February 25, 2014


Francesco Lamperti


Acareful study of tone reveals the fact that it does not require great labor to establish normal vibrations. When there is too much effort noise is the result. Tone is pleasant in proportion to the economy of the breath used to initiate the vibration. In the voice, especially, all huskiness or lack of purity of the primary vibrations is associated with waste of breath. Breathing must not only be centred but we must carefully attend to the sympathetic and elastic retention of the breath.

In developing this retaining action it is first necessary to become conscious of the dual actions of breathing in making tone. Of the breath taken into the lungs in preparation for tone, by far the larger part is retained as a kind of sustaining condition of activity during tone production, while a small portion is used to pass between the vocal bands and initiate the vibration.

In producing tone the student can direct his consciousness either to the passive conditions resulting from the right reserve of the breath or to the small amount of breath released. Usually students think too much of the active outgoing breath and fail to realize the great importance of that which is held in passive, sympathetic reserve.

Various sensations have been suggested to students to co-ordinate this marvelous complexity in the action of the diaphragm. One teacher in Paris, with whom I studied, taught that during the making of tone we should have a sense of "sinking" in the middle of the body. Of course we can explain this by the fact that the breath reserved acts in opposition to that given up or actively controlled in a kind of column to pass between the vocal bands. The breath retained forms the drum; the small amount passed through the vocal bands is analogous to the stick of the drum that initiates the sound and brings the whole instrument into vibration. The full active chest forms the bell; the small amount given up, the hammer that initiates the sound. The breath reserved acts as the violin; the vocal bands are the strings and the small stream of expelled breath corresponds to the bow.

My old maestro the elder Francois Lamperti, was called a "shyster" by one who did not understand what he meant because he taught that in giving out tone we should have the sensation of drinking.

Lamperti never explained this. Some people thought he meant to make a tone as if taking in the breath rather than giving it out. Even with this view of it students were led to retain or economize the breath while making tone, especially at its initiation. In my own case I have found this sensation connected  not only with the sympathetic or elastic retention of the breath but with a simultaneous feeling of openness in the throat. It has been far more helpful to me than the sensation of sinking which was purely local in the middle of the body, while in this way we may unconsciously secure something of co-ordination.

Both of these sensations are founded upon the fact that in making tone much breath is retained in the lungs. In the teaching of nearly all of the great masters there has always been some step, often a simple expedient such as these, to awaken in the student just the right action that will retain the breath without cramping it in the lungs, but allowing simultaneously with the retention an easy control over the small emission which makes the tone.

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