January 27, 2011

The King's Speech

The Oscar race has already begun, and The King's Speech is one of the contenders. If you haven't yet seen the movie, it's about King George VI who overcame a stammer to deliver a radio address upon England's entry into WWII. The film's historical accuracy isn't what concerns this page, but rather, stuttering itself - or stammering as it is called in England.

The mechanism of stuttering is not clearly understood, though there are three theories currently being offered. The first suggests that stuttering is a learned behavior. Children are often 'disfluent' in language development, and criticism or punishment when stuttering is exhibited is thought to create anxiety which only exacerbates the problem. In the second theory, stuttering is considered a psychological problem, and is treated with psychotherapy. In the third theory, stuttering is considered an organic problem where the brain is neurologically different from the norm. 

There is a fourth theory, however, which offers a more nuanced perspective. Rooted in the work of Dr. Alred A.Tomatis, a French ENT who developed technology for the rehabilitation of opera singers, stuttering is understood to be a listening problem that involves the establishment of right ear laterality. Because 70% of the neural energy of the right ear goes to the language center located in the left hemisphere, Tomatis observed that problems occur when the right ear isn't able to 'lead'. 

Tomatis treated stuttering with filtered Mozart, that is, with the music's lower frequencies attenuated. (Curiously, Colin Firth's character in The King's Speech is also played Mozart while reciting Shakespeare.) Tomatis found that exercising the two tiny muscles in the ear in this way lead to greater audio-vocal control. The muscles are stimulated in two ways, through air and bone conduction, the latter being a key component in audio-vocal control in speaking and in singing. According to Tomatis, bone conduction (the feeling of the sound) precedes air conduction in the auditory cortex. This is one explanation for why singers don't stutter: they have better 'timing' because of the heightened degree of bone conduction involved. According to Tomatis, it is all about getting the bones to sing.

For a more in-depth perspective on Tomatis' work and stuttering, click here. A brief account of my own experience with Tomatis' Listening Training can found here.  


  1. Spectacular Daniel!!
    I´ve found my self very connected with your post and point of view in singing matters.
    Always Believe, in an empirical way of course, that the right ear "take" the fundamental, and the left "take" the armonics in the act of "listening".
    In fact, I have a few pupils with ear damage and only those who have the right ear in order presents no trouble to sing, except that the voice is kinda tiny and almost metallic in some cases, but very precise like a metronome.
    To bring "color" in that voices used to put they attention in the breath and make them think in the image about many colors like the rainbow; a way of compensation...
    Wich is the best book of Tomatis that you recommend me?
    I read something about him in spanish, but there is almost nothing about his works..only of Raoul Husson.
    Well, again, a pleausre to write...my last thought:

    Right ear: Picht and Tuning.

    Left Ear: Depth and Color.

    Like Ying-Yang...Male-Female...

    Best Wishes, Joe.

  2. Hi Joe- The book to read is 'The Ear and the Voice" that was translated from French into English with Tomatis' permission by Roberta Prada. You can find it at Amazon.com. Prada has done an excellent job of taking Tomatis' doctorly writing and making it clear. You can also visit her site- Voxmentor- by clicking on the link in the Resource section. Best Regards- Daniel


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