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Technic in Singing. II.

I may now pass on to the subject-matter proper of this paper, — Technic in Singing, — which I will divide up into vari­ous sections, beginning with the

Singing Breath.

Many words, both written and spoken, have been wasted on this important, but simple, subject. What are the facts of the case? The laws of the human body make it necessary for the diaphragm to be lowered, and the rib-muscles to be expanded and raised at regular intervals. This leaves a vacuum in the body, which is straightway filled by air. Here is the whole process of taking a breath. Evidently there is no difficulty in this. Trouble arises when you want to control its emission. Now, perfect breath-control does not necessarily involve perfect voice-production, but perfect voice-production does neces­sarily involve perfect breath-control. Study, therefore, to get perfect tone, and your breathing must itself be perfect.

Mr. Myer, of New York, has put the matter in a nutshell: “Expand to breathe, don’t breathe to ex­pand.” Let your body be firm and elastic, and by so doing you will never find your breath fail you in an emergency.

Mezza Voce.

It will be as well in considering this particular ac­complishment of a properly-trained singer to leave sex out of the question for the time being and to con­sider the human voice as an entity from the lowest notes of the man to the highest notes of the woman. The meaning of this term is strictly the “half-voice,” but it has an additional significance: a peculiarly-beautiful kind of soft tone rather like that of a muted ‘cello. It commences about the middle G of the bass voice and extends upward for about an octave and a fourth between the low and medium registers. It is particularly characteristic of male voices, though it is found in women’s voices between middle C and G, the fifth above, approximately.

Certain singers possess this beautiful quality of voice in great perfection, notably Georg Henschel and Jean de Reszké. This soft tone is natural in some voices, but in the majority demands a great deal of hard work; still it must be attained in order to make a perfect messa di voce. It is essential that it should be similar to the chest-quality in all but power; and it should be practiced, in the first instance, on bright vowels, by making the sound come from the same spot in the face and chest, whether it is loud or soft. This is the true way to overcome the break in the lower part of the woman’s voice. It is, however, easier for woman to unite the low and medium registers than it is for a man, because the medium register is an in­tegral part of the female voice.

How is this mezza voce produced? Charles Battaille and Stockhausen unite in asserting that two-thirds of the width of the vocal cords are needed for this quality of voice as compared with their entire width for the chest. Whether this is so or not,—and the matter is still under dispute,—it is quite certain that there is some special adaptation of the vocal apparatus to secure this beautiful result; but, as long as we know how to attain it ourselves and to teach it to our pupils, we need not be very particularly concerned with the purely physiological processes. As an analogy, you might compare the mezza voce and the chest-voice with the same tone played on the G and D strings of a violin.

The Trill and the Turn.

Various methods of study have been recommended for the trill. One method is to start trilling spon­taneously. This helps some people. Another method is to repeat the same note as rapidly as possible with an aspirate, which gradually produces an additional note slightly lower in pitch. This alternating of dif­ferent pitches can, with pains and study, develop into a perfect trill. This also may assist some people; but there is one way that is never failing. Sing the inter­val of a whole tone in triplet time, which will bring the accent alternately on the upper and lower notes, and sing it quite slowly, being careful to make both sounds in exactly the same way. Do not increase the speed at the expense of either your intonation or your clearness, and in this way you will ultimately arrive at a trill that is perfect. It may take six months or a year or even longer, but it will be worth working for. It should be observed, however, that the fully developed trill is an oscillation of the larynx, and, when you begin to sing these triplets fast, you will reach a point at which you will notice that a change takes place, for in the earlier and slower practice there is no oscillation of the larynx. The trill should be practiced on the degrees of the major scale in one breath, up and down. It should also be practiced in combination with the messa di voce.

The turn may consist of three, four, or five notes. The first named is easy, but in turns of four and five notes there is always considerable liability to omit the last note. These two forms of the turn therefore demand patient study.

The Garcia Diatonic Exercises.

For the thorough development of the voice and for making it supple and obedient, I know nothing better than these exercises. Their plan is very simple. Take phrases of two, of three, of four, of six, and of eight notes, and repeat them on each successive de­gree of the major scale, taking care that, when a breath is needed, it shall be taken after the first note of a phrase, and recommencing on the note after which the breath was taken. By slow degrees the pupil must arrive at being able to sing even the eight-note phrases in one breath upward and in another breath downward. When this can be done with perfect even­ness, at a speed equal to the metronome indication of a quarter note equals 100, and on the five primary vowels, it is time to begin to study the exercises in various ways.

The first of these ways is to prolong one of the notes of each phrase without, however, altering the natural accent. Another way is by the introduction of light and shade, not only throughout the entire ex­tent of an exercise, but also applying it to individual groups and individual notes in a group. Finally these exercises can be studied with irregular accents.

It is needless to say that all this work should be kept within the easy limits of the voice until con­siderable speed and great accuracy have been attained. The intervals of the fourth and the fifth will need a great deal of study, particularly the interval of the augmented fourth, which occurs on the fourth degree of the scale. Those who wish to examine into this system more particularly are referred to “Hints on Singing,” by Manuel Garcia, or to his larger work, which is published by the Oliver Ditson Company.

Arpeggios and Scales.

Accuracy should be the first object in study, and then speed should be attained. For this purpose a metronome is very useful. Sopranos and light women’s voices generally should reach a speed of a quarter note equals 120. The arpeggios of the common chord and its inversions should first be studied; then those involving the degree of the seventh; but the chord of the diminished seventh should be deferred until the voice is practically in place, because of its exceptional difficulty. This applies also to exercises involving chromatic intervals, though the chromatic scale itself should be begun fairly early. It may be practiced either in groups of four or in groups of three, but should never be practiced fast. There are two kinds of staccato in use for arpeggios and scales,—the very quick and short and the only moderately quick and short; the former is exclusively available for women’s voices, but the latter can be and should be practiced by men as well.

Covering the Voice.

This is a most misleading expression, and is applied generally to a man’s voice. It means the deep, rich quality that should characterize the upper notes of the male voice; but it is most misleading in that it gives the pupil an entirely false notion of the way in which this richness and beauty should be acquired. Actually the upper notes feel as if they sank down into the chest, but there is no alteration of the throat involved, save that possibly it may be a little wider open for the upper notes than for the low ones. I am aware that the phrase “sinking down into the chest” is a trifle obscure. To those who have never had the sensation it will mean nothing. To those, however, who are singing their upper notes the right way, it will explain itself. At any rate, it is only in this way that one has absolute control of every kind of vowel, both bright and dark. The kind of vowel produced by covered tones, on the contrary, always sounds constrained and a trifle thick, without having any variety. This is fatal to perfect pronun­ciation, which demands all possible shades of vowel-sounds.

Facial Expression.

Nature never intended the face to look ugly in sing­ing, and yet many people exaggerate the lip movements so that they appear to the audience to be making a series of grimaces. Now, the only consonants that require lip movements are p, b, m, f, v, and w, but even for these a moderate movement of the lips will suffice; any extreme tension will merely lead to exag­geration. Moreover, almost all the vowels can be sung with about the same opening of the mouth, thus allowing almost any succession of sounds to be effected without noticeable change of position. The face, of course, should reflect to some extent the sen­sations expressed, but these sentiments are seldom of such a vivid character as to demand an expression of horror or agony. Just so much movement as will insure perfect articulation is required, and no more.

In conclusion, let me state with great emphasis that the thing to be attained is beauty of tone, and that great speed and great facility of coloratura are not to be sought at the expense of a loss of beauty. But it will be found that, in proportion as beauty and per­fect control of tone are acquired, these other necessary components of artistic singing will be added naturally according to the limit and individuality of the singer’s voice. Therefore, with all earnestness, with all per­severance, with great industry, and with much love, pursue the quest for beauty of tone. There is no one quality of the voice which gives so much pleasure alike to the singer and the listener as this, and, though its attainment may be slow, its results, when attained, will be a source of never-ending delight.—Shirley Gandell.

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You are reading Technic in Singing. II. from the December, 1901 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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