January 5, 2016

One Month's Singing Lessons

THE first step is to obtain the delivery of a firm, vibrant vocal tone on every note of one's proper voice, in such range as is called for by composers. Obtaining delivery of a firm, vibrant tone through complete range of voice requires daily practice—correct practice based on knowledge of voice and what makes it. Practice following exercises:

EXERCISE I.—Use scale of D. Begin to sing on a of scale. singing downward. a, g, f, e, d; then up the scale, a, b, c. d. Each tone is to be held four seconds. Is the tone breathy, throaty, nasal, blank, shrill, wobbly? Let no one feel discouraged if he has one or even all of these faults. Nearly all untrained voices are unable to carry perfect tune.

EXERCISE II.—Sing “one” on each note of scale five times, prolonging the fifth “one" several seconds. Sopranos and tenors will use the scale of D; altos and basses the scale of C. Do not sing rapidly. Begin each word promptly. without hesitation. Let lips round easily, as “wo” sound is made. Let “n" sound freely through nose. Connect words smoothly; speak them rather than sing them; never shout. During first week this exercise should be used five minutes, twice a day. During the other weeks of month, only once a day.

EXERCISE III.—Use scale of C. Begin to sing on lower c of scale, singing upward, two notes together, c-d, d-e, e-f, f-g, g-a, a-b, b-c. Sing with “ah.” Higher voices use scale of D. Give each note four beats, each a second long, take breath after each couplet. Take a comfortable breath, avoiding raising shoulders or distending chest. The use of "ah" leaves organs very nearly in same position as when not singing. The tongue lies at rest; the throat is not drawn on; the lips part a little. As one approaches the higher voice the tendency is to sing louder and to hasten. Seek not to give way to such tendency; self-control is essential in all training. The time in which to sing this lets us use eight seconds in one breath—long enough for beginners. Same volume of voice is to be used throughout exercise, and only moderately loud voice should be used. Be sure to end second note of each grouping easily—without tension on throat. Connect the two notes smoothly. Practice five minutes. twice a day, during first week; once a day, later.

EXERCISE IV.—Use scale of C. Begin to sing on lower c of scale, singing upward, three notes together, c-d-e, d-e-f, e-f-g, f-g-a. g-a-b, a-b-c. This is the same exercise as No. 3, only it has three notes in place of two; that means, it takes twelve seconds to sing each group. The same instruction applies. It is not to be used by young singers during the first week of drill. The second week use it once a day, for five minutes; later, twice a day. 

Such practice leads directly into use of melody. That is a long step into singing. Conversational voice steps directly into reciting, which in music is used in the form of recitative. Melody is the next step. Know that good melody is based on inflections of conversational voice. Singers, as a rule, do not know that. Most people have little idea that conversational voice covers enough range of pitch to give a melody. One can easily observe what great range the voice has by expressing in the most natural way various sentiments. Give a common remark, like "That dog, out there, is lively,” and one will find himself pitching the voice on its middle notes (D, E, or F). Then if he assumes a very sympathetic tone, such as he would in saying “Poor doggie, I’m so sorry you hurt your paw!” the voice drops half an octave. Let him run and greet a long-absent friend with “Hulloa! I’m so glad to see you,” and the voice will go an octave higher than the place it takes on the sympathetic tone. Now, if one cries out in fear, or in anger, up goes the voice another half octave.

EXERCISE V.—Use "Ah" on this and other exercises unless another vowel is given. Higher voices use scale of D. Sing in regular time. Be sure to give four beats (pulses) to the whole note. Attack first note promptly and end last note with freedom. Extend this short phrase into upper voice as far as it can be made with comfort. Low voices should sing it easily to D; high voices to G. Use five minutes twice a day on this during the first two weeks; after that, once a day. Take special care to join the fourth and fifth beats of each phrase neatly and without special stress. 

EXERCISE V I.—The purpose of this exercise is to carry the higher registers (a term which will be fully explained as time goes on) downward. A note attacked easily will be pretty sure to be in the right register. Seek to carry the kind of voice used on that first note downward on all notes of descending scale. A very common fault of students in the early days (and often, years) of practice is to push notes of lower registers upward, beyond the places where nature intended a change to be made. That is the cause of those distressing sounds which many alto singers make. This exercise will make all voices sweeter. Some will think it makes their voices smaller; but they are made sweeter, even if they are smaller. Voices cultivated on right lines become very strong, although they may at first lose power. Good quality is essential to good singing. Seek good quality first. This exercise should be adjusted according to the kind of voice which uses it. All should begin their practice upon it in the key in which it is written. Higher voices should then transpose it higher, but not carry it higher than key of G. This gives them eight keys in which to sing it. Lower voices transpose it lower. It may be sung downward as far as the voice can go. Very low voices will then have as many as fifteen points - from which to start it. This exercise should be used every day for one month. Five minutes, if it is carefully sung, will be enough. Remember not to sing with very loud voice. Shouting is always something besides singing—shouting is uncouth and rude.

The exercises are all written with the treble clef, for convenience in writing. In actual pitch men are sing— ing one octave lower than the exercise is written. Men are, however, so accustomed to the accompaniment of the piano that if they play it as written and sing at all, they will pitch the voice at the right starting-point.

EXERCISE VII.—“1-2-3-4-5-6 ah, 1-2-3-4-5-6 ah.”

Select the scale suitable for the kind of voice; that is, high voices use scale of D; low voices use scale of C. Attack the word “one" promptly, and say the numbers rapidly but smoothly. Hold the word “ah” four seconds, and proceed, in same breath, into second half of exercise. Select the character of voice which one would employ in greeting very pleasantly one's friend—it is the genial voice. First attempts may be ludicrous. They will certainly be artificial. Repeat attempts, on first note, until satisfied that the real conversational voice is found; only then should one try the exercise on second note, and he should not go higher into the voice except as he can bring each note into satisfactory conversational tone. He will find that the face will relax into a pleasant one. We wear a look of pleased interest when we greet a friend. This exercise should never be practiced with the face drawn and with a cross expression. Of course, it would be silly to try to laugh as one sings. Teachers used to tell their pupils to smile while practicing. It may be all right to smile in the right way, but pupils who try to smile while singing are liable to look very silly. Let them, instead, assume the genial mood of mind and be pleasant in speech, and they will get a result in tone which will surprise them. Again, remember that this exercise is only to be practiced on the notes on which one can speak pleasantly. It does no good to practice wrongly. First get a note right, and then is the time to work upon it. Practice this exercise ten minutes every day.

The object of singing is to express emotion. It is not, as some seem to suppose, to sing notes. Expressing emotion is the actor's art. When we think of acting in connection with singing we are liable to imagine ranting about stage or about room. But, every motion, and even every expression of the face is acting. In directing our students to secure pleasant looks we are opening the first pages of the book on acting. It is an important opening, much more important than most singers think.

A second step relates to position while practicing. Do not, under any circumstances, sit at piano. Stand always. If you are where the piano is, strike a chord on the instrument so you may know the key. Then sing, without further playing. Do not have any one else play for you while prac— ticing exercises. You should work alone, for much depends upon concentration of mind. The position you should take is: Advance one foot forward and lean forward far enough to have weight of body fall on forward foot. It does not make any difference which foot is forward. If one becomes tired of standing on one foot, change to the other, but always leaning forward far enough to let weight fall on ball of forward foot. Shoulders should be released and comfortable; not thrown back, nor yet bent forward. Body should be erect, a little raised from hips. Do not strain upward. Let all be easy and comfortable. Now, in this position, with this feeling of comfort and with the genial voice, practice as directed the seven exercises of this lesson. During the month there will be improvement of every voice.

Mr. Tubbs, ever energetic and progressive, gives singing-lessons not only in person, but also in print. His course is in striking contrast to those teachers who are forever afraid that they may give out something without getting paid in spot cash. As a result of his liberal and enlightening activity, Mr. Tubbs is one of the busiest and most successful of New York teachers. —Editor.

—Frank H. Tubbs, "One Month's Singing Lessons," Werner's Magazine, September 1900: 16-19.

Tubbs was a student of Manuel García, Francesco Lamperti and William Shakespeare. See his label below for more information.


Has anything changed in the last one hundred years? Hardly. Search the internet today, and you will find plenty of voice teachers offering instruction like Tubbs did in 1900—the only difference being the method of delivery.

If voice teachers once gave instruction in magazines, they now record videos and upload them on a web platform for all to see. Teachers will, of course, say that they have an interest in giving more students instruction—and while that may be true, the actual reason they are doing it is to create a funding stream, make money, survive, pay their rent or mortgage. In short, it's PR for business. High quality instruction that enables a student to actually to sing well and even have a career? You can only get that one-on-one in the studio, where feedback can be given, and where the voice can be heard clearly in 3-D. (Skype lessons—I give them btw—have their limitations too insofar as the delivery of musical accompaniment in real time.) That takes time too, time that those in a hurry aren't interested in usually. They want what they want fast and cheap. This is what you find on the internet.

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. —Beverly Sills

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