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- Public Speaking - 4/65 -


fault demands constant watchfulness in all vigorous vocal work. The way to avoid the faulty control of voice is, of course, to learn at the proper time the general principles of what singers call voice production. These principles are few and, in a sense, are very simple, but they are not easily made perfectly clear in writing, and a perfect application of them, even in the simpler forms of speaking, often requires persistent practice. It will be the aim here to state only what the student is most likely to understand and profit by, and to leave the rest to the personal guidance of a teacher.

The control of the voice, so far as it can be a conscious physical operation, is determined chiefly by the action of the breathing muscles about the waist and the lower part of the chest. The voice may be said to have its foundation in this part of the physical man. This foundation, or center of control, will be rightly established, not by any very positive physical action; not by a decided raising of the chest; not by any such marked expansion or contraction as to bring physical discomfort or rigid muscular conditions. When the breath is taken in, by an easy, natural expansion, much as air is taken into a bellows, there is, to a certain degree, a firming of the breathing muscles; but this muscular tension is felt by the speaker or singer, if felt at all, simply as a comfortable fullness around, and slightly above, the waistline, probably more in front than elsewhere. An eminent teacher of singing tells his pupils to draw the breath into the stomach. That probably suggests the sensation. When the breath has been taken in, it is to be gently withheld,--not given up too freely,--and the tone is formed on the top, so to speak, of this body of breath, chiefly, of course, in the mouth and head. For the stronger and larger voice the breath is not driven out and dissipated, but the tone is intensified and given completer resonance within--within the nasal or head cavities, somewhat within the pharynx and chest. This body of breath, easily held in good control, by the lower breathing muscles, forms what is called the vocal "support." It is a fixed base of control. It is a fundamental condition, and is to be steadily maintained in all the varied operations of the voice.

Since this fundamental control of voice is so important, breathing exercises are often prescribed for regular practice. Such exercises, when directed by a thoroughly proficient instructor, may be vocally effective, and beneficial to health. Unwisely practiced, they may be unfitted to vocal control and of positive physical harm. Moderately taking the breath at frequent intervals, as a preparation or reŽnforcement for speaking, should become an unconscious habit. Excessive filling of the lungs or pressing downward upon the abdomen should be avoided. In general, the hearing of the voice, and an expressional purpose in making the voice, are the better means of acquiring good breathing. For the purposes of public speaking, at least, it is seldom necessary to do much more, in regard to the breathing, than to instruct a student against going wrong. The speaker should have a settled feeling of sufficiency; he should hold himself well together, physically and morally, avoiding nervous agitation and physical collapse; he should allow the breath freedom rather than put it under unnatural constraint. Perfect breathing can only be known by certain qualities in the voice. When it is best, the process is least observed. The student learns the method of breathing mainly by noting the result, by rightly hearing his voice. He must, after all, practice through the hearing.

The discussion of vocal support has brought us to the second main principle, the government of the throat. The right control of the voice, by placing a certain degree of tension upon the breathing muscles, tends to take away all pressure and constraint from the throat, leaving that passage seemingly open and free, so that the breath body or column; as some conceive it, seems almost unbroken in continued speech, much as it is, or should be, in prolonging tone in singing. The throat is opened in a relaxed rather than a constrained way, so as to give free play for the involuntary action of the delicate vocal muscles connected with the larynx, which determine all the finer variations of voice. Whatever kind of vocal effort is made, the student should constantly guard himself against the least throat stiffening or contraction, against what vocalists call a "throat grip." He is very likely to make some effort with the throat, or vocal muscles, when putting the voice to any unusual test--when prolonging tone, raising or lowering the pitch, giving sharp inflections, or striking hard upon words for emphasis. In these and other vocal efforts the throat muscles should be left free to do their own work in their own way. The throat is to be regarded as a way through; the motive power is below the throat; the place for giving sound or resonance, to voice, for stamping upon words their form and character, is in the mouth, front and back, and especially in the head.

The last of the three main considerations, the concentration of tone where it naturally seems to be formed, is often termed voice "placing," or "placement." The possible objection to this term is that it may suggest a purely artificial or arbitrary treatment or method. Rightly understood, it is the following of nature. Its value is that it emphasizes the constancy of this one of the constant factors in voice. Its result is a certain kind and degree of monotony; without that particular kind of monotony the voice is faulty. When the tone is forced out of its proper place, it is dissipated and more or less lost. A student once told the writer, when complimented on the good placement of his voice, that he learned this in his summer employment as a public crier at the door of a show tent. He said he could not possibly have endured the daily wear upon the voice in any other way. Voices are heard among teamsters, foremen on the street, and auctioneers, that conform to this and other principles perfectly. We may say that in such cases the process of learning is unconscious. In the case of the untaught student it was conscious, and was exactly what he would have been instructed to do by a teacher. The point is that many cannot learn by themselves, and our more unconscious doings are likely to become our bad habits.

Just what this voice placement is can perhaps be observed simply by sounding the letter "m," or giving an ordinary hum, as the mother sings to the child. It is merely finding the natural, instinctive basal form of the voice, and making all the vowels simply as variations of this form. The hum is often practiced, with a soft pure quality, by singers. It is varied by the sound of "ng," as in "rung" or "hung," and the elemental sound of "l." The practice should always be varied, however, by a fuller sounding of the rounder vowels, lest the voice become too much confined or thinned. The speaker, like the singer, must find out how, by a certain adjustment all along the line from the breathing center to the point of issue of the breath at the front of the mouth, he can easily maintain a constant hitting place, to serve as the hammer head; one singing place for carrying the voice steadily through a sustained passage; one place where, as it were, the tone is held in check so it will not break through itself and go to pieces,--a "placing of the voice," which is to be preserved in every sort of change or play of tone, whether in one's own character or an assumed character; a constant focus or a fixed center of resonance, a forming of tone along the roof of the mouth and well forward in the head, the safeguard and, practically, the one most effective idea in the government of voice.

And now it should be hastily stated that this excellent idea, like other good things, may be easily abused. If the tone is pushed forward or crowded into the head or held tight in its place, in the least degree, there is a drawing or a cramping in the throat; there is a "pressing" of the voice. It should be remembered that the constancy of high placement of tone depends upon the certainty of the tone foundation; that, after all, the voice must rest upon itself, and must not sound as if it were up on tip-toe or on stilts; that tone placement is merely a convenient term for naming a natural condition.

As a final word on this part of the discussion, the student should of course be impressed with the idea that though these three features of vocal mechanism have been considered separately, all ideas about voice are ultimately to become one idea. The voice is to be thought of as belonging to the whole man, and is to become the spontaneous expression of his feelings and will; it should not draw attention to any particular part of the physical man; whatever number of conditions may be considered, the voice is finally to be one condition, a condition of normal freedom.

A lack of freedom is indicated in the voice, as in other kinds of mechanism by some sign of friction--by a harsh tone from a constrained throat; by a nasal or a muffled tone, from some obstruction in the nasal passages of the head, either because of abnormal physical conditions, or because of an unnatural direction of the breath, mainly due probably to speaking with a closed mouth; by a bound-up, heavy, "chesty" tone, resulting from a labored method of breathing.

Voice in its freer state should be pure, clear, round, fairly musical, and fairly deep and rich. Its multitude of expressive qualities had better be cultivated by the true purpose to express, in the simplest way, sentiments appropriated to one's self through an understanding and a comprehensive appreciation of various passages of good literature. As soon as possible all technique is to be forgotten, unless the consciousness is pricked by something going wrong.

Voices in general need, in the larger development, to be rounded. The vowel forms "oo" as in moon, "o" as in roll, and "a" as in saw, greatly help in giving a rounded form to the general speech; for all vowels can be molded somewhat into the form of these rounder ones. The vowels "e" as in meet, "a" as in late, short "e" as in met, short "a" as in sat, are likely to be made very sharp, thin, and harsh. When a passage for practice begins with round vowels, as for example, "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!" the somewhat rounded form of the lips, and the opened condition of the throat produced in forming the rounder vowels, can be to some extent maintained through the whole of the passage, in forming all the vowels; and this will give, by repeated practice, a gradually rounded and deepened general character to the voice. On the other hand the thinner, sharper vowels may serve to give keenness and point to tones too thick and dull. In applying these suggestions, as well as all other vocal suggestions, moderation and good sense must be exercised, for the sake of the good outward appearance and the good effect of the speaking. The chief vowel forms running from the deepest to the most shallow are: "oo" as in moon, "o" as in roll, "a" as in saw, "a" as in far, "a" as in say, "e" as in see.

Since the making of tones means practically the shaping of vowels, something should here be said about vowel forms. The mouth opening should of course be freely shaped for the best sounding of the vowels. For the vowel "a" as in far, the mouth is rather fully opened; for "a" as in saw, it is opened deep, that is, the mouth passage is somewhat narrowed, so as to allow increased depth. The vowel "o," as in no, has two forms, the clear open "o," and the "o" somewhat covered by a closer form of the lips, Commonly, when the vowel is prolonged, the initial form, that is the open "o," is held, with the closed form, like "oo" in moon, touched briefly as the tone is finished. So with long "i" (y), as in thy, and "ou," as in thou--the first form is like a broad "a" as in far, with short "i" (sit) ending the "i" (y), and "oo" (moon) ending the "ou." This final sound, though sometimes accentuated for humorous effect, is usually not to be made prominent. The sound of "oi," as in voice, has the main form of "aw" as in saw, and the final form in short "i," as in pin. The vowel "u" is sounded like "oo" (moon) in a few words, as in rule, truth. Generally, it sounds about like "ew" in new or mew. In some of the forms the front of the mouth will be open, in some half open, and in some, as in the case of long "e" (meet), nearly closed. Whatever the degree of opening, the jaw should never be allowed to become stiffly set, nor the tongue nor lips to be held tight, in any


Public Speaking - 4/65

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