Quote of the Day

It seems likely that “appoggio” was a very different thing from what is taught today. From my point of view, I would be inclined to agree with Cornelius Reid that good singing creates its own feeling of support. That is, the singing has to develop first, and then the biofeedback of the feelings of steadiness and security will come. If there is nothing yet to support, then efforts to create support in isolation, as “preparation”, make no sense.

D. Brian Lee, from his blog article, The complicated history of F. Lamperti’s “appoggio” – Part 2

Relax! (Just Kidding)

“It is most unfortunate that, in the teaching of the technic of both singing and playing the piano, and, as far as we know of all the other technics, there has been so much talk about ‘relaxation.’ Absolute relaxation is impossible. Too high a degree of relaxation is undesirable, and the muscles which should be used must come into absolute tension. The muscles which should not be used, and which interfere with the act, should indeed be relatively relaxed. The problem, however, lies rather in the strengthening of the muscles which should be used, and, in practice, the over-relaxed pupil is apt to present the harder problem. This is especially true in view of the fact that the placid, unmusical, undramatic individual is apt to be over-relaxed. The artistic, ‘talented’ pupil is apt to be rather tense and neurotic. Generally speaking it is easier to reduce than to increase the general state of muscle tone.”

Stanley, Douglas. “The science of voice.” Journal of the Franklin Institute 211.4 (1931): 405-455.

The Breath Control Fallacy

In all countries, and at all recorded times, there has existed an idea that the singer should learn to control his breath and that ‘breath-control’ is a vital part of vocal technic. Teachers who entertain this fancy even prescribe exercises for the conscious control of the rate of expulsion of the breath, used in the act of phonation, by means of the expiratory muscles. That any such attempt on the part of the singer is abortive is evident from the statement already made to the effect that the entire act of phonation is a single act, and that direct control of any narrow group of muscles used in this act is physiologically impossible. True, the rate of expulsion of the breath can be easily regulated when the individual is not phonating, but the moment he commences to sing such control by means of the expiratory muscles becomes impossible (Ed.: I’m reminded here of a quote of Manuel Garcia’s, with whom Stanley studied: “All control of the tone is lost the moment the vocal cords become vibratile.”). Furthermore the intensity is not directly controlled by the breath output when the technic is good, but it is so controlled when the production is ‘throaty.’ Thus, when the technic is good, an increase in breath output may either increase or decrease the intensity from M.F.

Any attempt to control consciously the rate of expulsion of the breath during the act of phonation must, in the last analysis, lead the singer to control reflexly this output by means of a progressive constriction of the throat. Thus, the teaching of ‘breath-control’ must inevitably lead to ‘throatiness’ and vocal deterioration. Psychologically, the effect of this attempt will be to make the pupil ‘breath-conscious,’ and thus seriously impede his sense of freedom.

Stanley, Douglas. “The science of voice.” Journal of the Franklin Institute 211.4 (1931): 405-455.

Quote of the Day

…every functional deficiency in the organ [the larynx] is replaced by either breath pressure, or by an excessive consumption of breath. Either the breath is dammed up, or it escapes partly unused (‘wild air’, ‘superfluous breath’); the former stiffens the larynx, the latter makes it flabby, and either turns it into a mechanism that has little to do with singing.

Husler, F., and Y. Rodd-Marling. “Singing: The physical nature of the organ.” (1965).

The Parable of the Deaf Frog

There once was a man who had a frog. He trained him and taught him to jump on command. Testing his ability, he was astonished to discover that his frog could leap twenty feet. Soon the man began to wonder about the amount of propulsion contributed to each hind leg. Accordingly, he cut one hind leg off and again urged the frog to jump. Struggling under his terrible handicap, the frog did the best he could, but was unable to manage more than seven feet. “Humph,” said the man to himself. “Interesting. I wonder how far he can travel with no hind legs at all.” Straightway he cut off the remaining leg and repeated the command. Naturally, the frog could not move. “Damn,” exclaimed the man. “My frog must have gone deaf.”

This story is, of course, analogous to the way vocal training has been practiced for much too long a time. Attitudes are employed as principles, opinions dignified as facts, theories accepted without challenge, and, frequently, whenever valid principles are embraced, they are misapplied. Unable to learn, the student is then blamed for all short-comings because of an inherent lack of talent.

Reid, Cornelius L. Functional vocal training. Journal of Orgonomy, Volume 4, Number 2. November 197o.

A Fundamental Requirement of the Teacher’s Art

A fundamental requirement of the teacher’s art lies in the correcting of mental concepts, and in the overcoming of inhibitions so that the interfering muscular contractions may be eliminated and the mental concept may become similar to that of the singer who is born with a ‘great natural voice.’ The first law for the teacher of voice will have to be that no direction may be given the pupil which pertains to the direct control of any narrow group of muscles taking part in the act of phonation. All directions to the pupil must either be of a general nature, or must pertain to groups of muscles which are not or should not be used in the act of phonation. Thus, any direction to the pupil which pertains to the position of the larynx, the base of the tongue, the palate and so forth, or to the control of the breath is physiologically impossible of accomplishment DURING THE ACT OF PHONATION. The result of such directions is further confusion of the mental concept, which is extremely harmful technically, and a sense of helplessness which inevitably results from an attempt to accomplish the impossible.

Stanley, Douglas. “The science of voice.” Journal of the Franklin Institute 211.4 (1931): 405-455.

Edmund Myer on Indirect Control

The rightly trained singer breathes as naturally and as unconsciously for singing as for living. It is true the singing­ breath is fuller than the vital­ breath, but it must be as automatic, as unconscious. He who consciously breathes to sing, sings wrongly: for, conscious breath­taking compels conscious breath­ control, which always means a loss of the true conditions of singing. We sit quietly, we breathe quietly; we walk, we unconsciously breathe a little fuller; we walk rapidly or run, and, naturally or automatically, we breathe according to our wants or needs; we are conscious of breathing only when we have run too far. How is this necessarily increased breathing secured? Unconsciously or automatically through bodily action.

The singer stands, he breathes quietly; he desires to sing; instantly, if he has been properly trained, he feels pervading his entire being “the singer’s sensation,” the sensation of singing. He asserts his position according to the pitch and power of the tone to be sung, and unconsciously or automatically, through flexible action, his lungs fill with air. This will take place in spite of him, and in order to avoid taking the increased breath he would have to consciously and directly oppose it. If the desire is to sing medium power, or softly, the action and the breath is according to the desire.

If with dramatic power, or high tones, the action and the breath will be equal to the desire. Thus, through right position and action, the singer secures not only a right singing-breath but the true conditions of singing at and above the organ of sound as before described; and so long as these true conditions are maintained the singer enjoys absolute automatic breath-control. He need give neither inspiration nor expiration a thought. He can thus give himself up entirely to his art, and be moved and controlled by giving an outward expression of his inner, his higher, his emotional nature. This is art; this is truly high art. In this way the singer can give expression, without interference, to his artistic temperament and nature; to the very deepest feeling of his emotional nature, of his soul.

But, it may be asked, how is all this to be taught to the beginner? Certainly not by localizing his thought and his effort upon the muscles of his body, and by locally teaching him to pull them in, push them out, and to grip and hold them firmly and rigidly. One may in this way, it is true, develop great muscular strength without applying it to the voice; and therein largely lies the evil of localized effort; the strength is developed but not used or applied. On the other hand rigidity and local grip induce interference with the parts which should be flexible and automatic.

“Motion is life.” There is no strength applied except through movement; but a gripped and hardened muscle, even though it be locally pulled in or pushed out, becomes a hindrance instead of a help.

We are taught to do something with the hand which requires skill and which necessitates the constant moving of the hand by the use of the arm. Do we think of the arm, or of the different muscles of the arm, and pull, push and adjust them locally? Certainly not. They act, automatically, in response to will through thought. How is the necessary skill of the hand acquired? Through intelligent thought drawn out and directed by a competent teacher. You desire to raise your hand to your head; you certainly do not think of your arm, and yet your hand is raised by your arm.

And so it is in the training of the student, of the beginner. He is made to study effects and results through flexible position and action, and not by localized effort. He is taught that when his movement, his action, his position, are right as a whole, then all parts of the body come into action and adjustment in a natural and automatic way; that they are then on the alert, that they are then vitalized, and are ready to respond to his will or desire. He is then taught to study effects or results through movement or action. Under skilful guidance he soon learns that certain movements produce certain results. If the results are not de sirable the movements are studied and understood to be avoided. If the results are the desired ones the movements are studied, applied and developed. They are then tied, as it were, to the tone or the voice; they then become a part of the grand whole. They then act automatically in response to thought, just as the arm acts in moving the skilfully trained hand.

The development and application of free, flexible, automatic movements in the training of the voice, and of automatic breath­ control, power and beauty of tone, through the study of right position and action, will be more practically set forth in the second part of this work.

A free body relieves the singer immensely from the mechanism of singing. So perfect is the unity of the body that a voice will not obey perfectly, unless the body, as a whole, be free. Once secure, in the freedom of voice and body to obey, the song can burst forth with all the musical feeling of which the singer is capable.

The art of breathing consists in regaining the faculty of inflating the lungs naturally, that is, easily, freely and rhythmically. The regaining of the faculty must not be confounded with the artificial method of breathing so universal among the singers of to­day, and which is the result of conventionalized error; I mean the practice of deliberately and consciously working the diaphragm in the acts of expansion and contraction. This is most distinctly to be avoided. What is required inbreathing is expansion without unnecessary tension. The lungs must fill themselves in proportion as the breath is exhausted, under the regulation of their own law, that of action and reaction, and not by conscious regulating of the diaphragm on the part of the singer, as this leads inevitably to a mechanical and unspontaneous production of tone.

In attempting to regulate natural processes, we are wasting energy which should be wholly centered in the will-impulse to utter the sound.

With a conscious, mechanical process, there can be no spontaneous utterance of the emotions, and it is precisely the spontaneous utter ance that is the desideratum in singing, regarded from the highest stand-point.” — Clara Kathleen Rogers.

Myer, Edmund John. Position and Action in Singing: A Study of the True Conditions of Tone: a Solution of Automatic (artistic) Breath Control. Boston Music Company, G. Schirmer, 1911.