or what constitutes “good singing.”1 On the other hand, contemporary teachers proceed to disagree with much less public acrimony than in the 19th century—for the most part.

The primary consideration for teachers and singers alike is no longer only an “operatic” sound. In the 19th century, opera was the biggest game in town, and a singer trained for opera was expected to be able to scale down his voice for recital work. Let us remember that Tosi in 1723 said there were three styles, opera, chamber and church. He did not say there were three vocal emissions. Today there are dozens of kinds of vocal emissions in use, if we count—as I think we must—the exotic and ethnic styles which have been increasingly imported, and the varieties of “popular” singing, of which I count four:

  1. Ballad-crooning, which was the first of the new “popular styles” to make its appearance after the microphone was invented;
  2. Broadway singing, which inverts the usual order and ordinarily asks the female to sing in a chest voice known as a “belt,” and the male to sing in a heady near-falsetto;
  3. Rock and roll, a high-volume, often high-pitched style akin to shouting;
  4. “Folk,” in which I include traditional folksinging, Country Western, and contemporary folk styles.

To the “classical” voice teacher, the popular styles are anathema.

Here is a strong statement from Cornelius L. Reid:2

A correct technique of singing is a physiological fact, and the function of the vocal organs is governed by immutable laws. To succeed in formulating workable principles relating to that function, a proper foundation must be laid by asking and attempting to answer two fundamental questions. First, What is ‘voice,’ and what is the functional nature of the mechanism training methods are attempting to bring under discipline? Second, Why is it necessary to train the singing voice at all if its organic function is truly rooted in the natural?

In another book, Reid offers this definition of belting:3

“Belting: the practice adopted by “pop” singers (particularly women) of driving the chest register too high in the tonal range.

Belting is not a legitimate use of the mechanism and is extremely detrimental to vocal health. “Belters” frequently develop nodules on the vocal folds that require either long periods of rest or surgery for their removal.”

Taken together, these two statements seem to me to display a prejudice which excludes the possibility that good voice teachers will undertake to understand the necessary techniques which are in actual use, and learn to teach them sensibly and safely. Teachers who ignore this very large segment of the music industry, or whose critical attitudes encourage other teachers to abandon the aspiring popular singer, do themselves and the profession a disservice.

The very idea that there is one physiologically correct way to use the voice is immediately disproved when we begin to listen to the wide variety of ethnic vocal emissions available on CD. The longevity of Chinese opera singers—falsettists who often sing to an advanced age—belies this dictum, as do the varieties of polytonal singing coming out of Tibet, the Tuvan throat singers, and any number of vocal emissions which do no apparent damage to the physical organs of sound.

It is also apparent that Reid, distinguished teacher that he is, suffers from the same Western “classical” bias which limits the thinking of most voice teachers. I think we have already grappled sufficiently with the problem of a “natural” basis for vocal emission that I need not reiterate what kind of mare’s nest.4

But I think we have to infer that voice teachers teach what they have learned works most satisfactorily in their own singing, and that this is largely viva voce information, acquired by a combination of studying voice one-on-one, and listening to singers.5 A good deal may also be acquired through experimentation with students until one finds a systematic approach which works. This approach is generally termed “the empirical method,” and is looked down on by those who approach voice from the “scientific” standpoint.

It is also true that teachers need to come to grips with the question of “right” singing and “wrong” singing, and divorce the process from the application. Teachers at the end of the 20th century still display a lack of sympathy for the student who wants to sing popular music.6

There is a physical function which is efficient, well-coordinated and reasonably healthy, which can provide a fundamentally sound vocal technique for the popular singer in each of the four categories above. It is predicated not on “beautiful sound” in the old-fashioned operatic style,7 but represents a way of using the voice with fewer interferences and inhibitions, and thus a longer potential lifespan.

Increasingly, teachers and singers are coming to realize the very healthy fact that there is a significant difference between the act of vocal emission and the way in which that emission is put to the use of music.

Foreman, Edward. Authentic Singing: The history of singing. Vol. 10. Pro Musica Press, 2001.


  1. There is no discussion here of the popular “How to Sing” books which appear every once in a while, to teach popular singers how to get by. They are, in general, a collection of maxims, familiar exercises, and personal anecdote which have little value.
  2. Reid, Cornelius L.: The Free Voice. NY, 1965, p. 13.
  3. Reid, Cornelius L.: A Dictionary of Vocal Terminology, An Analysis. NY, 1983, p. 32.
  4. The only book on voice which I consider indispensable is a small work extracted from the large corpus of writings by Sufi Inayat Khan: Music. New Delhi, 1973. It gives a spiritual dimension to the whole of music, especially voice, which is missing from the majority of western writings, and can liberate the careful reader from many limitations about his own sound and its application to singing.
  5. Unfortunately, this has led many fine singers to teach badly at the end of their performing careers, because they teach the distortions and compromises which have enabled them to survive when good vocal emission was absent, or failed.
  6. This is a generalization; I know it’s a generalization, and I know that there are many fine teachers out there who encourage their students to acquire a good functional use of the voice for whatever career they may aspire to. To them I apologize. But I have met far too many of my fellow teachers who still consider popular singing beneath contempt, and who therefore deprive potential students of the right to a sound foundation. This is nothing more than an ostrich-like attempt to ignore the statistics which demonstrate that the “high culture” of opera is gradually being overtaken by a very real, definable “popular” culture.
  7. Which has pretty much disappeared anyway into a welter of mellow tone production which is boring in the extreme.

Garaudé Blasts the Voix Sombrée

The voix sombrée (or singing with an actively lowered laryngeal position) came into public awareness through the singing of Gilbert Louis Duprez in 1837 in Rossini’s opera Guillaume Tell, as well as the paper published by Diday and Pétrequin in 1840.

Surprisingly, I’ve seen many teachers continue to teach a willfully lowered larynx to achieve the voix sombrée, while demonstrating their allegiance to the ‘Old School.’ One teacher went on to say that this is what makes the voice ‘sound operatic.’

Um, no.

I come down on the side of Monsieur Alexis de Garaudé, writing in the 1840s. He said that it wasn’t new, and it was also ruinous to the voice.

MM. Diday and Pétrequin, chief surgeon of the Lyon hospital, show in a thesis [1840], the recent discovery of a new kind of voice called sombrée, brought into our lyric scene, a few years back, by a celebrated singer. You get this voice by holding the chin a bit lower, by emitting the sound with force and by energetically contracting the glottis (which makes the larynx quite immobile). This voice, I am willing to say, has a grand intensity, and can augment the energy that one wants to give to certain eminently dramatic phrases, when the singer is gifted with excellent lungs.

…[however] this alleged discovery is very ancient. And that is without mentioning the era before Lainez. This celebrated Lyrical Tragedian (and otherwise poor singer) – who, according to the reporter Geoffroi “set the opera alight with his burning energy” – only produced his effects by the use of the voix sombrée, and and in shouting what he could not sing. Unfortunately, some of our modern artists have taken this double lesson on board.

On the detrimental effects of this maneuver, Garaudé had this to say:

The young tenors especially, who look to create the appearance of a big voice that nature denied them, work until they are worn out at this manner of emitting a sound that their means does not allow.

One should therefore advise them:

  1. that with anything less than a perfect vocal constitution, the dogged working at this voix sombrée will lead them, within a few years, to the loss of their natural voice, if it does not lead first to a violent irritation of the chest or a deterioration of the larynx;

  2. that if this voice lets them find resources for high Lyrical Declamation, it destroys the charm of the vocal organ, along with any of its agility;

  3. that, with its use quickly wearing out their organs, the career of the singer will be a short burst, and the decline of the voice and therefore of their talent will soon make this [newly acquired] “force” beat an early retreat.

Garaudé closed with:

…The voix sombrée, itself is merely a kind of forced voice, artificial and manufactured, exploited by certain singing Masters to the detriment of their pupil’s health.

Garaudé, Alexis de. Méthode Complète de Chant, 2nd edn, Paris, c. 1840.

What Teachers Knew, or Less Information, More Knowledge?

From Edward Foreman’s massive must-read text, “Authentic Singing: The history of singing” published by Pro Musica Press in 2001. There is NO text that brings together such a wide-ranging view of the history of the vocal art and craft. 


Bear in mind that nothing accurate was known about the physio-mechanical function of the vocal organs before Garcia II invented laryngoscope around 1855.

The prevailing theory of phonation was that of Galen:

“Voice could not be formed unless the passage is narrowed. For if the whole should lie widely open… voice could in no way be produced; for if the breath pass out gently, expiration is made without sound; but should it be sent forward in the volume suddenly and with vehemence, what is called a sigh occurs. In order, however, that the animal may emit voice it requires, no doubt, the motion of the breath, but none the less the narrowing of the channel in the larynx; not a simple narrowing, but one which can buy degrees be constricted and by degrees relaxed. Such as what the body we are dealing with effects accurately, and hence I call it the glottis or tongue of the larynx.”

Leonardo da Vinci had theorized that the windpipe must contract and expand in order to be like the pipes of an organ to produce the various pitches, but this theory was discarded by Marin Mersenne, who realized there was not enough room in the throat for such an action.

The investigations of Antoine Ferrein describe the true nature of the larynx, but he had not seen the living larynx in the process of producing sound. It was Ferrein who likens the action of the vocal folds to a stringed instrument and first called the lips of the glottis cordes vocales (vocal cords). It remained for Garcia II and those who followed him, laryngoscopes and other apparatuses in hand, to see the vocal folds in action.

Therefore, all voice teachers had to go on was analogies between the voice – which they could only see from the outside – and manufactured instruments as mechanical principles they understood. Two precepts emerge from the literature before 1840:

  1. The voice is like a flute, the glottis– a word taken from the Greek of Galen, denoting the reed of the aulos – producing the sound in a manner similar to a reed or the head of a transverse flute, or the fipple of the flageolet (recorder);
  2. The larynx was seen to rise in producing ascending scales or high notes, and lower in the production of low notes or descending scales.

In addition, it was obvious that the breath was controlled at the glottis – probably – by the vowel, and that control of the voice was gained by practicing sustained tones. At first the messa di voce was used in the very first lessons to stabilize the voice. Since it is an isometric exercise, it would also strengthen the voice and make the sound very firm and almost without vibrato, except for the natural vibration which is part of any sound.

This concept is the basis for calling ornaments gorga or gorgheggi in the earliest writings, since it involves a rapid and even movement of the laryngeal musculature – the throat, or gorga. Later names for florid passages, coloratura and agilitá,  are derived in the first instance from the color of the many fast notes on the page, and in the second, from the rapidity of the movements of the throat itself.

“Breath control” was not taught separately since it was part of the messa di voce, which automatically regulates the breath in the efficiency of the swelled and diminished sound.

Instructions in posture – including freedom from inappropriate wiggling about, and grimacing– were designed to free the voice from localized tensions, although it is improbable that this concept was consciously understood. Since this instruction included avoiding raising the shoulders, breathing would not have been clavicular, or high; standing still implies the chest would have been in active as well.

There are instructions which seem to suggest lifting the chest and holding it, but they are late in the period, and must be seen as relative to “normal” posture. It is unlikely that the rigidity of the modern”military brace” was ever permitted. Very little advice concerning specifics of posture is to be found in the early literature, except in those instances where it is obvious that a choir master is dealing with fractious young pupils.

Dominating the literature is the time required to accomplish mastery of the voice. Starting with repetition of simple exercises, and proceeding slowly to more complex figures, the voice was expanded in range and trained in agility. The messa di voce in its various forms insured a steady sound and the play of light and shadow called chiaroscuro  which was both a subtle interplay of timbres and nuances of intensity and volume.

In essence, this is the vocal omission which people mean when they talk about “Bel canto.” The legends surrounding singers like Farinelli, Marchesi, Pacchierotti, and the earlier Pistocchi and Bernacchi, have created a magnificent blind spot in the minds of teachers and singers alike, when they believe that a “revival” of the methods of “Bel canto” would provide some kind of magical solutions the vocal malaise of whatever period they’re talking about.

A source of considerable confusion is the question of the falsetto/head voice versus the chest voice. It is fairly obvious that in the early writings, “chest voice” referred not to a range, but to a sound quality different from the falsetto, and that all voice categories except “falsettists” were thought to sing in the chest voice no matter what pitch range was natural to their voices.

Modern vocal pedagogy differentiates registers on the basis of pitch ranges. Garcia’s (1847) were the first detailed descriptions, and are still generally accepted by teachers;

Contralto, Mezzo-Soprano and Soprano:

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Bass and Baritone:

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All of Garcia’s discussion of register violates the traditional nomenclature which may be deduced from the earlier writings. I believe this is because he was embarking on a new definition of registers in order to produce a new kind of voice, and careful scrutiny of his Chapter II, “Classification of Cultivated Voices,” reveals the direction his investigations were taking him.

The following is his “Picture of the classification of voices”:

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Garcia reminds us that the classical range for all voices was:

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And that any additional notes above or below her left of the skill and ability of the singer. He also mentions singers who had unusual ranges, and among haute-contres he names Rubini and Haitzinger.

Modern vocal pedagogy has in general accepted these outlines of the ranges of voices, although nearly every teacher will have encountered individuals who do not fit the neat categories, and whose voices do not operate according to “the rules” suggested by these outlines.

Is my general observation that for all his methodical analysis of registration, Garcia got it wrong, espousing a three-register system which results in the erection of a three-tiered voice with “joints” at the intersections of the registers.

This leaves unanswered the following questions:

  1. Why did the 18th Century teachers recognize only two registers?
  2. How is it that other ways than Garcia’s of employing the registers produce different, often more satisfactory results?

When Tosi and Mancini advise teaching sopranos how to use the falsetto, they are probably speaking only of castrati, which leads to the obvious conclusion the other voices stayed in the chest voice, and that acquisition of the falsetto was a matter of range for the castrati. The general picture of the castrati is that they lost their upper ranges fairly early and settled into the alto range; some, like Pistocchi and Bernacchi, were always altos.

It was said of Conforto, who was a falsettist, that he “sang as high as the stars,” which implies that he did not sing in the alto range at all. On the other hand, the male alto falsettist had been known for a very long time in Italy, and presumably some version of it is familiar to us from English cathedral choirs.

We will, unfortunately, never know how the castrati dealt with ranges and registers, and our understanding of these questions in terms of modern voices has been confused by our experience with the male “falsetto” register as heard in the voices of singers like Alfred Deller, and the recent spate of “countertenors,” who are really falsettists. It is further clouded by the appearance of some “soprano falsettists” like Randall Wong.

The conclusion which we might draw is that the “classical range” of an octave and a fifth represented the “chest voice” in every singer, and that natural variations account for the extension of range of some singers, until sometime in the late 18th century, when tenors begin to extend the range by developing a “male alto” extension above the chest voice. It is almost always of tenors that the objection is made “he used the falsetto too much.”

That solution leaves many unanswered questions, but we ought to remember that, despite the furor made now over the “High C from the chest” of Duprez, it was the timbre oscure which upset the academic and scientific auditors.

The story of Rubini cracking his clavicle while singing a “High B” would sustain this theory, since the note was obviously one which he had sung before, and the stress was brought on by his forcing the voice when the note refuse to speak as it normally did. 

These voices are gone forever, without a sonic trace. All we have is their music and contemporary comments about their singing, much of which is from England, and is perhaps biased by fundamental resistance to Italian singers at their most expansive.

After about 1840, the composer – as differentiated from the earlier singer-composer or composer-singer – begin to design music differently. This was clear in Verdi’s Nabucco, in which he threw down the gauntlet of dramatic expression at the expense of “vocal” composition. In Verdi’s hands the singer became a vehicle for melodramatic passion without due regard for the nature of the voice or the traditions of vocal composition. Verdi was not alone in this, but was the most influential composer, because he was prolific, popular and much imitated.

The old traditional methods of vocal emission were not sufficient for Verdi’s operas, and only barely for those of Donizetti and Bellini; a whole generation of singers destroyed themselves trying to play “catch up.” It remained for a new generation, emerging in the 1850s to offer new solutions to the new problems posed by 19th-century operatic writing.

The situation in the voice studios was chaotic; nobody knew how to cope with the larger orchestras, the higher tessituras, and the basically declamatory nature of the new operas. A return to the old traditional methods of teaching would have been possible only if composers had returned to the older styles of writing for the voice; and that was not in the cards.

There is no question that by about 1870, a new kind of vocal emission had been worked out. Actually, several kinds appeared, each promising the singer a secure vocal emission for the new music. Almost without exception, they were based on “breath management,” manipulation of the registers in a new way, and a consistent forcing of the voice which produced a cutting edge to compete with the thick orchestrations.

The new methods were the result of the widespread adoption of “science” to the voice; it had become the trendy watchword of the up-to-date teacher, and the literature became crowded with conflicting explanations of how every aspect of vocal emission worked as demonstrated by anatomists, laryngologists and physicists.

Apparently it never occurred to anyone amidst the welter of “discoveries” about the voice – Seiler’s “flageolet register,” the various types of breathing and “resonances” – that the nature of the instrument itself had undergone no significant changes since the dawn of time. It is the the sign of the impact of Darwin’s theory that humans began to study themselves in different way; and of course the way predicted the outcome.

The commonsense empirical observations of the old Italian teachers were relegated to oblivion in favor of novel theories which turned out to be fancy variations on local manipulation of unseen and unsalable functions.

Teachers had more information and less knowledge.

From Two Registers to Three…(Registrational Mitosis?)

We now come to 1840—a year made noteworthy in the life of Garcia by another important advance in his career.

Since his appointment to a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire, his reputation had continued to be steadily consolidated, and his clientèle included, besides those who were being trained for the musical profession, a great number of amateur pupils, among whom were to be found not only some of the most distinguished names in Paris, but many members of the royal family itself. Throughout this period he had been steadily working to increase his knowledge relative to the mechanism of the voice, and at last, in 1840, he found that his investigations had reached a point at which they might be found of interest to others.

Accordingly, in this year he set down the result of his studies in the classical paper which he submitted to the Académie des Sciences de France under the title, “Mémoire sur la voix humaine,” to which was added the rather odd-sounding subtitle, “Description des produits du phonateur humain.” In it he embodied the various discoveries which he had made relating to the larynx.

Among the principal points to which he drew attention were the following:—

(1) The head voice does not necessarily begin where the chest voice ends, and a certain number of notes can be produced in either register.

(2) The chest voice and the head voice are produced by a special and spontaneous modification of the vocal organs, and the exhaustion of the air contained in the chest is more rapid in the proportion of four to three in the production of a head than a chest note.

(3) The voice can produce the same sounds in two different timbres—the clear or open, and the sombre or closed.

The memoir on the human voice was duly reported on by Majendie, Savart, and Dutrochet at a public meeting which was held on April 12, 1841, the result being that this resolution was passed: “The thanks of the Academy are due to Professor Garcia for the skilful use which he has made of his opportunities as a teacher of singing to arrive at a satisfactory physical theory of the human voice.” The circumstance gave occasion for a somewhat acrimonious discussion concerning certain points of priority as between Garcia and MM. Diday and Pétrequin, two French scientists.

This was followed up by the publication of the ‘Method of Teaching Singing,’ in which Garcia cleared up the confusion which had hitherto existed between “timbre” and “register.”

He defined the expression “register” as being a series of consecutive homogeneous sounds produced by one mechanism, differing essentially from another series of sounds equally homogeneous produced by another mechanism, whatever modifications of “timbre” and of strength they may offer. “Each of the registers,” he added, “has its own extent and sonority, which varies according to the sex of the individual and the nature of the organ.”

At this time he stated that there were two registers; but in later years, with the invention of the laryngoscope and the examination of the vocal cords which resulted from it, he altered the original division from two to three*—chest, medium, and head-voice,—and this is accepted by all as scientifically correct according to the definition of “register” laid down by him.

Mackinlay, Malcolm Sterling. Garcia the Centenarian and His Times: Being a Memoir of Manuel Garcia’s Life and Labours for the Advancement of Music and Science. W. Blackwood and sons, 1908.


*A salient point to remember is that Garcia Jr. laid out his first treatise as a representation of his father’s (and therefore the Old Italian School’s) work and pedagogical system. In his own words from the preface, “C’est sa méthode que j’ai voulu réproduire, en essayant seulement de la ramener à une forme plus théorique et de rattacher les résultats aux causes.” [It’s HIS method that I wanted to reproduce, trying only to bring in a more theoretical form and attach results to causes.]

Up to this time (c. 1840), Garcia Jr believed in a two-register theory of the voice. It wasn’t until he could SEE the voice in a laryngeal mirror in 1854 that he changed his mind. So, we have, in effect, a direct shift of primacy in voice training from  ‘listening’ to the voice to ‘seeing’ it. Many historians and writers attribute this discovery to a confusion and debate that would rage to the present day.

It is my personal belief that Garcia’s definition of register still holds up to the present day. However, as ‘a mechanism’, the human voice has only two anatomical muscular structures by which sound can be produced (the arytenoid and the cricothyroid muscle systems). Unless a ‘third mechanism’ and its accompanying nerve centers could be proven to exist, there is no way a third register could be operational in the human larynx.

Garcia Jr’s tribute to his father in the preface of his Traité is conclusive proof that Garcia’s father sang and taught a two-register theory of the voice. Manuel Jr was most assuredly trained by his father, and observed him teaching a two-register approach for all his students, both male and female. This ‘mitosis’ of registers by Garcia Jr in 1854 is a watershed moment in the history of voice pedagogy.