Technique is inseparable from art.Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing, 1914.
Technique you can rely on
There is a singing technique you can rely on. Rely on to make art. Rely on for a long career. Rely on for beauty. It is called the ‘Old Italian Method’. It takes time to mature, like a good wine. But, it is worth the wait.
The Old Italian Method will always be there for you. Whether you remain with classical or choose to sing other styles, the method will give you the confidence to know your voice will respond. I only perform classical now but in the past I have performed many styles. I have even written my own songs in a folk/rock style. Thankfully, my voice held up. My gratitude goes to my teachers.
On my Voice Blog and the Technique Page, I discuss and/or demonstrate the techniques of the Old Italian School. I wish to be transparent. My demonstrations are like this demo below. The demos are short and recorded on my iPhone. They are free to listen to. Within the next year, this website will have demonstrated most, if not all, of the techniques you need to be a professional classical singer. These demonstrations will come with references to books so that you can check what I am saying and doing is correct.
I was fortunate to learn the Old Italian Method from the late Beatrice Webster, a student of Lucie Manen. I also learnt the method from Isabel Cunningham, Beatrice’s pupil. In addition, in 2004, after a decade of singing professionally, I refreshed my voice and graduated with a Masters of Music with Distinction at the University of Otago under the supervision of Isabel Cunningham and Professor Terence Dennis.
In my mind, there is only one way to begin. Learn to walk before you run. Learn technique. People often say “I don’t want to sing Classical”. You don’t have to sing classical music but you will benefit by knowing classical technique because you will learn what to do and why. This will enable you to pick and choose techniques for different styles. For example, take a look on my Guitar & Voice page. On the Guitar & Voice page there is a demonstration of the ‘natural voice’ I use for Renaissance and a demonstration of the folk/rock voice for my singer/songwriting. You will hear my voice sounds completely different in the three examples. This is typical of many classical singers. For example, listen to Aida Garifullina on SoundCloud. You will hear her sing in two distinct styles – Opera and Pop.
I hope you will consider becoming my student. I will be on a steep learning curve. You will teach me more than I teach you because everyone is different. So far, the only voice I know is my own. I hope to know yours.
Singing Lesson: Caro Nome
Here is a hypothetical ‘singing lesson’. The student must be able to perform Caro Nome in six weeks time. Let’s have a listen to an audio file of this early attempt.
The faults are a screechy sound, lack of support, intonation issues, saggy trills/ornamentation and poor pronunciation which culminate in an overall lack of musicality. Let’s follow this student’s progress for the next six weeks until the performance day!
The aim of the next weeks will be to focus on the voice character first. Caro Nome needs tenderness, to quote Herman Klein! Therefore, we need to employ the head voice and lots of it!
The head voice, when it value is properly appreciated, is the most valuable possession of all singers, male and female.Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing, 1914.
If a dream like quality cannot be achieved there is no use to bothering with anything else. The aria should be shelved. If the tonal quality is showing promise, the next step should be intonation. Finally, loose ends should be addressed.
Caro Nome should be sung in the light coloratura quality. The light coloratura quality is described in Lucie Manen’s ‘The Art of Singing’. An efficient way I have discovered to achieve this position is to sing ‘piu’. The ‘p’, like ‘b’, achieves the position I need for the light coloratura quality.
The most difficult moment of Caro Nome is the first word because of the ‘g’ of Gualtier. The consonants should be formed on the roof of the mouth. If the G is pronounced in the throat it is impossible to float the opening phrase. This was recorded on my iPhone so it is impossible to tell, but the sound was a floating sound.
An overall fault of the first attempts at Caro Nome is a lack of support on the main tune ‘Caro nome’.
The student is asked to sing with only ‘m’. For example, ‘Maro mome mel mio cor…’ etc. The reason for this is to use the m to trigger support.
Now let’s hear the ‘caro nome’ after triggering our support.
Caro Nome has a ton of intonation problems. Here is an example of fixing one problem. The last syllable of ‘desir’ was one of the many flat notes. This is because there was too much u in the last syllable (-sir). So let’s lift the note by adding in more ‘i’. A lot of intonation problems are because of the vowel mixing rather than the actual fundamental pitch. This is why singing the slow scale before you sing the piece is so important.
The next problem was the pushing of the voice on the first long note (f#). Problems with the high notes begin long before the note itself. The f# should float. The best way is to work backwards. Working backwards, it turned out the ‘col pensier…desir’ was not placed very well. The placement should be light coloratura but a touch of lyric was creeping in and pulling the sound down. There is a ‘p’ in the phrase. The ‘p’ assists the singer to achieve the light coloratura position. Here is the remedied version, before the f# was barely achievable, after the f# floats and the a does as well! You will hear I am singing softly. These days I learn arias by singing softly the majority of the time.
The ‘student’ needs to learn how to create springboards. Springboards create the energy required to float the voice. Caro Nome needs to float. The techniques required are messa di voce, vibrazione and imposto. Please see the technique page for demonstrations of these techniques and take a look at the resource page for useful singing books to refer to. Here are some examples of our ‘student’ demonstrating springboards.
Listen to the sample below. (Please ignore the mistakes in the guitar, language, intonation etc. Just focus on the springboards. One thing at a time). No note should ever be sung one dynamic! Ever. I exaggerate the springboards slightly in these examples.
Before singing through Caro Nome, it is a good idea to sing a slow scale. There should be no forcing. The vowel should be covered. This scale is only one octave but a good idea would be to sing the scale an octave and a half.
There is a slight tongue tension in the example above. To adjust, the student is requested to lightly place the tongue on the bottom teeth. Now you can hear the head voice is fighting to come through the sound.
Now the student is asked to sing through Caro Nome with more volume. They are reminded to use ‘springboards’ and to seek the sensation of the head voice they achieved in the scale only moments before.
In this sample you can hear the head voice is now fighting to dominate the sound. The floating sound of the Head Voice is the sound required for the entire piece. Gilda needs to sound young and in love. Therefore, I am happy with the progress made so far. Yes it is out of tune and there are a ton of mistakes. Be patient. One thing at a time.
Sound first, intonation next and then, finally, the third and final thing can be fixing up the loose ends that don’t come right along the way.
The way to learn how to cut down a tree is to cut it down.African Proverb.
The focus this week is on intonation.
Here is a sample of using nasality prior to singing the top pure head voice notes. The nasality places the voice forward and greatly aids intonation. Here is a slow example of the student experimenting with nasality prior to floating those top notes.
The application of nasality to passages that were previously out of tune has helped a great deal with intonation. Please excuse my guitar playing in the second half of the piece.
Week Four – Second part
The second half of Week Four, the student will sing through the piece again. It is important to sing pieces on alternate days to allow the subconscious time to work on its own.
In the meantime, here is Dame Joan Sutherland singing Caro Nome for inspiration. I just love her interpretation so much. You can hear the constant messa di voce.