The Cornelius L. Reid Project is Available Online


“I have devoured the writings on voice by Cornelius Reid and visited one of his Master Classes in New York City. The most important thing one can learn from them all is to allow the voice to function according to one’s own particular instrument rather than making it happen. I have followed this practice all of my 50 years of singing.” –Grace Bumbry

The Cornelius L. Reid archive is comprised of 683 voice lessons and classes recorded in CD and DVD format, and is housed in the Moffett Library of Midwestern State University.


Cornelius L. Reid, voice teacher, pedagogue, lecturer, and author, is well known in the voice community, having authored five books on vocal pedagogy and many published articles. A Festschrift was published in honor of his 90th birthday. Many of his pupils have been singers and teachers in major national and international venues. Despite these noteworthy achievements, his methodology is not well known. Words can describe sounds only in a general way. It is impossible to write a ‘how to” book on the teaching of singing because voice teaching requires the ability to listen functionally- that is, to associate vocal sound with specific muscular activity. The ear needs to be trained to distinguish subtle differences in vocal quality and associate that quality with the probable balance of tension distributed among the muscles involved in phonation.

According to Reid, the voice can be developed in response to specially arranged patterns of pitch, intensity, and vowel. When the voice is given proper growth stimulation in the form of selected vocal exercises, muscles are reconditioned to react in a natural way thus allowing the voice to respond to its own growth needs.

This series of recordings will provide a useful tool for voice teachers who wish to gain insight into the process of functional voice training based upon Reid’s teaching principles. It contains selected examples taken from hundreds of hours of recorded lessons and classes housed in the Cornelius L. Reid Archive, located in the Moffett Library of Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas. The recordings document gradual vocal development over extended periods of time as well as astonishing progress in as little as five days. There are excerpts from lessons demonstrating the use of exercises, the coaching of songs and arias, and Reid’s own comments on how the principles he sets forth are put into practice.

Different recording equipment and ambiences, random volume control, relative distance of the microphone from the subject and teacher, and atmospheric noise, among other distractions, all contribute to an unevenness of recording volume and quality. However, one can forgive these distractions because of the valuable benefits to be realized from the information contained on the recordings. Reid’s own musical insights infused with his thorough understanding of the principles of vocal mechanics provide fertile ground for improved vocal performance. These recordings should be of value to anyone wishing gain insight into how the voice can be transformed.

Dr. Don Maxwell, Project Director
Joseph Reed, Recording Engineer

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The Free Voice New Edition

The Free Voice has been republished by Oxford University Press. 

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Click HERE to Purchase.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five, Aesthetic Judgment:

There are many influences at work in determining quality. But beyond such factors as technical condition, aesthetic goals, and musicality, there is a quality which is intrinsic to the personality and the mechanism itself. This “natural” quality is determined by anatomical structure, combined with peculiarities of temperament. The thickness of the vocal cords, the size and shape of the cavities of the mouth, throat, and head, all contribute to a state of being that fixes the boundaries of ultimate potential. The way the instrument is used, however, alters the character of the tonal emission and to a considerable extent leaves potential unrealized. According to the efficiency of the vocal response, quality will be either a true or false likeness of the intrinsic timbre. As the natural quality of the voice is almost always unknown because of mechanical imperfections, no attempt should ever be made during training to cultivate what is thought to be the natural quality. Genuine tone quality can only be revealed by purifying the vowel quality and correcting the imbalances within a maladjusted registration.



The pedagogic theories espoused by Cornelius Reid over the course of a seventy year teaching and writing career are based on the works of the early teachers of the eighteenth century.  The main focus of those masters was the vocal registers, the chest voice and the falsetto.  To this Reid has added the insights provided by physiological research as to how the vocal mechanism works.  In his research he discovered that the most efficient way to train the vocal mechanism was not by the institution of overt control systems, but by working indirectly.  Since the muscles that bring the vocal folds into tension are involuntary, the entire mechanism must be treated as such.

Considered from this perspective, Reid’s training philosophy is founded on what amounts to an ecological principle, where the vocal mechanism is regulated and controlled by changes in the environmental conditions to which it is being exposed.

How is the correct environment chosen?  By listening to the tonal product.   Mechanically, the singing voice naturally divides into two distinguishably different qualities, or registers, known as the chest voice and the falsetto.  The purpose of technical training is to develop and blend these two qualities so that the voice becomes a seamless entity.  By working registrationally it is possible to equate what is heard with the probable balance of tension operative within the laryngeal musculature.  On the basis of this analysis, a vocal exercise is created that is the most beneficial environment capable of serving the student’s growth needs.

How does this operative principle manifest itself?  It becomes apparent by observing a series of equivalencies.  For example: The vocal folds adjust their length, mass and tension to accommodate numerous combinations of the three basic tonal elements, pitch, intensity and vowel.  Change the pitch and/or intensity and the vocal folds will adjust their physical dimensions accordingly.  As a result, the antagonistic contractions of the muscle systems will correspondingly shift their ratio of tension to accommodate those changes.  Change the vowel, and both the configuration of the vocal tract and the conformation of the vocal folds will also change, each change having a direct bearing on quality.

The equivalencies noted above can be worked into an exercise construct that invokes the above-mentioned principle. Thus, a specifically designed exercise will predictably result in a special type of vocal fold conformation whose dimensions will, in turn, be determined by the proportional amounts of tension assumed by the tensors of the vocal folds.  It is within these relationships that the operative principle by which the vocal registers are governed is to be found.