Witherspoon’s Phonetics and Practical Exercises

I have recently read Herbert Witherspoon’s fascinating and well-written Singing: A Treatise for Singers and Students (1925). His Chapter 13 is titled “Phonetics”, which begins as follows:

The phonetics, or sounds used for the persuasion of certain local actions with the purpose of inducing perfect coordination, are the following:

This is a rare attempt to explain in writing practical building blocks for vocal exercises. It will probably resonate more with experienced teachers and singers than beginners, as some of what he is trying to get at makes more sense when you have observed and created a large variety of vocal faults over time. Like writers as different as David C. Taylor, Seth Riggs, Jeannette LoVetri, and Cornelius Reid, he is using sung sounds as a path to correcting a vocal fault, rather than trying to will a certain local body part to move separately from the act of singing.

For example, if a larynx is pulled up high, restricting both sound and movement, the remedy would be singing sounds that should move the singer’s entire system toward a better suspension of the larynx. It is certainly possible to lower a larynx, both silently and while singing, by conscious specific muscular effort, but to do so is to start mechanical list-making that is separate from singing itself. Such mechanical directives then run parallel with, and are seldom easily integrated with, spontaneous singing in the future. With mechanical directives, there is always the danger of trading one problem for another due to the interconnectedness of all parts of the system.

Singing is a constant process of coordination of many things, and direct local control of one part runs the risk of messing with the coordination!

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