To sing well is to breath properly. Sufficient attention is not given to this important fact. Respiration may be decided into three kinds: The diaphragmatic, the lateral and the clavicular. It is a false idea that women should use only the lateral, which calls into action merely the ribs and the breast-bone. Women who lace tightly adopt lateral breathing because they are forced to do so, and thus destroy the action of the diaphragm. Clavicular breathing is employed by raising the shoulders, leaving the diaphragm in repose. This is the most superficial and hurtful mode of breathing, often noticed in persons whose lungs are not developed or are naturally weak. Diaphragmatic breathing is distinguished by the contraction of the diaphragm, the thorax and shoulders remaining in complete repose. This is the only kind of respiration that should be cultivated by singers. By so breathing the larynx remans in a natural position, and is not strained.
To obtain a proper singing breath, the pupil must assume an easy, unconstrained posture, standing upright but learning the head forward in a persuasive attitude. It is the first attribute of a good singer to be able to develop sympathy between himself and his audience. Singers often allow the mouth to assume an unpleasant, even repulsive expression. This is wrong. A smiling position of the mouth, the lips touching the teeth, the chin kept back naturally, and never elevated or pushed forward; these important details are all essential; and form a proper adjunct to perfect breathing.
Another fact which commands attention is after taking in breath, to keep mouth and chin perfectly still while singing exercises. From neglect of this many errors arise, such as slurring and false intonation. Moving mouth and lips is a bad habit, and must be avoided. A singer who indulges it will never attain success, but it places a check upon the most splendid powers. The next and shoulders must always retain an easy position. A slight cause is sufficient to prevent breathing—even raising the shoulders wrinkling the forehead, or depressing the head. Any motion which shows effort, causes wrong breathing and produces tones lacking in power and purity. Notes resulting from bodily exertion lose all their beauty. The pupil should stand while practicing, and must take in breath slowly through the nose, so as not to dry the throat, and obtain the deepest inspiration possible. A gymnastic exercise of the breathing organs may be practiced without singing, and is both desirable and healthful.
After taking a full breath, the pupil should prevent the larynx changing position, by keeping down the back part of the palate. The tongue should be slightly hollowed in the middle, the mouth assuming a smiling position, not too widely opened sideways, and of an oval shape. The lower jaw must not be stiff or the throat will be contracted. The freedom of the chin depends upon the easy position of the neck and throat. By keeping the opening of the mouth in an oval shape and raising the lips, so as to show the upper teeth, the wave of air will break against the roof of the mouth and the voice will vibrate more powerfully.
Breath must be taken in slowly, which will cause a sensation of coldness at the back of the throat. When this ceases, the Italian vowel a or the syllable la is to be sounded. The vowel a should be neither too close nor to open, but have the sound which belongs to the word l'anima. This vowel must be wholly founded upon the breath, and will become too open if the breath escapes before the sound is produced. The color of the voice depends upon a correct method of breathing. This study, as before stated, is the first and most important lesson and indispensable to success in singing. It is the only true foundation to build upon. The pupil must be careful, when attacking the sound, to hold the breath by imagining that he is still taking in more breath, so that the voice may lean upon it and be sustained by the column of air. The note will then be pure, with no slurring. Breath must be slowly taken in, in order to be slowly given out. The strength and duration of the sound depend upon the elasticity of the lungs. To test whether the breath is taken and expended rightly, the experiment of holding a lighted taper close to the mouth may be tried. If the flame does not flicker during the emission of the sound, it proves that the air is gently emitted and the pupil breaths correctly. Great care must be taken to avoid noisy breathing. It is very injurious to the singer and distressing to the listener. This fault is caused by not commencing to take breath through the nose. It is highly important that the breath should be sustained after the voice is taken off, just as if the note were still sung. This is done by expanding the diaphragm, and will assist and accustom the singer to broad phrasing. When a full breath has been taken, the note must be attacked immediately. Delay causes the bad habit of slurring, so common among singers.
Voice, though most precious and necessary, is not all. The pupil must possess not only voice, and a fine ear, but also an artistic instinct, a musical temperament, and an excellent memory. No one should devote him or herself to this art who is without the first requisite, which is "voice." Or, if anyone possessing a strong voice and musical feeling (both natural gifts), after sufficient trial, should find it impossible to sing in tune, it would be folly to waste any further time and money in study. Persons having thin, weak voices, of small compass, should not be encouraged to study or expect to attain success, unless their age be such as to give hope of acquirement of further volume and compass. Art does not give more voice to any individual than nature has furnished him with. A pupil may study with all his energy, and with every care; he may succeed in learning to breath properly, but this does not give him more voice. Art does wonders in educating and bringing it out, but can never accomplish the miracle of reconstructing the organ of voice-production. Still art can do more than one would suppose. Pupils with small musical talent but good ear, have been trained, after acquiring a perfect system of breathing, to fill a fine position on the lyric stage. Of these, the women began study at about eighteen, and the men were not over twenty, as a rule. Young pupils of great musical ability, yet with small voices, have also found sympathetic audiences, and, after some years of practice, have developed their voices with good success. But a beautiful and powerful voice is useless unless educated by the rules of art—otherwise it will be nothing but one of the noise-machines of the modern stage. —Freund's Music and Drama
—Hattie A. Farnsworth, "Lamperti's Method," Werner's Magazine of Expression, January, 1886: 4-5.