July 23, 2014

When in Rome

I am in the Eternal City, having arrived yesterday after the long flight from New York, and will be a man about town for a few days before joining Umbrian Serenades in Spoleto—this being my fourth sojourn with the amazing choral group founded by Paulo Faustini. 

Having found Tosca's church last summer, I knew I had to experience its golden light again, which is what I did after dropping off my bag at my hotel near the Pantheon (and having an adventure at the Vatican). This time, I took my time exploring its nooks and crannies, finding a mummified saint and other relics, which I wrote about on my other blog, which you can find here, which is where I'll be posting for the next two weeks or so. 

VoiceTalk is on vacation! 

July 19, 2014

Watch Your Mouth

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) 

For those with eyes to see, this photograph of Enrico Caruso is positively stuffed with auditory information. What can be seen? Caruso's open ear, for one thing, which is evidenced in his wide upper lip, labionasal groove and innervated check muscles—the facial nerve itself, which inserts into the inner ear, providing the means for this activity. All this—together with the expression of Caruso's eyes—tells the viewer that he is singing pretty intensely, but beautifully.

The ear, body and vocal mechanism are inextricably intertwined in a dynamic system—an audio-vocal feedback loop that is self-sustaining. Of course, most people think of the ear as a passive agent, there to judge the quality of vowel and tone after the fact. But the truth is a very different matter. Not only does the ear set up singing before it comes out of the mouth, it also keeps it going through the audition of bone conduction which reaches the inner ear before air conducted sound. The teacher who tells you not to listen to yourself, but rather, to feel yourself is half right, in that you shouldn't be chasing your tail listening to air conducted sound alone. Rather, your attention should be on the feeling of the sound, feeling itself being a vestibular aspect of listening and a matter of bone conduction, which is something the singer feels and hears inside the head. As I often write: It's the buzzy business that never turns off. Giovanni Battista Lamperti called it "regular vibration," and that is it sometimes mistaken for phlegm.

There is something else. My perspective is that we don't shape our mouths to make beautiful sounds. Rather we observe a certain shape of the mouth when the vowel and tone is beautiful—a very different thing. It has to come from inside the ear, rather than being imposed from without.

Within the bel canto tradition, this means a shape which, visually speaking, looks like /a/, which is the shape Caruso's mouth assumes in the photograph above. The bel canto mouth, as noted above, exhibits a wide upper lip which some teachers refined, saying the upper lip should have its "natural length," which I take to mean the length one feels when one is very happy, even blissful, rather than a lip that is artificially stretched or held in position. My own teacher told me in referring to this: "Singing is like running to meet your lover. Yes, that's right." When you see that look, you know the person's ear is going its job. And don't you know, this shape—this widening of the upper lip—appeared on my face when I was at the Listening Centre in Toronto in 1999 while listening to filtered Mozart, the lower frequencies having been attenuated. What was the training doing? Opening my ear. 

Find a great article on Enrico Caruso here.

Photo Credit: Caruso's method of voice production by P. Mario Marafioti, 1922. 

Singing at the Met (or not)

Lincoln Center Plaza in Winter 

Having survived (thank you very much) the demise of New York City Opera with a modicum of grace, I've found recent news regarding contract negotiations at the Metropolitan Opera somewhat disconcerting if only because, well.....it sounds all too familiar. While I don't have a dog in the fight, my sympathies and concerns are with my colleagues who—you will not be surprised to learn—work harder than god. The thing is: it's very hard to sing your heart out when your boss wants to cut it out. One recent article by Case Arts Law puts the matter in perspective, which can see a nose being cut off to spite a face, and we're not talking Shostakovich. More bad news from Slipped Disc here.

Photo Credit: Daniel's Dinky iPhone 

July 17, 2014

Fact-Based Vocal Pedagogy: Then & Now

The human voice is produced by the action of the breath upon the vocal bands. Its tone is greatly reinforced (even as the phonographic record is reinforced) by the co-vibration of the air in the cavities of the chest, mouth and nose (perhaps even in the atrium of 
Highmore and the frontal sinuses) and by 
the resonance of the bones of the face.

This eternal principle is so old that it 
always seems new with each new generation. The old Italians insisted upon it 
strongly, although they used other words 
to express it. It is practiced by every 
ragman, every huckster, every itinerant 
preacher, every railroad train-announcer, every public speaker, every newsboy, indeed every man who uses his voice forcibly and continuously. These men learn 
to use their resonances, or they get 
hoarse, lose their voices and must seek 
other occupations.

Giuseppe Sbriglia, an Italian who spent his later years in Paris, was perhaps the most famous exponent of this principle, although it is very clearly shown in the work of almost every one of the great modern teachers, notably Marchesi, Stockhausen, Lilli Lehmann and Randegger. Sbriglia was neither a fine musician nor a remarkable scholar. He had, however, a marvelous feeling for tone, and an uncanny instinct which led him unerringly to the obstructions which prevented its proper emission. The singing world owes him many a debt, but perhaps his insistence upon the triple resonance of the chest, mouth and nose (head) cavities is his greatest legacy to posterity. It is not meant by this statement (nor did he teach it) that the amount of co-vibration remains constant in each of the three resonators with every note of the scale. Naturally the proportion changes with every note. There is more head (nose) resonance on the high tones, more chest resonance on the lower ones.

Each singer must find out by long and patient practice, by fasting and prayer, by constantly listening to his tone, just what proportion sounds best and is easiest to produce on each note of the scale. A high tone sung with only the head (nasal) resonance sounds too white. It needs a little more chest resonance to give it body. A low tone with only the chest resonance sounds thick and ugly; in the singers parlance it is "too far back." It needs mouth and head (nasal) resonances to give it bite and brilliance.

Most voices need the upper resonance most. Jean de Reszke, a supremely great artist, wrote "La grande question dc chant devient une question do nez"—“The great question of the voice becomes a question of the nose." Pol Plançon, one of the greatest vocalists that ever lived, used to spend hours in soft practice to get the resonance of the cavities of the face and head. To sing "Dans la masque" is a great thing; no singer can be great without it. And yet to sacrifice the chest resonance for it is to fail to use the complete vocal mechanism. 

Mr. Nicolas Douty, The Etude, Volume 35, 1917, 48. (Note: Duty gets Sbriglia's first name wrong in this article, a not uncommon thing I have found.) 


Those who keep up with the times understand that the vocal pedagogy of the past had a very different set of "facts" to work from than the "fact-based" pedagogy of today. For them, what was felt and heard took precedence over academic stacks of facts, the old Italian school teacher being guided by ear rather than eye awareness. Even García, who got the fact-based ball rolling with the desire to see what was happening in the larynx when he sang, was more of an empiricist that we suppose, though this doesn't sit well with the fact-based crowd today. No, García must be worshiped as all Greek and Roman gods are seen today, stripped of their original color, pristine and white, the polychrome of the past deconstructed into bland homogeneity. No wonder everyone sounds the same. 

I was given the very concepts Sbriglia taught his students, that being an awareness, a listening that is a feeling of three places: sternum, upper lip and bridge of nose. Where did my teacher acquire this knowledge? From her own teacher Anna E Schoen-René, who studied with Pauline Viardot-García and her brother Manuel García. Oh, but that's Schoen-René's teaching, the cynic says. You can't use this information to prove García taught any such thing; after all, there is his statement to Frederic W. Root which denies voice placement. Such constitutional originalists these self-appointed judges. If García didn't write it down in either of his works, it can't and must not exist! Yes, and we must not have gay rights, women must not vote, civil rights for blacks must be rolled back, and the South will rise again! 

How did modern vocal pedagogy become so segregated?

This marks VoiceTalk's 500th post. 

The Lamperti School: Method & Means

Francesco Lamperti (1811-1892) 
He was a man of small stature, and not possessing to look upon. He taught in classes, and I am inclined to the opinion that that system prevailed in the early of this century and most of the century preceding. It was the custom in the early days to bind out the pupil to the teacher for several years, one of the terms of the agreement being the pupil was to receive daily instruction. Now, granting this to be the case, the teachers being successful must have many pupils; they therefore must needs meet together for instruction—and this is in no way unreasonable when we consider that the class met every day for a session of two or three hours. Under those circumstances a pupil would not fail getting even more than what is equivalent to our present mode of two or three half-hour lessons a week. The difficulty of conducting such a system in America is to find pupils who are able to exempt themselves sufficiently from social, home and other duties to be able to give the two hours and a half every day to their work, which they would be glad to give if they were in another country for the exclusive purpose of study, and which, in the manner of living a century and a half ago, was expected and entirely possible to those who had adopted music as a profession. 

Lamperti is said to also have given much attention in his class at the expense of others who were less talented. He was not courtly or impressive in his manner, nor did he exact deference from his pupils. He paid little or no attention to them except in his relation as a teacher of singing. It is said that his method of teaching the high notes was a most easy and natural delivery; the high, light, suspended tone must be taken without effort and once properly formed, increased by the study of messa di voce and agility studies. He ignored entirely the subject of registers. 

Lamperti was noted for his abruptness, but not his unkindness, in the treatment both of pupils and voices. He spoke much in metaphor, and his language was of more an Italian dialect than the pure Florentine Italian, which made it difficult for foreigners, especially those who studied the language in its purity, to grasp the meaning of many of his observations. He inspired his pupils by precept rather than by example, resorting to idealizing and to exciting the imagination to get certain effects, but never giving a tone in illustration. Like many and most of the greatest and most successful voice teachers, he ignored entirely the physical side in his work; preferring to get a tone which could be said to be a cause of a good vocal condition, rather than to first formulate the right condition and look upon the tone as its result. 

What was Lamperti's method? It is not a difficult question to answer. First, recognition of the beauty and charm of simple, natural tones, and the wonderful possibility of such tones being increased and developed in great breadth and power. Second, a keen discernment of what was ideal in art. Third, intimate acquaintance with the standard Italian works and writers, whose compositions must forever stand as models on the score of recognition and loyalty to the limitations of the vocal instrument. 

The old Italian method, the, was, and is, natural tone developed by natural means for natural uses. We hear that the old Italian method is a lost art; we know better. We hear that there is a modern Italian method that is an improvement upon the old; again we know better; Lamperti knew better. 

H. W. Greene, The Etude, 1897, Volume 15, No 7, 192-193. 

July 16, 2014

The Lamperti School: Panting

Did you know that Francesco Lamperti taught his students to pant? Knowing this to be the case, I developed an exercise geared to help students understand it and another Lamperti School concept: inhalare la voce, or what Lamperti called "drinking" the tone. It's simple really. I have the student pant silently in one second intervals with the accent on the inhalation. This gives the student an immediate sense of lift or extension of the muscles of the body, and is observed in the student's "open" face, which telegraphs to both student and teacher that the ear is now ready to do its job, the muscles of the face and head feeling quite busy. Keeping this activity going while singing exercises and scales is not only necessary, but imperative. The way I see it, Lamperti knew in his bones what we are just beginning to understand: the ear is the body. 

The Twelve Steps for Wayward Singers

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over our voice—that our singing had been become unmanageable and we had never learned to trill and sing messa di voce. 
  2. Came to believe that a Higher Placement could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of an Old Italian School singing master. 
  4. Made a searching and fearless vocal inventory of ourselves. 
  5. Admitted to our voice teacher, and to ourselves, and to another student of vocal wisdom the exact nature of our technical flaws.
  6. Were entirely ready to work patiently with our voice teacher to remove all the defects in our singing and learn how to listen. 
  7. Humbly asked our voice teacher to show us how to remove our vocal inadequacies. 
  8. Made a list of all persons who's ears we had harmed with our caterwauling, and became willing to make amends to them. 
  9. Made direct amends to such listeners whenever possible, except when to do so would mean injuring their ears and artistic sensibilities even further.   
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we sang badly, promptly admit it. 
  11. Sought through study and practice to improve our conscious contact with historic recordings and the teachings of García, Lamperti, Nava, Trivulzi, Sangiovanni and Vannucinni as we understand them, praying only for knowledge of their teachings and its power to make us sing like gods. 
  12. Having had a vocal awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other wayward singers and to practice these principles in all our affairs. 

Inner Voice

If you went online and downloaded Pressfield's book Turning Pro, and gulped it down in one sitting like I did, you will have found your way to page 70 and read this:  
"What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still small voice inside our heads. At least we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny. Ballet. Motorcycle maintenance. Founding a clinic in the slums of San Paulo. This we acknowledge at last, is what we are most afraid of. This we know in our hearts we have to do." 

The audition of the still small voice is what occupies my attention in this post. 

For Alred A. Tomatis, the Christopher Columbus of the ear, the inner voice of the singer had everything to do with the audition of bone conduction, which—I believe—can be observed in the Lamperti School's insistence on the focus of tone above the soft palate in the center of the skull (see Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti by William Earl Brown). I mean, can you think of a better explanation for this Old Italian School teaching? Vincenzo Cirillo, who swam in the same pedagogical stream as the Lamperti people, described this same phenomena as a "compound" vowel in A lecture on the art of singing (1882), which was formed.

"...within the back cavity of the mouth, which is located behind the uvula, and connects with the pharynx; and thence the vibrations should spread into the front cavity of the mouth, striking against the hard palate, with an inclination towards the frontal bones and the various cavities of the skull, all of which assist in giving quality to the tone." 

Ok. You are asking yourself. I get that the Old Italian School was referring to something that you describe as the auditory awareness of bone conduction, but what does this have to do with the singer's "inner voice"? You're losing me buddy!

Well, let me see if I can explain things simply.

Tomatis' first work was the rehabilitation of opera singers. He developed a machine which stimulated the muscles of the ear via bone and air conduction, and in doing so, observed that when opera singers were stimulated with high frequencies, the spine lengthened and the ribcage opened, while the facial muscles became innervated. This was expressed in a widening of the upper lip, greater expression in the muscles around the eyes, as well as greater tonus of the muscles of the face. Of course, the singer was generally unconscious of this activity until it was observed in the mirror, so it was not a matter of consciously making a face. Since the nerve of face inserts into the inner ear via the Stapedius muscle and the stirrup, Tomatis posited that what he observed was an expression of an open ear, that is, an ear capable of analyzing all the frequencies from high to low.

It is not lost on this blogger that what Tomatis observed resonates with Manuel García's instruction to open the mouth with an "approach to a smile," which many other Old Italian School vocal pedagogues described in like manner.

But I still haven't addressed this matter of "inner voice" have I?

If the reader has a clear comprehension on what has been written above, experiences fully the singer's sensation of breath which results in a "lifting" of the muscles of the body, and practices the Italian vowel /e/ in a lower middle range (it is often more useful than /i/ which is frequently sung and spoken through a closed throat), with what Herman Klein calls "Singing Position" (see Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia), he will, in time, discover the inner voice referred to by both Lamperti and Cirillo. He will also be in a position to practice García's vaunted coup de glotte. Of course, an ounce of demonstration makes instructions such as these unnecessary.

Having taught this, I have observed that once inculcated, the student often expresses reservation at what is heard. The mezzo-soprano, who discovers this phenomena after months of work, says that she hears a "cat-like" sound in her head, while a tenor describes the phenomena as his "gay" voice, the one he spent a great majority of his life avoiding. That both express feelings of vulnerability, openness and uplift, and are heard to sing with clear, beautiful and resonant tone—one classical, the other musical theatre—suggests that the audition of the inner voice has a psychological, nay, even a spiritual component. Suffice it to say: the singer who discovers it has found their voice—both literally and metaphorically.

Heightened bone conduction is small, buzzy and unnerving to the neophyte, and takes some getting used too since the sounds perceived have no correlation to those within the English language, which is both guttural and nasal in timbre. That it also involves the phenomena of voice placement is certain as well as disconcerting to the fact-based vocal pedagogue who has no explanation for it.

July 15, 2014

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

If you are singer without a technique, a stage-director without a stage, or a voice teacher with a book you keep telling everyone you are writing but never do, then this book is for you. 

Turning Pro is Pressfield's sequel to The War of Art, another excellent book which deals with creativity and the life of the artist. His no shit approach, if you will excuse the expression, is as bracing as it is inspiring, one which Pressfield has lived to the hilt, at once fearfully losing his inner compass and crashing and burning, before learning how to deal with a kaleidoscope of resistance

This is a book for the sex, alcohol, relationship and Facebook addict, kid and mature adult with unrealized dreams and ambition, as well as the mom in the suburbs with big plans and too little action. It lays bare excuses and rationalizations, pulls wool from eyes, kicks butt, and shows the reader why and how the work that wants to get done is killed in the crib. 

Oh yes, singing teacher colleagues and students, I thought of you when I turned to page 99 and read the following: 

The Professional Does Not Give His Power Away To Others
The dictionary defines "icon" as an article (a relic say, that once belonged to a saint or a holy man) that serves as an object of worship.  
A person can be an icon. 
When we make someone into an icon, we give away our power. We say to ourselves (unconsciously), "This person possesses a quality I wish I possessed. Therefore I will worship this person in the hope that that quality will wear off on me, or I will acquire that quality by virtue of my proximity to this mentor/sensie/love/teacher/her."
In my experience, when we project a quality or virtue onto another human being, we ourselves almost always already possess that quality, but we're afraid to embrace (and to live) that truth. 
The amateur is an acolyte, a groupie. The professional may seek instruction or wisdom from one who is further along in mastery than he, but he does so without surrendering his self-sovereignty.

No kidding. I thought. That's what we do with fact-based vocal pedagogy, the writings of García and Lamperti, and the god-almighty voice teacher with the string of letters behind the name. We give them all power, status and importance, teach and take our lessons, and never get around to our real work.

This was an eye-opener too (mind the French):

The Tribe Doesn't Give A Shit
The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as "different." The tribe will declare us "weird" or "queer" or "crazy." The tribe will reject us.
Here's the truth: the tribe doesn't give a shit.
There is no tribe.
That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds that we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just as fucked up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bullshit that he doesn't have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it. 
When we truly understand that the tribe doesn't give a damn, we're free. There's no tribe and there never was.
Our lives are entirely up to us.  

Want to turn pro? Get off your ass and really do something? Publish and create instead of posturing to your colleagues via your twitter account? This is the book for you. There is a great deal of good in it. Get it, give it, and get with it. 

Voice Placement is an Illusion

That's what William Earl Brown recorded in his book Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti (1931). He also recorded Lamperti as saying that everything that was perceived in the head above the larynx was the means by which the singer could tell what was happening in the larynx. I submit that this has everything to do with the singer's process of audition, a matter which has received very little attention by singing teachers and voice scientists, which is strange when you consider that what the singer hears and feels—feeling itself being a vestibular aspect of hearing—is the principle means by which the activity of singing takes place.

The illusory nature of voice placement is not some academic exercise for me. Rather, I experience it first-hand as a result of having worn hearing aids for a number of years as a result of minor hearing loss coupled with the onset of tinnitus.

Here's the thing: my auditory awareness of voice placement is quite different when I am wearing my hearing aids as compared to when I am not. What's the difference? I hear clear vowels seated in front of my face and extending out around my head in a nimbus of sound when I have my aids in. When taken out, my awareness of both phenomena diminishes significantly. As a result, my attention is drawn inward (not a good thing, believe me, especially as the audition of tinnitus is concerned). I take this experience as a direct lesson in the illusory nature of voice placement and its dependence on the listening ability of the singer. Too bad most singing teachers and their students take it for granted. As a result, auditory perception has become a personal matter like religion and sex, the discussion of which is avoided in polite company. The Old Italian School, however, was not so discrete. 

July 14, 2014

Library Man

I snapped the photo above after leaving the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts this past week, the same day that I celebrated my 56th birthday.

Strange to say: I never set out to be a library man. Rather, I simply found myself curious about what I had been taught, and, not finding any evidence for it in original sources, wanted to know why. Finding and publishing Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia is a direct result of that curiositywhich leads me to a tale not yet told on these pages. 

My first foray into all things García took place at the Juillard School, where I went to look at their archives. What was the first thing I saw? A folder containing the memorial service program for Anna E. Schoen-René, who had been a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García. Madam Schoen-René's student Magaret Harshaw sang "Oh Rest in the Lord" from Mendelssohn's Elijah, and the program itself was dated exactly fifty years previously—to the day. The hair on the back of my head stood up, and I felt like someone leaned over and whispered in my ear: "This is your assignment buddy. Get busy!"

Not a bad beginning, huh? 

The García Method & Singing in the Mask

Manuel García (1805-1906) 

38. Where the Voice Reverberates. 

Wither does the tone proceed when it leaves the throat? The obvious answer to this question would appear to be "Into the mouth!" But because the untaught vocalist experiences a sensation as of tone striking clean and strong upon the hard palate, it does not necessarily follow that that is the only place where the voice reverberates before it issues from the mouth of the singer. 

39. Reinforcing the Sound-Waves. 

Now, as a matter of fact, the mouth alone will not suffice as a "resonating chamber" to impart the necessary "reinforcement" to the sound-waves created by the vibrations of the vocal chords. Other places, other influences, are provided by nature to afford spaces for the expansion and consequent addition to the volume and power of the singing voice. Where are these situated? 

40. The resonating Cavities. 

Above the roof of the mouth, at the back of the nose and the frontal born, in short, all over the facial area which the French call the "masque," are hollow spaces large and small, whose function it is to reflect and re-echo the tones which rise into them from the throat. There are resonating chambers to quite as great an extent as the mouth; and without their aid the voice would inevitably like any other musical instrument, be deprived of half its "sound-board," i.e., half of its intrinsic power and capacity for varied tone-color. 

41. Color and Intensity 

But that is not all. They likewise help to imbue the tone with richness, beauty and a sonority of timbre with which the mouth or palate alone is incapable of investing the original sound-waves. These resonating cavities must be utilized, therefore, because they are essential to the completeness of the voice as an organic and individual entity; also, because their use tends to remove all muscular strain from the throat and to serve as a direct accessory to the sustaining capacity of the breath. 

Now these attributes of full, "forward" resonance lie easily to hand, and are to be employed by every singer. 

42. Clearing the Path for the Tone. 

The primary step, in training the voice to obtain access to the resonating cavities, is to provide the requisite space in the direction of the nasal passage, or, in other words, clearing the only path whereby the tone can reach them. This will be accomplished, to begin with, by flattening the tongue and raising or arching the soft palate in the manner described under the heading of "Adjustment and Attack," par. 14. 

43. Placing Tone in the "Masque." 

The second step is be begin the note with the thought (if not the actual sensation) that the tone-vibrations are being simultaneously projected or reflected—not pushed by sheer lung power—into these "forward cavities" situated in the "masque." This thought and its application, after some practice, should quickly enable you to realize with certainty what resonant or ringing tone actually is. 


I imagine the budding vocologist will read the text above and say: "It's simply not true. You can't sing into the cavities of your head!" Of course, she would be right, and if she stopped right there would miss point. If she did, I would hasten to point out (as did García's student Charles Santley) that the great maestro "taught singing, not surgery!" 

We may speak in terms of "formant tuning" these days, instead of "voice placement" and "singing in the mask," but the fact remains that the García School taught the voice which contained "ring" was perceived as being "in the mask" and "forward." Of course, these terms have something "formant tuning" doesn't have going for it, which is location. In this regard, I believe "singing in the mask" can be understood as an auditory phenomenon, which places the matter in a very different context, one which has everything to do with psychoacoustics. 

July 13, 2014

The Throne of the Pharynx 1

Francesco Lamperti (1811-1892) 
In singing, a good position is most essential. Stand upon the balls of the feet, hold the knees firm, the hips, abdomen and shoulders back. The chest raised and prominent the head bent slightly forward in a persuasive tranquil manner, as repose, tranquility of mind and body is absolutely necessary for the singer; make repose your first study. 

The first organ involved in singing is the nose. Close the lips; take a breath through the nose. Where do you feel it first? 

At the bridge of the anterior and posterior nares. Back of the bridge, and back of and above the palate, is the throne of the pharynx, and this is another strong point for the singer; one of the two; first important points to be considered (never to be lost sight of; never to be let go of). It is first and always (not only in making the head tones, but all tones, from the highest to the lowest, must be supported here). Feel that this is the abiding place of tone. We call it the throne of the singer, for as long as he has control here, he has control of his voice, but when he has lost control of this point, he has lost his kingdom as a singer. 

He may lose it by simply letting go of it, and taking up the throat muscles instead, when they should always be left perfectly free and passive. Many a singers mourns his voice as lost, when he has merely let go of this point of support. It does not require pressure or contraction, but simply the feeling that you direct, balance, hold and support the tone from this point the whole upper part of the pharynx to the very nostrils. 

The next step is to take a deep, full, slow, inspiration, filling the lungs from the very bottom. In escaping, the air passes through the top, so the top is always supplied. 

When we have acquired control of the breath, the next step is to open the back part of the mouth. Think of the singer's throne at the back and top of the pharynx and raise the soft palate and head muscles without effort, widen the whole pharynx. The very thought will do it. You will observe at once the change even in the speaking voice; alway support the tone with balanced ease. 

Intensity comes through control at the throne of the pharynx. 

—Student of Francesco Lamperti, Manuel García and Antonio Sangiovanni  c. 1890   

July 12, 2014

The Art and Science of Singing by Lisa Roma

Lisa Roma (1892-1965)
I've had Lisa Roma's book on my shelf for a long time, and have had to ask myself why I haven't posted about her work. The answer is simple: her pedagogy is a vigorous and bracing one, utilizing a method I had been taught by one teacher, but do not teach since I consider it dangerous. What am I talking about? Contracting the gluteal muscles, or, in more vernacular language: tightening the butt! 

Why dangerous? Try singing onstage while clenching your butt. You may find, as I did, that the throat tightens as a result. There is such a thing as going too far, and for me, actively tightening i.e. squeezing a dime didn't do a damn thing for me. 

This is not to say Roma's book isn't useful. It is. My mind simply zero'd in on something that didn't click when I first read it; and isn't that the case with every vocal pedagogy text we encounter? We take what is useful and let the rest go. In this I am indebted to another excellent teacher who encouraged me to try out technique as though putting on a coat. Does it fit? Feel good? How does it wear after a couple of days? This way of working can be quite useful. But let's get back to Roma's teaching. 

There is a great difference between actively contracting your gluteal muscles and feeling that they are active. Do you hear what I'm saying? In my estimation, the latter is allowable, while the former is not. And this is not just a matter of semantics. The student who has a good sense of proprioception will know the difference, the point being: muscling in singing has short-term benefits and long-term consequences. This goes back to the concept of "local effort" which Edmund Myer wrote extensively about (you can find his works in the download link in the right hand column). 

Here is the diagram from Roma's book which captured my attention. Scanning the page, two words stood out: "contracted" and "forced." The diagram itself appears seven times through the book, which one can view as either redundant or insistent. And in Roma's defense, what voice teacher hasn't found him or herself saying the same things over and over, and not for lack of imagination? There is only so much reinvention of the wheel where basics are considered. Happy is the day, of course, when the student walks into the studio and says: "You know, you've been telling me about so-and-so for than a year now, and during my practice yesterday, I finally understood what you meant." Of course, it's not a matter of the teacher being right and the student simply agreeing. Rather, in the best of all possible worlds, the student's audio-vocal loop finally awakens.

Roma's vocal pedagogy is founded in breathing. Here are her basics from chapter two.

The easy and persuasive attitude of the body while singing, is acquired by having the body perfectly poised; arms loosely dangling and relaxed, lower jaw dropped away from the face. Avoid rigidity and discomfort of any kind. Balance on the balls of the feet and heels. Avoid all mannerisms habits and idiosyncrasies. 
There are six steps in the act of breathing to consider. 

Can most young students follow the instruction above and avoid "rigidity and discomfort"? Probably not, which points out the difference between executive function and those learning to sing. That said, however, has shown me that singing is always better when no effort is involved.

I should point out this: I've had in my possession an account by a voice teacher from the 20's who knew the great Caruso and asserted the latter also used his gluteal muscles when he sang. But this knowledge should be regarded with caution by the young tenor (or anyone else for that matter) who thinks clenching his butt will make him sound like his idol. 

As I see it, this whole matter has everything to do with how the muscles of the ear integrate with those of the body (yes, I'm talking pyschoacoustics now). Students who experience extension are much better equipped to understand matters of flexion, which is what words like "contract" and "forced" reference. This is why I have come to think of singing as a form of yoga. Anyone who has practiced the latter soon learns that demanding postures are only attainable when the muscles of the body are first able to extend. Sure, you can force your way into a pretzel shape with your flexors, but there is always hell to pay. The body rebels against such maneuvers, as does the voice. This is why I never utter the word "support," since it evokes the activity of flexion rather than extension in the student's body. 

If you've looked closely at Roma's chart, you'll see she also deals with voice placement. I rather enjoyed reading the following on page 26. 

If the tone sounds loud inside the singer, it is not placed properly, and will not carry as a full vibrant tone to the audience. Conversely, if the tone is small and resonant inside the singer, then the volume of the tone will sound strong to the audience. 

Sounds like the audition of bone conduction to me!

Roma was a protégé of David Bispham, who had been a student of Luigi Vannuccini and Francesco Lamperti. She also studied with Trabadello in Paris (a gentleman who will appear here eventually) and Max von Schillings in Berlin. Hers is an interesting book. I suggest reading The Science and Art of Singing (1956) as the work of a pro at the top her game. To play her game? You have to extend yourself.

Photo Credit: University of Southern Florida Digital Collection 

July 10, 2014

Off to Umbria

Umbrian Serenades participants on the way to sing in Spoleto 

In a little over a week, I'll be off to Umbria to sing with Umbrian Serenades after spending a few days in Rome, and I must say—I am so looking forward to this trip! It's not just a matter of having a vacation in the green heart of Italy, where I get to sing wonderful music with great people, have fabulous food and wine, and live inside an 18th century stage set for two weeks. No, its more than that, the word "transformational" coming to mind. Last year, I came back knowing in my gut that I had to write a book—which I did—Umbrian Serenades providing the catalyst for Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (VoiceTalkPublications, 2013). Needless to say, singing in Italy can have interesting consequences, all good, believe me. I am really curious to see what will happen this time—this being my 4th time. It's a magical, wonderful program—Umbrian Serenades. 

Want to see more of this amazing program? Jump over to my other blog, which you will find here

July 9, 2014

The Nozzle

Antique Garden Hose Nozzles 

I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that singing teachers have been using analogies for a long time. One such analogy, which I haven't heard for more than a decade, and which was used by García School exponents, likened the vocal instrument to a garden hose. 

Surprised? Don't be. I can quite imagine the father of voice science using this analogy since he often talked about sticking close to nature, had a garden outside his studio in the suburbs of London, and refrained from using physiological terms in the studio, believing that their use only confused the student. He's also the same teacher who gave Anna E. Schoen-René a rose from his garden, saying it represented perfect tone (see America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences, 1942 ). What can we learn from this? García was probably more of an empiricist that we would like to admit.

The analogy of a garden hose is a simple one; the hose itself representing the singer's open throat and flow of tone, as well as the avoidance of guttural or nasal production, which would close the throat by "stepping" on it. It's origin low in the body, the hose ended in the face with the aural awareness of voice placement.

Breath, Open Throat, Voice Placement.

That's how they thought about it. If we don't think about singing in these terms anymore, well... that's because voice science took voice placement out of the picture, thereby confusing physiology with audiology and the singer's perception of tone, which was predicated on Italian tonal values.

Photo Credit: Simplethingsblog.com

July 7, 2014

The García Lineage: Ada Soder-Hueck

Tucked away in an program for the Boston Symphony, Mme. Ada Soder-Hueck telegraphs to prospective pupils her lineage and teaching of the "García Method."  Having known of her for quite some time, I was happy to stumble on more information about her recently while looking for something else. That's how it goes with historical vocal pedagogy research: you start out, and before you know it, find yourself in another part of the galaxy. This something else took my breath away, if only because the stars aligned to reveal something about her teaching, which I will get to presently. 

Mme. Ada Soder-Hueck was born in Amsterdam in 1874. A contralto, she studied voice with Marianne Brandt in Vienna, her teacher being a rather famous student of Pauline Viardot-García. Soder-Hueck immigrated to America in 1904, sang at the St. Louis World's Fair, then appeared with the New World Symphony in New York City, where she stayed, opening a studio at the Old Met, teaching there until her death in 1936 at the age of 62. Walter Damrosch described her as one of America's most "outstanding" voice teachers, which is born out by records which reveal Mme. Soder-Hueck to have students appear on the opera and concert stage, including Caesar Nesi, Elsie Lovell Hankins, Rita Sebastian, Gladys Burns, Percy Buchanan, Walter Mills. She had her opinions, of course, which made me laugh out loud, but not for the reasons one might suppose: 

Not only is Mme. Soder-Hueck a singer of reputation; she is also a thorough musician and pianist, and in full possession still of her remarkable voice, added to which she has the ability to impart her rare knowledge to others, for she is a born teacher with her whole heart in her work, her method is the beautiful old Italian school of bel canto. Again, she says: "As a teacher my results have been achieved with the 'García Method' every tone placed in the mask of the face. I believe in producing a tone which flows with all the ease of a ball that is tossed in the air. My method is eminently successful in developing freedom of voice and ringing high notes, the whole compass of voice growing rich and full. The method also develops fine lower notes, as I prove with my contraltos and bassos, and professionals coaching under me are delighted with the marked improvement they gain in a short time. In these days of death of tenors, I have always been in demand and specially successful in training the tenor voice, and I have brought out some remarkable tenors of varying styles, who by this time are making a great name for themselves. My singers are always ready on short notice to fill church or concert engagements. They have a large repertoire in the different styles and languages, and managers engage their singers direct from my studios." —Musical Courier, Vol 75, 1917, 30 

Why did I laugh? Well, because there it was again in black and white in the second sentence, something I knew to be part and parcel of the famous school of Manuel García, but others had refused to acknowledge: García taught his students to sing in the mask.

Oh, I'm quite aware that García directed his student's attention to "cause" rather than "effect," that much is clear, but effect is still effect no matter how you slice and dice the words. It's simple really. Obtain ringing tone in a rounded vocal tract and you have effect, which the García School called singing in the mask. How to get that far? Well, you need a good voice teacher to teach you the principles.

Mme. Soder-Hueck also had this to say:

The secret of the vocal art is relaxation, if production is to result in the true lyric quality (bel canto) or spinning the tone. Only then is the true timbre brought out, vibration given full play, and the voice enabled to make its strongest appeal. A pleasant and pleasing facial expression, stage presence and poise, all so important in holding an audience, result when the vocal apparatus is fully controlled and at ease. And so it is that the singer attains full artistic freedom and gains command of emotional effects. Resonance and volume of tone come not from effort but from relaxation. —Daily Sun, Sept, 4, 1931

What does teacher man think when he reads the above? Relaxation has nothing to do with passivity. Thank you, Mme. Soder-Hueck, for revealing yourself, like everything else, hidden in plain sight.   

Technology in the Voice Studio


PROF. PHOTO-LARYNGOSCOPICUS (to pupil after adjusting apparatus): 'Now sing with freedom and expression the opening bars of "Free as a bird." 

Werner's Magazine, Vol 19, 1897, 74. 


Ok, I won't be a bore and assert that there is nothing to be learned from technology. That would be stupid. However, the cartoon does illustrates the belief that the art of singing will be advanced (even saved) by machines. My ready reply is: what's wrong with the technology in your ears? 

Would-be voice teachers have been using technology since it became available, when a gentleman in New York by the name of Floyd S. Muckey—a doctor no less—took the first photographs of the vocal folds in action. His work became a method, and approach that is still used today. 

In speaking with my fellow wizards recently, it's been pointed out that the geeks in the crowd (I count myself one), find voice analysis equipment such as voce vista (which is a direct descendent of Muckey's efforts) an interesting endeavor. It's fun to see what is happening when you are singing. However, it was also pointed out that use of such technology is no substitute for the exercises and scales which singing teachers have used for centuries.

Mrs. Campbell Meets Madam Marchesi

Courtesy Harmonie Autographs 
What I Saw and Heard in the Vocal Studios of Paris


Shakespeare calls music "A Heavenly Maid." From his time to now music has been likened to everything divine; but not until the twentieth century has it ever been called evil. A degenerate Frenchman writes: "Music, as such, is not necessarily a good thing; indeed it may be, and often is, distinctly evil. In itself it may be degrading and vile." (From " Immoralities of Music") 

Can you for one moment conceive of music as evil or immoral? Utterly impossible, inconceivable. It can be used in an artistic or in a trivial manner, but unaccompanied with pantomime or words —evil, never! I will not allow the words common or vulgar to be applied to it. It reminds me of the Englishwoman who was questioned about a person. "Was she bad? Worse—she was vulgar."

I hotly protest against music being classed by any man as immoral. A woman could never be guilty of such degeneracy. I believe music to be the highest expression of art, and singing to be the best expression of music. No other instrument responds so quickly and unerringly to the feeling of the artist as does the voice. It is the personal factor; it is born of the breath of life, and reaches from one human soul to another. If all the world could sing together, such a chorus would rise that every discord and dissonance would be swept out of the world.

But to my subject. On the steamer, going over, I met a young woman from Boston, who also was going to Paris. I afterward met her in the studio of M. Haslam, where she had drifted.

I met there, also, Miss Ruby Cutter and Mr. Savage, both from Boston, who assured me no other teacher in Paris, nor in the world, could compare with M. Haslam. Loyalty to a teacher is a very desirable quality in pupils, unless it resolves itself into the assertion that one human being can absorb all the vocal knowledge of the world. One can no more do that than they can go out in the sunshine and absorb all the rays of the sun. There will always be a few faint rays left for other seekers.

These three sang for me several well-known arias, in good voice, but not very finished style. We seem, just now, in the transition from the old to the new. There is no middle ground for the voice to express itself, but it will come, and the men to make it. I met a young American, Mr. Rogers, with a fine baritone voice, who sings superbly. He has appeared in the Castle Square Opera Company in New York. He was in Paris for French diction, with a view of appearing at opera comique, where pure diction is more necessary than in grand opera. Dialogue often occurs in opera comique, and it is torture to the French to hear their language imperfectly spoken. His voice was very much admired, also his acting. When he inquired of the director if his diction were not as good as that of Miss G., a young American who was appearing in opera comique, he was answered: "Ah, much can be forgiven a beautiful young woman that would not be tolerated in a man." Here is the keynote of Paris—artistic Paris—all from the sensuous standpoint, the lower level.

I have no quarrel with the French for demanding pure diction, but the standards should be the same for man and woman.

I was touched to the heart while there to learn of the many vocal wrecks all over Paris, mostly American girls, whose friends, with more generosity than judgment, had sent them there for study. It is often vocal and moral death to send these girls there, unchaperoned, with little money, and little beyond a pretty voice. I reiterate what all great singers say: "Keep your girls at home." The only conditions under which I would allow a girl to go would be a voice beautiful beyond question, well trained here, good knowledge of music, harmony, piano, sight-reading, a fine sense of rhythm, shading and expression, a good education, fine appearance, firm health, fundamental knowledge of French, German, and Italian, enough assured income for at least five years. This, I mean, for an aspirant to an operatic career. Having all this, she may come to the front—she may not. With less than this equipment, you will see at a glance, like the eye of the needle, how difficult it is to enter in.

I met, in the studio of Signor Trabadello, a young girl who had studied in Vienna for three years. "All wrong," says Signor T. "You must begin all over again."

In the studio of M. Edmond Duvernoy, a teacher of the Conservatoire of Paris, a young American who had been five years in Germany, who was prepared to appear in light opera, like "Lucia." For some reason he appearance was not made, and I now found her studying for grand opera, her present teacher saying her voice was a dramatic soprano. She sang an act from 'Lohengrin" with great earnestness and dramatic fervor. But I detected a strain, a loss of bloom of voice, which was also reflected in face and form. It went to my heart to see it. I predict she will not be heard outside of small circles, and yet here she was, with all the determination and eagerness possible, entering the new field. The bloom and freshness of the California girl had vanished, and what had she gained in its place? Whether the German or French teacher was right remains to be proved.

These are two I personally met, but I heard of scores of others from friends, who invariably said: " Can you do nothing to keep your girls from coming here?" Even Madame Marchesi, whom they accuse of being very mercenary, said: " Don't let your girls come over here until they are a success at home. Keep them until they know something of music. They must learn it some time, somewhere, and it had better be at home with proper surroundings. Keep your girls at home," she urged, with genuine earnestness, gesticulating with shoulders and hands, as only French shoulders and hands are capable of. "You have great talent over there. I don't see why you should, in your savage country, but you have." I replied: " Perhaps we have not worn out out spontaneity and enthusiasm by over-culture until we are attenuated. There is very small space on the point of a needle." She made no reply. It is impossible for the French to conceive anything outside of Paris.

When I was in Paris many years ago, there was a rather patronizing manner toward us, and we accepted it as a just measure of ourselves. To-day I find it different. A young American girl taking first prize in the Salon, another taking a prize in the Violin School of Conservatoire, and two young girls in opera comique, one in grand opera, another to enter this year right from Madame Marchesi's studio.

It gives an American a sense of well-doing in art, right in the very heart of Paris. Such an one is pardoned a feeling of pride, hard to subdue into the former modest effacement we were wont to assume. The hospitality I met with, from a musical point of view, was most gracious and delightful. I spent less time in the studios of M. Trabadello and Sbriglia than in those of M. Duvernoy and Madame Marchesi. My interviews with M. Bouhy were very agreeable. I was impressed with his sincerity and honesty. Both he and the two last named were to leave town sooner than M. Duvernoy and Madame Marchesi, and were not able to offer me the advantages I met with at these studios. Madame Marchesi showed me most generous hospitality musically, and I have nothing but warm praise for her and her pupils. She is a wonderful woman, near eighty. She looks about sixty. She is full of vigor, enthusiasm and vivacity such as one rarely sees in younger women.

Her repartee, her sarcasm, her humor, are virile and forceful to a marked degree. One pupil remarked: "You know, Madame, I knew music perfectly when I came to you—not singing, but music." Madame towered in her rage above her, and said: " Mon Dieu! Here is one who knows an art perfectly. She should be put in a glass case and exhibited to the world as a 'rara avis.' Oh, my dear child, the greatest in the art would never say that." She raged on until the room fairly smoked with her indignation. She was something unique in her scathing words, but the sublime egotism of the girl (not an American, I am glad to say, though it sounds as though it might have been) was hardly ruffled. I was compelled to say, " But, Madame, she does not mean all it seems to imply." Afterward Madame said to me: "Ah, but that young girl loves herself very much, and I can never bring her to see her ignorance."

One morning I had the pleasure of meeting Madame Blanche Marchesi, who had run over from London for a few days. She told me she was to appear at Covent Garden in August in " Tristan and Isolde," and I shall have the pleasure of hearing her then. She is a magnificent looking woman, almost twice the size of her mother. I have dwelt long upon these experiences, for until now they have been the most interesting. Madame Marchesi has never before allowed an outsider to hear her give lessons, and I am profoundly grateful to have had this unique privilege. She urges, pleads, threatens, all in one breath, and follows with gestures of face and expression.

It has recently been the fashion, or whatever you call it, to abuse her; but when I hear the work of her pupils, hear them sing with full, pure tone, true intonation, intelligence, feeling, and above all, a pure legato, so rare in singers of to-day, I cannot but metaphorically raise my hat to her and cry: " Grand, you are a woman in a million. Long may you wave."

The next studio invaded was M. Duvernoy, who granted me the freedom of his studio as graciously as did Madame Marchesi. I heard him give lessons by the hour. He is a man of charming manners, speaking no English, but expressing, as do the French, so much by gesture and facial expression, that at times language seems merely an accessory and not a necessity. I found a group of girls, among them one American and one Canadian. It is refreshing, and at the same time pathetic, to see a group of eager young girls, each striving, longing and dreaming for the ever-receding, ever-alluring, fascinating siren, Fame.

The young Canadian girl has a very promising voice, a rich, full mezzo. She has a fine presence, expressive features and bounding health. If she can stand the strain of the hot-bed life of Paris, after the free and invigorating one to which she was born, she will be heard from. Sleeping-rooms, hermetically sealed, impure air, and, worse than all, indifferent and lax moral standards, are mighty factors to be dealt with, and woe to the girl who leaves her high ideals at home. I spent hours in the studio, watching and analyzing the methods used to overcome defects. I heard the same old mistakes which every vocal teacher meets with. I could recognize the same corrections and suggestions, and saw the almost hopeless look upon the face of M. Duvernoy as the same faults and mistakes continually occurred, in spite of his insistent corrections. The weather was very hot, and occasionally I caught a glance from M. Duvernoy, as much as to say: "Ah, Madame, you know so well how it is, but it is so hot, and really she is stupid. I pray you pardon me if I allow this to pass unreproved." I pardoned him at once, for I had been through it all "lo, these many years." His studio has a small stage to facilitate and supplement his work.

He gave me also the rare privilege of visiting the conservatory classes, where I heard advanced pupils, whose voices had been selected from the whole conservatory. I heard some young men with fine, ringing, dramatic voices, and when you use that word "dramatic" you express what the French adore above everything. They do not ask so much, "Is a voice beautiful?" "Is it pure in tone?" "True in intonation?" but "Is it big?" "Can he or she sing 'big' tone?" This forcing of the tone causes the loss of the bloom, and no amount of power can compensate for that.

Another word, that much-abused word, "Temperment." If, to force the instrument, until there is not the slightest beauty of tone left, to sing with exaggeration, if this is to possess temperment, why, the present French singer has it. It seems a fashion at present, and one which for the sake of all that is fine and noble in the vocal art, I hope will soon pass away. I heard some fine men's voices. But I found the French man's voice far superior to the French woman's. It is only the exceptional voice that can stand the strain put upon it by the French vocal teacher.

In conclusion, if you ask me what I gained musically in Paris, I would say, a firmer conviction of my own countrymen and women as teachers, the coming greatness of our own singers, that pupils or singers need not go to Europe to sing well, that our girls can reach a high excellence here, that unless one is to enter opera, there is no need of leaving America. I learned that I could trust my girls in the hands of home teachers, men and women, the last, preferably, for girls; convinced that there will be far fewer vocal arid moral wrecks by so doing. Home will protect them from the snares and pitfalls of a foreign city. Over there, they do not yet comprehend the pure-hearted, fearless American girl, who all her life has met only the genuine, manly respect for womanhood, with which the American man, above all men, surrounds his womenkind, mother, wife, sister, sweetheart.

There is a hope that in good time we will have a national school of opera, where our own lovely voices can be trained, without the ordeal now necessary to be gone through. I gathered hints and helps from the various teachers whom I visited, and return confirmed in all the good I have evolved from my own experiences.

Sidney Lanier writes: "To make a home out of the household, given the raw materials, to wit, wife, children, a few friends, and a home, two things are necessary. These are, a good fire and good music." And inasmuch as we can do without fire for half of the year, in this beautiful climate of ours here in California, I may say that music is the one essential. Music means harmony, harmony means love, and love means God.

Proceedings and Report of Council of Education, California Teacher's Association, 1903, 284-289. 


Shocking, isn't it, to read reports from the beginning of the 20th century, and realize that nothing has changed. Students are still screaming their guts out, the result being loss of bloom in the voice. Was it ever thus? Only last night I had a long conversation with a colleague about a highly successful singer who's once beautiful voice is now being pushed over the edge of the cliff. It's sad, but no less true now as it was then: managers and intendants want singers to have huge voices, when, in fact, the voice is the voice is the voice. It can grow of course. But you know something is wrong when loud has replaced lovely. 

Not shocking are the methods of Madam Marchesi, which have long been the subject of these pages. Should the reader desire to experience their practical application, I know a smart fellow who lives in New York.

Lastly—Mrs. Campbell (1845-1922) was one of the first successful voice teachers in San Francisco. She grew up in Portland, Maine, and later sang at Grace church in New York City, where she studied with Anchille Errani, a student of Francesco Lamperti.  In the 1870's, she travelled to Europe and studied with Pauline Viardot-García, François Wartel and Anna Bishop. The "Mr. Rogers" Campbell mentions in the article above later taught at the Juillard School of Music alongside Anna E. Schoen-René. 

July 6, 2014

Professor Polychrome Hums


Close the teeth together all around, and put the tongue against the roof of the mouth, being especially careful that the back of the tongue and the soft palate are in close contact. Feel with the point of the finger placed under the jaw midway between the chin and the angle of the neck, noticing that the chin muscles are relaxed—that they are soft to the touch. Now, keeping these conditions unchanged, the mouth closed, the back of the tongue up against the soft palate, and the chin muscle soft, hum at any convenient pitch, a very soft m. Do this again, making a decidedly nasal tone, which causes distinct vibration at the bridge of the nose. Practice this at different pitches, trying to make the tone hard and resonant against the bridge of the nose without hardening the chin muscle nor disturbing the other conditions. Imagine the region about the bridge of the nose to be a sounding-board, and use this exercise to learn to push the tone, as it were, forward upon the sounding-board by means of a muscular effort in the head behind the nose, and without assistance from the breath or anything else. 

Ten. That tone is so very nasal.

Prof.  Certainly, it can be nothing else when your mouth is closed.

Sop.  I don't see where such tones as that can possibly come in in singing.

Prof.  They do not; but the action which I am trying to make you conscious of is the most important thing a singer has to learn. In my experience the m exercise is a safe an effective way to make the pupil conscious of the process which correctly places or resonates the voice.

Alt. I have heard Prof. Spectrum says humming is bad for the voice.

Prof.  Yes, there has been a great deal of debate over exercises with the mouth closed. The solution of it all is the action of the chin muscles. Closed-mouth exercises, with the chin muscle rigid, hard, pressuring forward, are distinctly injurious; with the muscle relaxed, soft, held upward in its natural position, they are beneficial to every singer without exception. This exercise, No. 19, is a temporary one, to be discarded just as soon as you can do Exercise No. 20 with some degree of certainty.


At any convenient pitches in the octave, from B-flat to B-flat or C to C or D to D, practice swelling tones with vowel sounds. As the tone increases in power the vowel will seem to come more forward to the front of the face, and will manifest to some extent at the bridge of the nose and the hard palate just back of the front teeth. The conditions under which these swells are to be practiced are, (1) keep jaw perfectly relaxed; (2) the tip of the tongue lightly against the lower front teeth; (3) no sound of breath in the tone nor conscious effort of breath pressure; (4) a sensation of nasal tone, the sensation being as distinct as possible without allowing the tone to sound nasal; (5) the sensation of perfecting the vowel as it presses forward. This direction applies principally to ah and e. Practice this exercise only on pitches where it goes easily. 

Bas. I get e in that way much easier than the other vowel sounds.

Prof. That is generally the case. You probably get them all correctly, but one with the definiteness of sensation which you have with e.

Sop.  I get very little of the effect of a sounding-board, as you call it, with my lower notes.

Alt. Nor I with my middle ones.

Prof. Don't try to practice this exercise at first with notes that seem obstinate. A good way to approach the more difficult pitches is to do each on with m, as in Exercise No. 19. Then, after taking breath, follow immediately with vowel sound, as in Exercise No. 20. The all-embracing formula of voice production, considered simply as a mechanical act, consists of three items: First, breath management; second, the relaxing of those throat, jaw, and tongue muscles which impede tone; and third, the proper exertion of those muscles which give the voice resonance. Briefly stated, this formula is: Control the breath, devitalize the jaw, and strike the sounding-board. 

The Polychrome Lessons in Voice Culture (1896) by Frederic W. Root, 25-27.


History records Francesco Lamperti as being decidedly opposed to humming, and Pauline Viardot-García as saying her father never taught it. However, there were students within the García School who did: François Wartel and Erminia Rudersdorff, the latter calling them "closed-mouth" exercises. Who taught it to Root, who interviewed, and likely studied with Viardot-García's brother, who was named after his father? We may never know. Still it would be nice to know. Whatever tack you take, this writer understands the matter under question as having everything to do with the audition of bone conduction, knowledge which Root understood in his own time (see here).  

Exercise No. 21 in Root's manual is none other than the start of the tone, which García named the coup de glotte.