December 15, 2010

Hold Your Tongue

Those who read historical vocal pedagogy will recognize in the article below a distillation of the vocal techniques used in the latter part of the 19th century: sustained tones, deep breathing, the primacy of /a/, Italian tonal values, careful positioning of the tongue, use of a mirror, progressively difficult exercises, and, above all, the tonal ideal always being kept in mind.  The ideas are simple enough.  Their execution?  Another matter entirely.

According to The Midwestern, the author L. M. Bartlett was a professor of singing in Iowa in 1906.



Werner’s Magazine: a magazine of expression, 1897

By L. M. Bartlett.

THE breath is the generator and the supporter of every tone, whether in speech or in song. The muscle that plays the most important part in breathing is the diaphragm, situated between the cavity of the chest and the abdomen. By the use of this muscle the breath is regulated and controlled. The breath taken in the act of singing should be taken low and without fear or anxiety. The lower part of the lungs should be allowed to expand first, the chest- muscles should be held firmly but not rigidly. As an aid to developing the full capacity of the chest, I use the following exercise. Example: Cultivate deep breathing for months, and you will discover that you have greatly developed the capacity of the chest and the lungs, in fact, your whole being. There will be a noticeable larger expansion and the diaphragm will have become stronger and more tense. If you wish to know whether or not you breathe correctly, lie flat upon your back with the head as low as the rest of the body. Does a tired animal, when taking a long-drawn breath, expand at the chest or at the flanks? Care must be taken, too, that the lungs be well filled.

I advocate the practice of sustained tones, commenced with the first lesson, and then gradually leading to more rapid passages as fast as the vocal organs can be made to adjust themselves properly. It is just here that teacher and pupil must exercise the utmost care and patience.

Every tone should be considered and should be characterized by a rich, round, sonorous, and musical quality, placed well to the front of the mouth, kept there and ended there, the throat being well opened and kept in a restful and passive state. In the practice of sustained tones, I begin with the pure Italian vowel a (ah). When the vocal organs become well adjusted to the use of this vowel, I then use e (a), i (e), and u (oo) I sometimes change this order as circumstances seem to require. Pupils do not use the same vowels with the same degree of success, but care must be taken that the voice be well formed upon every element of our language.

I am certain that when a pupil can make right use of the vowel a (ah) and preserve it, no fear of the other vowels need be apprehended. I insist upon the daily practice of sustained tones, paying careful attention to crescendo and to diminuendo. I usually begin at C, first line below the staff, with ladies' voices, sometimes as high as F, first space; with gentlemen at C, second space bass staff, sometimes higher with tenor voices and as low as B flat with bass voices; but in all cases I try to select a convenient tone to sing. I ascend the scale by half steps and go no further than F, last line, with ladies' and tenor voices, and to D with baritone and bass voices. This, understand, is at an early stage of progress. This exercise I hear at every lesson for several terms, or at least one year.

While correct breathing lies at the foundation of a good tone, I am convinced, not only by my own experience as a pupil, but also by long experience as a teacher, that it is far better to direct the mind of the pupil to the tone to be produced by concentrating the thought there; the means by which the tone is controlled and governed will be more likely to fulfil its proper function.

The tone should be formed at once and without hesitation. If the pupil has difficulty in bringing the tone forward with the vowel a (ah), I resort to other expedients, such as the syllables, tha, va, wa, za, etc. The vibrating column of air must be brought forward full, free, and unhindered.

Many faults arise from an improper position of the tongue. If the tongue be unusually large or thick, as is often the case, the pupil should learn to form a groove or furrow through from the tip to the base. I require my pupils to practice much with the hand-mirror held before them in such a manner that the position of the tongue can be readily seen. Pupils must learn how to ''hold their tongues."

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