The Art of Singing Combined with Modern Physics via Dr. Tomatis

Spread the love

Dr. Alfred Tomatis, a french M.D. specializing in otolaryngology, or more commonly known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor (as well as a surgeon), began treating professional singer’s in his native Nice. He is the founder of the field of psycho-acoustics (read The Ear and the Voice).

His father was a opera singer and began sending colleagues who were having singing problems.  Dr. Tomatis was sent a good friend of his father’s who sang at the Paris Opera. Tomatis writes in his famous work, “The Ear and The Voice” that this singer “was so accomplished and his interpretations were so compelling that his weakness was less noticeable to the audience”. But it was a matter of pride to this man that he receive help in improving his ability to sing on key.  This was early on in Tomatis’ career and the frustrating experience of working with this gentleman and listening to the experts of the time, about how to treat his condition (which made it worse). This experience  opened up a lifelong desire to find the cause of such vocal problems in singers and how to treat them holistically.

There are so many points-of-view about how to sing well. Whether you look at singing through the use of the resonators, or via a deep study of breathing, or by discovering  the different supports for the registers, etc, Tomatis saw that we essentially are talking about neuro-physiologic dynamics. It is true that without mastering the breath one cannot sing; but it is possible to know all about placement and still not make a decent sound… To sing, the brain draws on systems of control centralized in the cerebral cortex. This was Tomatis contribution. He discovered the connections between ear and the brain which includes full body movement, listening ability, the ear-brain-speech connection, posture and  how your own singing recharges and energizes the brain like nothing else.

Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis’ research shows the essential part the human ear plays in the control of phonation (speech production), in body image awareness, and in motor control. The ear also controls hearing and listening, balance, posture, gait and kinesthesia (movement of our body in space) via the cochlear and vestibular systems.

Singing demands a highly refined musical ear. A musical ear has to be able to attune itself to the entire sound spectrum. It must know how to perceive and analyze every part of the frequency spectrum with maximum speed and precision. The range critical for musicality is in a bandwidth located between 500 Hz 4000 Hz, forming a curve of response for which Tomatis has identified precise characteristics (Tomatis, 1955a, p.24; 1963, p.101).

According to Tomatis, a listening problem which is not the result of organic lesion, generally has a psychological component. We now understand that most people have traumatic stress experiences that do not always resolve themselves spontaneously. In other words, we get frozen in a fight/flight state and we now know that the ear ‘closes’ or ‘locks’ because of such experiences, sometimes it will not open up without help. I recall a time when I was delivering newspapers on my bicycle and singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” at the top of my lungs, when a man in an old, large Cadillac quickly swerved to avoid killing me and blowing his very loud horn the entire time. I was in complete shock! Or the time I hit head first into a tree when I was sledding down a nearby hill in the winter.  These sort of experiences can cause changes in our hearing because of how delicate our cranium and nervous systems are.

Tomatis’s principles

Among many principles, Tomatis discovered that:

•It is the ear that sings: what the ear cannot hear, the voice cannot reproduce

•Bone conduction is 10 times faster than air conduction of sound and thus key to singing 

•Singing recharges the brain with energy, called cortical recharge

•The right ear is the dominant ear for all singing and speech

• One can hear well and listen poorly: listening is key to singing well

The Electronic Ear

In order to assist the human ear to re-normalize its full potential, Tomatis developed an apparatus called the Electronic Ear. The Electronic Ear sets in motion these mechanisms:

(1) The Filters: These can be regulated so that the information is altered or modified inside the band-width of the musical ear in order to suppress distortion.

(2) The Electronic Gate. To enable the ear to attune itself automatically and spontaneously for listening, stimulation of the middle ear is effected by the alternating passage of sound from one channel which tenses or focuses the muscles. The alternation from one channel to another is automatically regulated by an electronic gate which opens and closes itself according to the varying signal. Repetition of the action over time will maintain the ear’s ability to perceive and analyze sound properly.


This consists of listening through the TalksUp® Device to the sounds of music which have been electronically treated or “trimmed” by attenuating significantly the low frequencies. This “filtered music,” which is then modified by the device, has as its first effect the opening of the auditory diaphragm. This increases the selective power of the ear, which is to say, the person is given the ability to perceive sound with less distortion and to analyze it more precisely over the whole of its frequency range: from the fundamental frequencies to the highest harmonics. For a non-trained ear, the fundamental frequency of a sound too often masks its harmonic spectrum. Under such conditions, the singer has difficulty in controlling the timbre of his voice ( the mix of higher harmonics). Consequently it stays flat, with no modulation. It is the same for the musician who, even if he has an out standing technique, is unable to adjust his listening to the harmonics of the sounds emitted by his instrument and as a result cannot regulate the musicality of the melody.

See also the Forbrain® Device by the Tomatis Institute.




davidThe Art of Singing Combined with Modern Physics via Dr. Tomatis