In the preceding chapters, dealing as they do with special subjects or
subdivisions of the main topic, the effort has been to point out and to
suggest some ways in which good vocal habits may be taught, and simple
and effective vocal training carried on with whatever materials there
may be at hand in the shape of books, charts, blackboards, staves, etc.
The leading idea is the correct use of the voice; the particular song or
exercise which maybe sung is of no special importance; the way in which
it is sung is everything.
The benefits of teaching music reading in the schools are a matter of
daily comment. Is it, then, likely that the good resulting from the
formation of correct habits in the use of the voice will fail of
recognition? Not so. For the effect of good vocal training in school
music would be so general and so beneficent that even unfriendly critics
might be silenced.
The first effect upon singing when the thick tone is forbidden and the
attempt made to substitute the use of the voice in the thin or head
register may be disappointing. It will seem to take away all life and
vigor from the singing. Teachers who enjoy hearty singing will get
nervous; they will doubt the value of the innovation. In those grades
where children range in age from twelve to fourteen years, the apparent
loss in vocal power will disconcert the pupils even. Never mind; the
use of the thin register will demonstrate its excellences, and it
will, if slowly yet surely, increase in brilliance and telling quality
Again, the compass downward needs to be more restricted at first than
after the children have become habituated to its use. As long as there
is any marked tendency to break into the chest-voice at certain pitches,
the compass should be kept above them; as the tendency weakens, the
voice may with due caution be carried to the lower tones, in higher
grades be it understood. The tone should grow softer as the voice
descends when the lower notes will sound mellow and sweet. At first they
may be quite breathy, but as the vocal bands become accustomed to the
new action, the breathiness will disappear. One thing at a time is
enough to attempt in music, and while a change in the use of the voice
is being sought, it may happen that sacrifices must be made in other
directions; part-singing, until the voices become equalized, that is, of
a similar tone-quality throughout the entire compass, may, as it
requires the singing of tones so low as to occasion easy recurrence to
the thick voice, be so antagonistic to the desired end that it must be
dropped for a time. After the use of the thin voice has become firmly
established, part-singing may be resumed. How low in pitch the lower
part may with safety be carried depends partly upon the age of the
pupils; but until the chest-voice begins to develop at puberty, all
part-singing must be sung very lightly as to the lower part or voice.
There is a class of pupils always to be found in our schools who cannot
sing in tune; they vary in the degree of their inability from those who
can sing only in monotone, to those who can sing in tune when singing
with those whose sense of pitch is good, but alone, cannot. While the
number of entire or partial monotone voices decreases under daily drill
and instruction, yet there always remains a troublesome few, insensible
to distinctions in pitch; it is, in view of the possible improvement
they may make, a difficult matter to deal with them; for if they are
forbidden to sing, the chance to improve is denied them, and if they
sing and constantly drag down the pitch, why the intonation of those who
would otherwise sing true is injuriously affected.
Many who sing monotone when the thick voice is used, do so because the
throat is weak and cannot easily sustain the muscular strain; if they
are trained to the use of the light, thin tone, they can sing in tune.
After children have been under daily music drill for two or three years
in school, if they still sing monotone, it would seem inadvisable to let
them participate with the class in singing. They do themselves no good,
and they certainly injure the singing of the others; for, as before
suggested, constant falling from pitch will in time dull the musical
perceptions of those most gifted by nature.
During the early years of school-life the pupils may often sing out of
tune because the vocal bands and controlling muscles are very weak.
It is an excellent idea to separate the pupils into two classes: First,
those who can sing with reasonably good intonation; and second, those
who can sing only a few tones, or only one.
Let the second class frequently listen while the others sing. They will
thus be taught to note both tone and pitch, and if any musical sense is
dormant, this should arouse it; but, if after long and patient effort a
pupil cannot sing, let him remain silent during the singing period.
Every possible effort should certainly be put forth to teach children to
sing in tune, but yet it is now, and will doubtless remain true, that a
small per cent. cannot be so taught.
The primary causes of monotone singing may be physical or mental; in
many cases, weak vocal organs and feeble nervous power, in others lack
of pitch-perception-- tonal blindness.
The secondary causes include the influences of environment and heredity.
The contempt in which music has been held by a portion of the
English-speaking people from the time of the Reformation until quite
recently, or shall we say until even now, has made its powerful impress
upon opinions, tastes, and natural powers. Singing, with a part of our
population, is literally a lost art, lost through generations of disuse.
It is often urged by educators that each study must help other studies.
The various subjects which are taught must move along, as it were, like
the parts in a musical composition, dependent upon, sustaining, and
harmonious with each other. Now, while it is not within the scope of
this work to discuss the relation of music to other studies in all of
its bearings, it is yet clearly in line with its general tenor to
suggest that the tone in singing will react upon the speaking-voice, and
Now, if pupils recite and speak with a noisy, rough tone, it will not be
easy to secure sweet, pure tone from them when they sing; but, on the
other hand, while they may be specially trained in good singing-tone, it
will not, as a result, follow that the speaking-voice will be similarly
modified. Special attention must be given to this also; but if children
invariably sing with pure tone, it must be very easy to direct them into
good vocal habits in speaking and reading.
It is no more necessary for children to recite in that horrible, rasping
tone sometimes heard, than it is to sing with harsh tone; and if the
same principles are applied to the speaking-voice as are herein given
for the management of the singing-voice, in so far as they may be
applicable, this harshness and coarseness may be avoided. It is the
pushed, forced tone in speech or song that is disagreeable.
If teachers will consign to well-merited oblivion those two phrases,
"speak up" and "sing out," and will, instead, secure purity and easy
production of tone, with distinctness of articulation, they will do
wisely. Let us not hesitate to teach our pupils to know and to feel that
which is beautiful, and good, and true, that our schools may promote the
growth of good taste, and stand for the highest morality and the best