Technique

A housemaid can never become expert if she does not first learn to handle broom, brush, and duster; carpets will be worn to shreds, furniture scratched, ornaments defaced, long before they ought to show the least sign of “wear and tear.”

Sir Charles Santley, Introduction to The Art of Singing and Vocal Declamation (1908).

Warming up for daily practice is different than warming up for performance. Below is an ‘everyday warm up’ for the advanced singer. The warm up is a daily revision of technique. The daily revision of technique should take no less than half an hour.

Listening is essential for developing technique and musicality – the two go together. The student should listen to their teacher, other singers, recordings and their own voice. In that respect, the daily revision should be recorded. Every 30 seconds to five minutes, the singer should pause, and, listen back to the recording. The singer should analyse their recording. The singer should endeavour to fix their own vocal problems and improve their own technique as much as possible.

Ultimately, the analysis of the voice is ruled by sensation. Accordingly, it is important to take time. Learn to feel. A slight adjustment can make all the difference to the sounds. Here is a quote from the Master, Manuel Garcia II.

For the pupil it is enough that, localising his sensations through his master’s explanations, he should learn to distinguish the various parts of this instrument and the manner of using them.

Manuel Garcia, Hints on Singing, new and revised edition, 1894, preface.

I will be making virtually no references to science. The reason is best said in the words of Sir Charles Santley.

Manuel Garcia is held up as the pioneer of scientific teachers of singing. He was – but he taught singing, not surgery. I was a pupil of his in 1858 and a friend of his while he lived, and in all the conversations I had with him, I never heard him say a word about larynx or pharynx, glottis, or any other organ used in the production and emission of the voice. He was perfectly acquainted with their functions, but he used his knowledge for his own direction, not to make parade of it before his pupils, as he knew it would only serve to mystify them, and could serve no good purpose in acquiring a knowledge of the art of singing. My experience tells me that the less pupils know about the construction of the vocal organs the better; in fact, as I heard a master once remark, ‘better they should not be aware they had throats except for the purpose of swallowing their food.’

Sir Charles Santley, The Art of Singing and Vocal Declamation.

The warm up exercises I demonstrate below were taught to me by Beatrice Webster and Isabel Cunningham. I gained further understanding of these exercises through studying the writings of Lilli Lehmann, Lucie Manen and Dame Nellie Melba. I have interpreted them and made them my own. Accordingly, any faults in the demonstrations below are my responsibility alone.

  1. Begin with five minutes of breathing and posture exercises from Oskar Guttmann’s book called Gymastics for the Voice. My adaption of his advice is in the short video above.
  2. Use ‘s’ to practice leaning against the chest. Here is a demo of the ‘s’ without the lean and ‘s’ with the lean. The second ‘s’ uses the same amount of air efficiently because I lean against the chest.
You must always lean against the chest when you sing

3. Practice onsets: Here is a demo of onset with the Larynx mechanism, Pharynx mechanism, Nasal ‘n’ and Imposto. The singer needs all of these tone colours.

Onsets – larynx, pharynx, ng and imposto – Deborah Wai Kapohe demonstration – Exercise of Lucie Manen

4. Nasal: Practice this arpeggio from the lowest to highest registers of the voice. Remember to breathe silently, onset cleanly, lean on the chest the entire time, keep the ribs out as long as possible, think of the top note when beginning, don’t let the body collapse as the arpeggio descends.

Ng warm up – Kapohe – Exercise of Beatrice Webster

5. Vibrazione: Use throughout the voice. This same technique of deepening as you crescendo is used for messa di voce over a phrase (see the Cancone Solfeggio below).

Vibrazione warm up – Kapohe – Exercise of Lucie Manen

6. Sing ‘i’ pianissimo: This exercise will develop head voice as well as the ability to hear the top note before one begins. Refer to Lilli Lehmann’s book ‘How to Sing’ to read about how she always sung a phrase for the top note, even if this means ‘weakening’ the notes below. This exercise develops this skill. Rehearse this throughout the entire compass of your voice.

Developing Head Voice – Warm Up – Kapohe – Exercise of Beatrice Webster

7. Staccato. Practice throughout compass of the voice. Lean against chest. Don’t send too much air through.

Staccato Warm Up – Kapohe – Exercise of Beatrice Webster

8. Sing ‘o’ pianissimo to develop head voice.

Sing ‘o’ pp to develop Head Voice – exercise of Beatrice Webster

9. Trill warm up. Whole tone. Practice on five different notes each day to develop trill throughout entire range. Practice approaching the trill from the note and above the note.

Trill Whole Tone warm up – Kapohe – exercise of Beatrice Webster for agility modified with trill at end
The trill is one of the essential ornaments.

10. Trill warm up. Half tone. Practice approaching the trill from the note and above the note.

Trill half tone warm up – Kapohe – exercise of Lilli Lehmann

11. Suoni la tromba. Practice scooping from one note to another develop legato and also singing consonants on pitch at the same time. Then speed up and lighten the scoop until it becomes an inaudible binding.

Suoni la tromba warm up – Kapohe – exercise of Beatrice Webster

12. Vowels. Please note there are no pure vowels. Vowels are a complex mixture. Learn how to mix the vowels and then make choices according to sane judgment.

Exercise of Beatrice Webster – Deborah Wai Kapohe

13. Agility. Make sure the last note is stopped on the body. Lean against the chest the entire time to facilitate this. I might redo this demo again. It requires a little more ‘u’ in the sound, even if I just think the ‘u’. This is what I mean by what I said above in number 12. Mix vowels. Make choices.

Si agility – Exercise of Beatrice Webster – Deborah Wai Kapohe

14. E to A. Lean against chest. Keep your ribs out as long as possible. Align vowels. Don’t collapse body on the way down.

E to A. Exercise of Beatrice Webster. Sung by Deborah Wai Kapohe.

15. Sing scales. Different speeds, use different vowels, have fun.

Lilli Lehmann would take forty minutes over the Great Scale. Begin by singing the scale on the same dynamic, aiming for steadiness of tone. Then introduce your messa di voce.

The Slow Scale

15. One example of Slow Scale on ‘ah’. Tongue lightly against front teeth. Covered sound.

16. Putting all the techniques together. Yay!!! Choose a Solfeggio. Here I am singing ‘do, re, mi’.

Herman Klein, taught by Manual Garcia, says in the ‘Herman Klein Phono Vocal Method’, to sing Solfeggio on vowels, chiefly the Italian ‘a’. In Domenico Corri’s book ‘The Singer’s Preceptor’, Corri states ‘…and here I may quote my Preceptor, Porpora, whose decided opinion it was, that solfeggi were not properly understood; the improvement of the voice he maintained is best acquired by sounding the letter A – the position of the mouth in uttering this letter being most favourable to produce a free and clear tone.’ In contrast, Lucie Manen, in her book ‘The Art of Singing’ says to use ‘Do Re Mi’ and to change the ‘do re mi’ when the music changes key. For example, if you are singing in C with a passage in Am half way through, then, in the Am section the A would become Do instead of La. Domenico Corri, student of Nicola Porporo, in his book ‘The Singer’s Perceptor’, says the practice was to leave Do as C always.

The best question to ask, I think, is “what am I trying to achieve by singing this solfeggio?” For example, let us say the singer can’t sing the word ‘Hamburger’. Well, why not sing a Solfeggio to the word ‘Hamburger’. In other words, the purpose is to isolate, analyse, execute and improve.

Cancone Solfeggio – Putting all of your warm up techniques together to make music – Sung by Deborah Wai Kapohe

Below are Oskar Guttmann’s base position, his breathing with interruption exercises (I call the holding of one’s breath ‘suspension’ in my You Tube video above) and his observations on vowels and consonants.

Base Position for Breathing Exercises

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