July 11, 2010

Mackinlay on Voice Teaching

Singing is an art: let the teacher be careful not to make it appear a "Black art."  By this I mean, let the pupil be encouraged to ask questions, whenever difficulties arise or whenever any phenomenon occurs which seems to demand an explanation.  The technical side of singing rests on a scientific basis, the artistic side on certain broad principles, and the teacher should not attempt to wrap in mystery those things about which no mystery is really attached.  Let him avoid scientific or technical terms as far as possible, and where it is necessary to use them, let him supplement them by a simple explanation, seeking for some illustration from the common phenomena of everyday life which will bring the matter before the pupil's eyes with vivid clearness.  Let him clear up all question as far as possible as he goes along, for points which are once misunderstood will only continue to crop up again and again in the future, causing endless confusion.  


A teacher, to be successful, must have been a good vocalist himself; he must be able to show the pupil with his own voice what to do and what not to do. As the old Italian maestro Peregrino Benelli said: "Per un cantante necessario un maestro che sia buon cantante." ["It is necessary for a singer to have a master who is himself a good singer."] He must be able to show with his own voice the difference between singing with too much pressure of breath and with the proper amount, between ringing and veiled tones, open and rounded notes; and in addition he must be something of a mimic- able to reproduce faults of hie pupils, always exaggerating them somewhat in order to make them more noticeable. As a good doctor is able to tell from a patient's symptoms what is the nature of his illness, and what parts of the interior organs are affected, so too a good teacher should be able to tell from the quality of tone emitted what faults are being made.  He must be able to recognize unerringly all the possible differences of tone, good and bad, and he must have complete knowledge ready at his finger-tips of the best method by which a faulty tone may be recognized and the weak spots in a voice strengthened.  He should, moreover, make a practice of explaining the exact cause of every defect, the exact reason for every correction, the exact results aimed at by every exercise.  There must be no working in the dark on the part of the pupil.  Everything which is done throughout the training has a reason, technical or artistic, and there nothing gained by concealing it. 

One of the most important things to be realised by a teacher is that pupils will be found to differ, both in voice and in temperament.  Consequently, they must not all be treated alike.  There cannot be any hard and fast method of training.  There are certain general principles to be followed, but these should be adapted to the capacity of the individual and to the special peculiarities of his voice.  The teacher must aim in all cases at developing a well-equalised voice, firm, strong, flexible, of good compass and of perfect intonation, but in order to attain these results, he will have to treat each individual voice differently.  By his knowledge he will be able to make the most of the pupil's material, strengthen it where it shows signs of weakness, and do all that is possible to conceal the deficiencies.  For instance, where the voice proves unable to sustain fortissimo effects in the higher notes, he will point out how in the interpretation of a song in may be feasible to treat a passage in such a way that the expression chosen will call for softer musical effects.  




The teacher should be most careful never to make remarks as to the methods of a fellow-teacher.  If a new pupil arrives from another fresh from another master, with faults which should have been eradicated, let the teacher do his best to correct these faults as soon as possible, but let him make no remarks.  Should he be unable to say anything in praise of the previous instructor, let him emulate the example of Brer Fox in "Uncle Remus, who, it will be remembered, "lay low and said nuthen."  His skill will be best shown by his method of conducting exercises, and of adapting himself to circumstances.  He should, as far as possible, avoid the use of scientific terms; above all, where the finds that a pupil can do anything correctly at once without difficulty (e.g. breathing, taking a swelled note, or rounding a vowel), let him pass the matter over without any explanation of the mechanism by which the effect has been obtained, for otherwise he will merely make the singer self-conscious, without much possible good, and with very probably harm resulting. 

The teacher will sometimes find himself confronted with a certain difficulty in classifying the voice of a pupil at the earlier lessons, especially when it is as yet quite untrained, and is in a very undeveloped condition.  Voices are classified according to their quality instead of range, but this natural tone-colour is sometimes not at once immediately apparent.  In such cases considerable caution must be displayed, and for the first few lessons the pupil should be limited to a range of six notes, a hexachord, in the middle part of the voice, the principal work being confined to eradicating faults of emission.  Increase of compass should be temporarily postponed.  It will be quite easily seen on trying the voice which hexachrod the pupil can sing on with greatest ease and freedom, and these notes will be found to have more natural fullness than those outside that range.  In the case of a male voice, from the A below middle C to a sixth below will probably be found best; and in a female voice, from the Eb above middle C to a sixth above.  After a few lessons, a few weeks at most, the timbre will become more pronounced, and after taking some higher notes piano for a time, the actual classification of the voice will make itself apparent, when the normal development of compass and of forte and fortissimo may take place.  

It is a great mistake to study entirely on the vowel A, which is apt to develop an unpleasant throaty quality of voice.  The other vowels should be practices as well, for the O develops richness in the voice, the U places the voice forward, while the I, calling for a high position of the tongue, prevents the root of the tongue pressing on the epiglottis and causing guttural quality.  The E is not so useful as the others, but must be studied equally with the rest, since it is one of the most necessary vowel-sounds when we come to songs.

From The Singing Voice and Its Training (1910) by Malcolm Sterling Mackinlay, a student of Manuel Garcia.

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