Messa di Voce on ‘u’

Today I made a sound file of messa di voce on my favourite vowel ‘u’. There are two attempts in this sound file. The first attempt was uneven and lacked in its intensity but the second attempt was ok. My iPhone compresses my recordings a lot, but I think it is still possible to hear what is happening.

The Old Italian School was about intensity, not pushing. The 21st Century loves loud. Accordingly, Vibrazione and Messa di Voce exercises are more critical than ever if a singer wishes to create volume without pushing whilst continuing to sing beautifully for the duration of his or her lifetime.

Messa di Voce – ‘u’


Lilli Lehmann laments that nasal resonance is often neglected.

Today I made a sound file of ‘ng’. I practice ‘ng’ throughout my vocal range. If I concentrate on my happy surprise breath, onset and support then I feel what Lilli Lehmann calls ‘whirling currents’.

‘Ng’ C to C

Here are a pair of ‘i’ vowels without nasality and a pair with nasality. I hope you agree with me that the second pair has more warmth than the first. This is because I added nasal resonance to the second pair of ‘i’ vowels.

A pair of ‘i’ vowels without nasal resonance followed by a pair with nasal resonance


Esther Salaman, in her book ‘Unlocking Your Voice’, reminds us that the Bel Canto school of singing is about quality over quantity. Ms Salaman says that Vibrazione is an exercise that develops the core of our vowels. In other words, it develops quality.

Today I made a sound file of vibrazione. Vibrazione is a moment of intensity and depth. It is not obtained by pushing. Rather, it is the product of the ‘Happy Surprise’ breath, correct onset and a coordinated deepening of the sound whilst increasing the airflow.

The word “Sing’ sung normally, then vibrazione using dynamics of mf, mp, p and then pp.


“He who knows how to breathe and pronounce well, knows how to sing well”

Pacchiarotti (quoted in Francesco Lamperti’s book The Art of Singing).

I have written quite a few posts about breathing. Today, I decided to write about pronunciation. Pronunciation, as well as breathing exercises, should precede singing lessons.

Oskar Guttmann, in his Gymnastics for the Voice, wrote the following brief but important guide to pronunciation. It is an excellent wee page for beginners.

Breathing with Interruption

Here is a fantastic exercise to develop your breath control. Lilli Lehmann approved of Oskar Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’. This exercise is taken from his book.

Stand in Oskar Guttmann’s base position (I blogged about this in an earlier post). Breathe in through the nose, suspend for 5 seconds and then exhale through the mouth.

‘Breathing with Interruption’ will develop your self-awareness. You will discover there is no need to take in a lot of air to begin with. In fact, taking too much will make the exercise difficult. However, as you increase the duration of the interruption/suspension, you will find you need increasingly more air. Accordingly, you will become aware of not just your abdomen expanding, but also your rib cage and even your back.

In addition to developing your self-awareness, ‘Breathing with Interruption’ will also develop your skills in training your ribs to remain outwards. You will need this skill when you are learning the Great Scale or singing long passages.

Below is the diagram from Mr Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’ and a video of a demonstration of the exercise. The video is very boring but the location, the Northern Cape of South Africa, is very pretty!

The Start of the Note

Esther Salaman’s book ‘Unlocking Your Voice – Freedom to Sing’ describes the start of the note as a ‘caress of the glottis’, a ‘tiny click’ and ‘imploding’. Here are some sound files I made on a, i and u using the mechanism of the larynx. Salaman’s exercise for beginners is to take a ‘happy surprise’ breath, pause and onset a half scale on one breath.

These three vowels are followed by a preliminary agility exercises. This agility exercise should be performed lightly. Very little breath is required to perform them if the onset is a ‘caress of the glottis’, a ‘tiny click’ and ‘imploding’.

The Start of the Note – a
The Start of the Note – i
The Start of the Note – u
Onset and then agility exercise

Whirling Currents

Lilli Lehmann’s book ‘How to Sing’ describes the sensations of ‘whirling currents’. She writes “[a] mistaken idea of ‘singing it forward’ misleads most to press it forward and thus allow it to be speedily dissipated”. Here is a demo of one of the many ways to train yourself to find and maintain these whirling currents without pressing.

Here, I am using a Māori word for skirt ‘piupiu’ because the ‘p’ trains me to purse my lips, the ‘i’ gives the brilliance and the ‘u’ the depth. I am aiming to sing almost sharp because I have a tendency to scoop and pull the voice down.

My guitar is tuned to 432HZ.

Last year, I listened to Patti’s version of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ by Moore and fell in love with her sound. I battled away at the song for a while but couldn’t achieve the lightness of sound I wanted. Pressing and singing too heavily is death to bel canto and, as well as that, I was not supporting my voice enough. However, today I sang a lot of Donizetti and Bellini because my strategy is to sing a lot of coloratura for the next year before I return to lyric repertoire. I had worked all day to lighten the voice because I need a lighter voice to make it through the arias. At the end of the day, I thought of Patti’s singing. I just had to give ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ a go and, lo and behold, the whirling currents were there!

Experimenting a little with my social media. Here is an example I uploaded to SoundCloud. I hope you can hear it. If not, contact me and I will reload.

Sane Judgment

Giambattista Mancini, in his singing manual, “Practical Reflections on the Figurative Art of Singing” 1777 wrote: “Singers must always pay attention not to acquire that common fault of imitating too closely what they see and hear; for instead of improving their natural gifts, they will often lose them. However, I do not mean to exclude imitation, because by imitating the perfect in music, using sane judgment and modifications suitable to one’s own particular talent, one perfects himself.”

So, how is “sane judgment” obtained?

Lilli Lehmann addresses this in her book “How to Sing”. She writes: “In former times eight years were devoted to the study of singing – at the Prague Conservatory, for instance. Most of the mistakes and misunderstandings of the pupil could be discovered before he secured an engagement, and the teacher could spend so much time in correcting them that the pupil learned to pass judgment on himself properly.”

Lilli Lehmann

Oskar Guttmann’s Breathing Exercises

Concerning the breath and much more besides, there is so much that is excellent in Oscar Guttmann’s ‘Gymnastik der Stimme’ that I can do no better than to refer to it and recommend it strongly to the attention of all earnest students.

Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing, 1899/English Version 1914.

Lilli Lehmann approved of Oskar Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’, 1884.

The beginning point of Guttmann’s gymnastics is to stand in base position.

Base Position for Oskar Guttmann’s Breathing Exercises
  1. Once in the Base Position, stretch upwards so that your ribs raise. The raised rib position is essential while singing.
  2. Stretch in different directions (refer to Guttmann’s book or watch the video below). Classical singers should not stoop, nor should they stand too rigid.
  3. Put your hand on your abs. Feel how your abs move out when you breathe normally.
  4. Put a hand on your lower ribs. Feel how your abs and lower ribs move out when you take a slightly bigger breath.
  5. Put a hand on your upper ribs. Feel how your abs and upper ribs move out when you take a good sized breath.
  6. Take a slightly larger breath. Now your abs, ribs and back expand.
  7. Don’t breath high. If your chest and shoulders are moving up and down when you breath in and out then you are breathing too high. Breathe low. Repeat 4, 5 and 6 until you can recognise the sensations of breathing low and wide. Not high and up. An example of breathing too high is to watch the song ‘Never Enough’ in the move The Greatest Showman. The actress’s shoulders move up and down. You don’t want to look like that when you are a serious classical singer.
  8. Practice suspension. Suspension of the rib cage in the outward position is critical for breath support. (I have isolated this exercise in the second video below ). Take a small breath to begin with and suspend for 5 seconds, increasing to a minute over time. It is such a nice feeling to feel your ribs outwards. You will feel big and strong.
  9. Practice the ‘Happy Surprise Breath’ (refer to Lucie Manen’s book ‘The Art of Singing’ or watch my demonstration below). This breath is inaudible. Classical Singers must take inaudible breaths. It is a matter of good taste. We don’t want to hear a beautiful vocal line disrupted by loud gasps. Save loud breathing for a special effect.
  10. Bring all of the above technique’s together by practicing ‘s’ with a lean on the chest. The lean on the chest is important for breath efficiency. You must not send too much air through your vocal chords. They don’t need it! Most people take in too much air and push. You must concentrate on efficiency. Maintain the outward position of the ribs as you ‘sssssssss’. Your abs will be working like crazy. This will be very important to you when you sing. For example, this is an instruction by Hermann Klein when singing the Great Scale.

Remember, it is not the outpouring of breath that secures increased volume, but the gradually augmenting pressure brought to bear upon the clear, pure tone itself, this pressure being sustained by the combined action of the contracted diaphragm, the raised lower ribs, and the support of the whole abdominal region. The chest is not allowed to “fall” during the entire duration of the note.

Hermann Klein, The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia, page 34.

I suggest you refer to Guttmann’s book, but, here is a 6 minute breathing warm up video using his ideas.

Warm up/practice your breath support every day before singing a note. (I didn’t demonstrate Guttmann’s sit ups because of the restraints of filming with a tripod. However, core work is essential for singers. I use the Les Mills Online which contains core training in every class).

Full 6 minute breathing warm up for Classical Singers based on Oskar Guttmann’s ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’ 1884.

I have isolated this Guttmann exercise for you below because suspension of the ribs outwards is such an important part of classical singing. You need to practice this in isolation. Train those muscles!

Breathe in through the nose, suspend for 5 seconds and then exhale through the mouth. As you suspend (“hold your breath”) take the moment to feel the sensation of your rib cage. The muscles controlling this suspension are the muscles you need to develop. Over time, increase the suspension from 5 seconds to 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds and 60 seconds.

Demonstration of the suspension of the rib cage outwards. Developing your muscles for classical singing!
The ‘Happy Surprise Breath’ as described in Lucie Manen’s ‘The Art of Singing’
Lilli Lehmann, my point of reference for my studies.
Good example of breathing too high. Shoulders and chest moving up and down. Great for this movie but not in the real classical singing world.
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