Voice Studio

Technique is inseparable from art.

Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing, 1914.
The Slow Scale
Lilli Lehmann
Manuel Garcia II
Lilli Lehmann

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.

Regnava nel Silenzio opening phrase – Deborah Wai Kapohe

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.


Learning Caro Nome

Below tracks the learning of Caro Nome. Starting with the first attempt and following the “student” through until the aria is performed for the third time. If you would like to skip all of this, the 2nd performance is at the bottom of this page and I am really happy with a lot of it. Still work to do though!!!

Let’s have a listen to an audio file of this early attempt.

Attempt at Caro Nome

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.

Week One

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.

Using ‘piu’ to find light coloratura quality in my voice. This could be improved with better intonation but first concentrate on one thing at a time. I love the vibrato here and the shimmering sound. It carries far with no pushing or effort.
Say ‘piu’ then the word. The task is to sense where you sing piu and place your word there.
We want to find lots of head voice. So try a light ‘i’. The ‘i’ exercise is on the technique page. Also, try to pronounce each of the voiced consonants on pitch to make sure they are in tune and with a relaxed mouth.
Better version of opening Gualtier Malde. Now this needs a few weeks to settle. Practice on alternate days.

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.

The consonants are pronounced on the roof of the mouth.

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.

The m triggers the support – if the mouth is relaxed. Try an ‘h’ before the first ‘m’ if needed.

Now let’s hear the ‘caro nome’ after triggering our support.

Caro Nome opening with better support both starting and finishing notes

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.

Tuning up the vowels.

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.

Top notes – working backwards to find out where the problem is…

Week Two

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.

Create springboards to float notes in Caro Nome

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.

Creating springboards to each floating note by using vibrazione technique.
Creating Springboards – example two
Creating Springboards – example three to top C
Springboards are continual vibrazione/messa di voce/imposto combinations that provide the energy needed to float the following note. Listen to Dame Joan Sutherland sing Caro Nome. You can clearly hear the springboards.

Week Three

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.

Scale in E Major.

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.

Scale in E Major with tongue lightly on bottom teeth, more head voice can be heard.

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.

Head voice coming through and dominating the sound. The singer should learn to recognize these good sensations and apply this throughout the voice. It is a good idea to work for sound first. The language and musical things can be fixed at a later point.

Week Four

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.

Experimenting with nasality prior to pure head voice 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.

Caro Nome with improved intonation. Nasality is used prior to pure head voice notes to help the intonation. The nasality is also brought in on the descent to help the voice stay in tune.

Week Five

Here is Caro Nome in the Studio. Overall, facial relaxation is needed, especially in the Cadenza. A tense face equals a tense sound. I am happy with the general sound and feeling . Therefore, I would suggest to sing the piece through every second day and enjoy making the delicate sounds. The intonation is greatly improved from four weeks ago. The trills are ok now. Not as saggy. However, I put an ‘h’ before the ‘e’ today as an experiment – this sounds bad. Overall, this needs a pianist. I have to self-accompany because I am in a Lockdown but this piece, to be honest, is too difficult to self-accompany. At times I got lost today with the guitar part. Sorry about that. The ‘performance day’ is coming up in a couple of weeks. The best advice I can offer the ‘student’ at this stage is to use the iPhone to film themselves while singing this through every second day. I would say to eradicate any tension in the face because this will be counter-productive. There is no need to be tense because the basics are there now.

Performance One

Here is the first performance but I am not happy with it. There is a lot of scooping. This aria should be 100% accuracy . I need to go back to examining every single onset again! Other major faults are that I do not feed enough air through the voice at times so there are some glitches and my mouth is way too open. As Garcia says in his ‘Hints on Singing’ the pharynx needs to be the mouth! The open mouth takes away from my tone. (Yesterday, I recorded a first attempt at Lucia’s Mad Scene on Instagram. I kept my mouth as small as possible and the difference in tone, even on my iPhone was obvious). Garcia’s ‘Hints on Singing’ suggests to fix a mouth that opens too wide with a piece of wood no larger than a pencil. I will re-record in about 6 weeks.

Lesson using Manuel Garcia II’s advice…

First, I put pencil in mouth, then I remove and try to keep a small opening. You will hear the voice is equalized and loads of head tone. Then I sing with a big open mouth. The voice has an uneven tone quality and the head tone is diminished. Garcia’s Hints on Singing will be applied to Caro Nome.

Performance Two…

REALLY PLEASED WITH THE INCREASED FREEDOM…NEARLY THERE…Still too much mouth movement but no glitches now!!! Yay!!! I fixed them by raising the soft palette a little more in the diminuendos.

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.

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