Technique*

* This page is currently being updated with new recordings.

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).

Learn principles rather than pieces.

Arnold Dolmetcsh, ‘quoted’ in Historical Performance of Music by Lawson/Stowell.

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.

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.

Breathing*

These are breathing exercises. However, when singing don’t ‘try as hard’. ‘Over breathing’ will lead to tension.

The virtuoso in breathing is nearest to the virtuoso in singing.

Bach, Albert Bernard. The Principles of Singing: A practical guide for vocalists and teachers. 1885. Page 120. Quoting the ‘Italian Masters’.

Support – Appoggio – is a complex interplay between your breath, vocal cords and the way you create resonance. See Melba Method, Garcia etc for wonderful basic fun breathing exercises to begin your daily practice. Furthermore, Toft’s book on ‘Bel Canto’, contains an useful summary of how Bel Canto teachers advised singers to breathe while singing.

SILENT Breath, expanding you like a barrel, into the back, deep down, BUT relaxed, is CRUCIAL!!!
N.B. These are breathing exercises. When you sing, don’t fill the lungs up to capacity or last as long as you can. See Melba Method for her explanation on how to treat breathing exercises.
Onsets

The first thing a singer needs to learn is how to begin each note with a firm attack. The note that is achieved needs to be chiaroscuro. This exercise could possibly be the most difficult of all the exercises and should preoccupy the singers’ daily practice and singing for the remainder of their lives. This exercise will be replaced with better versions as I progress through my three year refreshing of my voice.

Beginning each note with a firm attack

This historic recording demonstrates poor tone and attack and then good tone and attack etc.

Tone Production Historic Demonstration

Scales

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

The Slow Scale*

*This page is currently being updated. New recordings will be uploaded on a weekly basis.

Here is attempt one (this morning). It is a struggle. My tongue was trying to pull back continuously and I wasn’t supporting properly, hence the downward descent into lack of tone at the end. Worse still, the breath is audible! BAD! Breathing should be inaudible.

Slow Scale Attempt One

Here is attempt two. I try a few things like “Bree” and then “ya” and then just ah on the way down. I am happy with the tone. I want to sound like my speaking voice. I want light and shade. I HATE wooly sounds. I hate sounds that are too dark or too bright. I have a dark voice so I go for the brighter sound because when I perform I tend to darken a little.

In this slow scale, the last note is a little shaky. So, time to move to Garcia’s first exercise. Blending the chest register and the medium voice which is a bend of chest and head. You can see this example below, under the heading “Garcia…singing”.

Slow Scale Attempt Two
Kick Start

Here is how I am currently beginning my daily practice. First, the breathing. Secondly, I stick my tongue out and roll it. This is to relax my tongue and activate my breath. I then move to Mr Striny’s “I love our home”. I love this exercise because it creates these fabulous “whirling currents” (to quote Lilli Lehmann).

Kick Start 1

Thirdly, I use “y” before the “ah”. My focus is the tongue. In this demo you can hear the sound is more balanced on the way down. This is because I looked in the mirror and my darn tongue was not lying on the lower teeth. On the way down I corrected this.

Kick Start 2

Fourthly, I begin to look at Garcia’s exercises. This is number 9. I begin with “y” and then remove the “crutch”, leaving only “ah”. My focus is the tongue and correcting my posture. (I often begin practice with a poor posture which is not helped by my guitar playing!)

Kick Start 3
Garcia’s Treatise on the Art of Singing

This project will probably last 2021. It involves me recording and uploading each exercise from the manual. As I improve, examples will be replaced. There will be no particular order because I practice a variety of exercises each week.

Garcia 1
Garcia 2
Garcia 3
Garcia 4
Garcia 16: For this exercise, precede with the exercise on breathing in the singing book of William Shakespeare. In short, put your hands in praying motion, breathe into back, half fill your lungs and then pant.
Garcia 18: This example is out of time but what I like about it is that the scale goes through the registers nicely. This is a difficult exercise because the singer has to go from chest, through medium and then into head voice.
Garcia 21
Garcia 22
Garcia 23: Garcia says Sopranos can go as fast as 132. I gave this a go on “Bree” at 132. Not off to a bad start.
Garcia 24
Number 50 – I begin with a “ya” to gain vibrancy in the ‘a’ vowel. This is very slow, I will upload a faster version in a week or two.
Garcia 119 – I tried to go as fast as I could. I used “ya” to make sure I didn’t lose vibrancy on the “a”. I aimed at planting my tongue at the back of my bottom teeth to ensure it didn’t interfere. My aim is to not be tempted to manipulate the sound. I just wanted to shoot up from chest to medium to head tone and back again. Sounds pretty ugly at the moment but I will re-record in a month or so.
Garcia 131 – I come crashing down on the last note and I am not convinced with some of the intonation. The tricky thing about chromatics is that the semitones are not all the same. Some are larger semitones than others. The way to improve this will be to slow it down and concentrate on small groups of 3 or 4 notes at a time.

Page 74 d’affanno exercise. Garcia has plenty of fun exercises. In this one, I added an appoggiatura, then a forte piano, then a ppp top note, small swell and then staccato arpeggio to the first section. The phrase was completed with a turn and piano top note, swell and some portamenti. A lot of fun!

Page 74, d’affanno exercise

Here is Quel guardo il cavaliere, using the tone colours and ideas from doing the Garcia exercises. I have never sung this aria before so this is a first stab at it. Throwing in tons of rubato, some staccato and long top notes pp. I am not worried about detail. I just want to have fun with it and come up with my own interpretation and sound.

Donizetti example – quel guardo il cavaliere

Tracking progress

Today I worked on Garcia number 8. It started off a bit dodgy, so I tried a few vowels and then returned to the “a”. Next, I applied this technique to a simple folk song called “The Sally Gardens”. Finally, I compared this new version to a version recorded 7 months ago. I am pleased to say the voice is sounding more vibrant and balanced, thanks to Garcia’s exercises!

Number 8 – battling a bit with it
Sally Gardens recorded in December 2020
Sally Gardens recorded in April 2020

Candle exercises etc

I recommend reading historical vocal pedagogy when it comes to singing. Here is an “old fashioned” way of checking the voice is using air efficiently. The exercise is also important for check the start of the note. I love a firm attack. You will hear this clearly in this video. I also love a sound which is an extension of the speaking voice. You will also hear this in this video. The chest notes are chest, then it blends into the middle voice and then into the head.

Historical Vocal Pedagogy is free to read on the internet. Here is a Candle Exercise.

Solfeggio

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.

Jeanne Jomelli demonstrating from Klein’s Phono – Vocal method.

I am convinced that far too much is made of the vocal mechanism, which under normal conditions always responds automatically.

Clippinger, D.A. The Head Voice and other problems: Practical talks on singing. Page 11.

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