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SECTION I

PRELIMINARY PRACTICE

It is very important for all who wish to
become artists to begin their work not with
practical exercises in singing, but with serious
practice in tone production, in breathing in
and out, in the functions of the lungs and
palate, in clear pronunciation of all letters,
and with speech in general.

Then it would soon be easy to recognize
talent or the lack of it. Many would open
their eyes in wonder over the difficulties
of learning to sing, and the proletariat of
singers would gradually disappear. With
them would go the singing conservatories
and the bad teachers who, for a living, teach
everybody that comes, and promise to make
everybody a great artist.

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12 HOW TO SING

Once when I was acting as substitute for
a teacher in a conservatory, the best pupils
of the institution were promised me,— those
who needed only the finishing touches. But
when, after my first lesson, I went to the
director and complained of the ignorance of
the pupils, my mouth was closed with these
words, "For Heaven's sake, don't say such
things, or we could never keep our conserva-
tory going! "

I had enough, and went.

The best way is for pupils to learn pre-
paratory books by heart, and make drawings.
In this way they will get the best idea of
the vocal organs, and learn their functions
by sensation as soon as they begin to sing.
The pupil should be subjected to strict ex-
aminations.

In what does artistic singing differ from
natural singing?

In a clear understanding of all the organs
concerned in voice production, and their


PRELIMINARY PRACTICE 13

functions, singly and together; in the un-
derstanding of the sensations in singing,
conscientiously studied and scientifically ex-
plained; in a gradually cultivated power of
contracting and relaxing the muscles of the
vocal organs, that power culminating in the
ability to submit them to severe exertions
and keep them under control. The pre-
scribed tasks must be mastered so that they
can be done without exertion, with the whole
heart and soul, and with complete under-
standing.

How is this to be attained?

Through natural gifts, among which I
reckon the possession of sound organs and a
well-favored body; through study guided
by an excellent teacher who can sing well
himself, — study that must be kept up for
at least six years, without counting the pre-
liminary work.

Only singers formed on such a basis, after
years of work, deserve the title of artist;
only such have a right to look forward to a


14 HOW TO SING

lasting future, and only those equipped with
such a knowledge ought to teach.

Of what consists artistic singing ?

Of a clear understanding, first and fore-
most, of breathing, in and out; of an un-
derstanding of the form through which the
breath has to flow, prepared by a proper
position of the larynx, the tongue, and the
palate. Of a knowledge and understanding
of the functions of the muscles of the abdo-
men and diaphragm, which regulate the
breath pressure; then, of the chest-muscle
tension, against which the breath is forced,
and whence, under the control of the singer,
after passing through the vocal cords, it
beats against the resonating surfaces and
vibrates in the cavities of the head. Of a
highly cultivated skill and flexibility in
adjusting all the vocal organs and in putting
them into minutely graduated movements,
without inducing changes through the pro-
nunciation of words or the execution of


PRELIMINARY PRACTICE 15

musical figures that shall be injurious to
the tonal beauty *or the artistic expression
of the song. Of an immense muscular power
in the breathing apparatus and all the vocal
organs, the strengthening of which to endure
sustained exertion cannot be begun too long
in advance; and the exercising of which,
as long as one sings in public, must never
be remitted for a single day.

As beauty and stability of tone do not
depend upon excessive pressure of the breath,
so the muscular power of the organs used
in singing does not depend on convulsive
rigidity, but in that snakelike power of
contracting and loosening, 1 which a singer
must consciously have under perfect control.

The study needed for this occupies an
entire lifetime; not only because the singer
must perfect himself more and more in the

1 In physiology when the muscles resume their normal
state, they are said to be relaxed. But as I wish to avoid
giving a false conception in our vocal sensations, I prefer
to use the word " loosening."


16 HOW TO SING

roles of his repertory — even after he has
been performing them year in and year out,
—but because he must continually strive for
progress, setting himself tasks that require
greater and greater mastery and strength,
and thereby demand fresh study.

He who stands still, goes backward.

Nevertheless, there are fortunately gifted
geniuses in whom are already united all the
qualities needed to attain greatness and per-
fection, and whose circumstances in life are
equally fortunate; who can reach the goal
earlier, without devoting their whole lives
to it. Thus, for instance, in Adelina Patti
everything was united,—the splendid voice,
paired with great talent for singing, and the
long oversight of her studies by her distin-
guished teacher, Strakosch. She never sang
r&les that did not suit her voice; in her
earlier years she sang only arias and duets or
single solos, never taking part in ensembles.
She never sang even her limited repertory


PRELIMINARY PRACTICE 17

when she was indisposed. She never at-
tended rehearsals, but came to the theatre
in the evening and sang triumphantly, with-
out ever having seen the persons who sang
and acted with her. She spared herself re-
hearsals which, on the day of the perform-
ance, or the day before, exhaust all singers,
because of the excitement of all kinds at-
tending them, and which contribute neither
to the freshness of the voice nor to the joy
of the profession.

Although she was a Spaniard by birth
and an American by early adoption, she
was, so to speak, the greatest Italian singer
of my time. All was absolutely good, cor-
rect, and flawless, the voice like a bell that
you seemed to hear long after its singing
had ceased.

•Yet she could give no explanation of her
art, and answered all her colleagues' ques-
tions concerning it with an " Ah, je n'en sais
rien!"

She possessed, unconsciously, as a gift of


18 HOW TO SING

nature, a union of all those qualities that
all other singers must attain and possess
consciously. Her vocal organs stood in the
most favorable relations to each other. Her
talent, and her remarkably trained ear, main-
tained control over the beauty of her singing
and of her voice. The fortunate circumstances
of her life preserved her from all injury.
The purity and flawlessness of her tone, the
beautiful equalization of her whole voice,
constituted the magic by which she held
her listeners entranced. Moreover, she was
beautiful and gracious in appearance.

The accent of great dramatic power she
did not possess; yet I ascribe this more to
her intellectual indolence than to her lack
of ability.


SECTION II

OF THE BREATH

The breath becomes voice through the
operation of the will, and the instrumentality
of the vocal organs.

To regulate the breath, to prepare a pas-
sage of the proper form through which it
shall flow, circulate, develop itself, and reach
the necessary resonating chambers, must be
our chief task.

Concerning the breath and much more
besides there is so much that is excellent in
Oscar Guttmann's "Gymnastik der Stimme"
that I can do no better than to refer to if
and recommend it strongly to the attention
of all earnest students.

How do I breathe?

Very short of breath by nature, my
mother had to keep me as a little child al-

19


20 HOW TO SING

most sitting upright in bed. After I had
outgrown that and as a big girl could run
around and play well enough, I still had
much trouble with shortness of breath in the
beginning of my singing lessons. For years
I practised breathing exercises every day
without singing, and still do so with especial
pleasure, now that everything that relates to
the breath and the voice has become clear to
me. Soon I had got so far that I could hold
a swelling and diminishing tone from fifteen
to eighteen seconds.

I had learned this: to draw in the abdo-
men and diaphragm, raise the chest and hold
the breath in it by the aid of the ribs; in
letting out the breath gradually to relax the
body and to let the chest fall slowly. To
do everything thoroughly I doubtless exag-
gerated it all. But since for twenty-five
years I have breathed in this way almost
exclusively, with the utmost care, I have
naturally attained great dexterity in it; and
my abdominal and chest muscles and my


OF THE BREATH 21

diaphragm have been strengthened to a re-
markable degree. Yet I was not satisfied.

A horn player in Berlin with the power
of holding a very long breath, once told me
in answer to a question, that he drew in his
abdomen and diaphragm very strongly, but
immediately relaxed his abdomen again as
soon as he began to play. I tried the same
thing with the best results. Quite different,
and very naive, was the answer I once got
from three German orchestral horn players in
America . They looked at me in entire be-
wilderment, and appeared not to understand
in the least my questions as to how they
breathed. Two of them declared that the
best way was not to think about it at all.
But when I asked if their teachers had never
told them how they should breathe, the third
answered, after some reflection, " Oh, yes!"
and pointed in a general way to his stomach.
The first two were right, in so far as too
violent inhalation of breath is really unde-
sirable, because thereby too much air is drawn


22 HOW TO SING

in. But such ignorance of the subject is dis-
heartening, and speaks ill for the conserva-
tories in which the players were trained,
whose performances naturally are likely to
give art a black eye.

Undoubtedly I took in too much air in
breathing, and thereby stiffened various or-
gans, depriving my muscles of their elasticity.
Yet, with all my care and preparation, I
often, when I had not given special thought
to it, had too little breath, rather than too
much. I felt, too, after excessive inhalation,
as if I must emit a certain amount of air be-
fore I began to sing. Finally I abandoned
all superfluous drawing in of the abdomen
and diaphragm, inhaled but little, and began
to pay special attention to emitting the
smallest possible amount of breath, which I
found very serviceable.

How do I breathe now ?

My diaphragm I scarcely draw in con-
sciously, my abdomen never; I feel the


OF THE BREATH 23

breath fill my lungs, and my upper ribs ex-
pand. Without raising my chest especially
high, I force the breath against it, and hold
it fast there. At the same time I raise my
palate high and prevent the ,escape of breath
through the nose. The diaphragm beneath
reacts against it, and furnishes pressure from
the abdomen. Chest, diaphragm, the closed
epiglottis, and the raised palate all form a
supply chamber for the breath.

Only in this way is the breath under the
control of the singer, through the pressure
against the chest tension muscles. {This is
very important.) From now on the breath
must be emitted from the supply chamber
very sparingly, but with unceasing uniformity
and strength, without once being held back,
to the vocal cords, which will further regu-
late it as far as possible. The more directly
the breath pressure is exerted against the
chest, — one has the feeling, in this, of sing-
ing the tone against the chest whence it
must be pressed out, — the less breath flows


24 HOW TO SING

through the vocal cords, and the less, con-
sequently, are these overburdened.

In this way, under control, in the passage
formed for it above the tongue by that organ,
it reaches the resonance chambers prepared
for it by the raising and lowering of the soft
palate, and those in the cavities of the head.
Here it forms whirling currents of tone;
these now must circulate uninterrupted for
as long as possible and fill all the accessible
resonating surfaces, which must be maintained
in an elastic state. This is necessary to bring
the tone to its perfect purity. Not till these
currents have been sufficiently used up and
passed through the " bell," or cup-shaped reso-
nating cavity, of the mouth and lips, may it be
allowed to stream from the mouth unimpeded.
Yet the sensation must be as if the breath
were constantly escaping from the mouth.

To observe and keep under control these
many functions, singly or in conjunction,
forms the ceaseless delight of the never fail-
ing fountain of song study.


OF THE BREATH 25

Thus, in shaping the passage for the
breath, the larynx, tongue, and palate, which
can be placed at will, are employed. The
vocal cords, which can best be imagined as
inner lips, we have under control neither as
beginners nor as artists. We do not feel
them. We first become conscious of them
through the controlling apparatus of the
breath, which teaches us to spare them, by
emitting breath through them in the least
possible quantity and of even pressure,
whereby a steady tone can be produced. I
even maintain that all is won, when —
as Victor Maurel says — we regard them
directly as the breath regulators, and re-
lieve them of all overwork through the
controlling apparatus of the chest-muscle
tension.

Through the form prepared by the larynx,
tongue, and palate, we can direct the breath,
previously under control and regulation,
toward the particular resonating surfaces on
the palate, or in the cavities of the head,


26 HOW TO SING

which are suitable to each tone. This rule
remains the same for all voices.

As soon as the breath leaves the larynx,
it is divided. (Previously, in inhalation, a
similar thing happens; but this does not
concern us immediately, and I prefer to direct
the singer's chief attention to the second oc-
currence.) One part may press toward the
palate, the other toward the cavities of the
head. The division of the breath occurs
regularly, from the deepest bass to the
highest tenor or soprano, step for step, vibra-
tion for vibration, without regard to sex or
individuality. Only tHe differing size or
strength of the vocal organs through which
the breath flows, the breathing apparatus, or
the skill with which they are used, are dif-
ferent in different individuals. The seat of
the breath, the law of its division, as well
as the resonating surfaces, are always the
same and are differentiated at most through
difference of habit.









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