Rule Number 1 for Singing


We cannot continue any muscular exercise without tiring. Persisting, this fatigue increases gradually to soreness, and soon to a distinct physical pain. With careful training, much of this disappears, but never the natural claim of the body to diversify its movements.

If your throat aches, you may be sure that one of the four following things is the cause:

I. Your “voice,” your larynx, is not quite sound. You need rest or the physician. A larynx may appear strong, until put to the test of vocal practice. It need not be wrong singing that causes the discomfort; singing alone may develop the weakness or show the defect.

II. You have been using your sound organ wrongly, i. e., you have been forcing or straining. Let your master see to that. For “singing softly” does not in the least obviate that fault, since many voices sing their p infinitely worse than louder passages. With them “singing softly” means suppressing the tone, doing violence to it. It is always more difficult to form a flawless piano passage than to emit loud, powerful tones.

III. You have been singing quite properly and with a sound organ, but (unconsciously) you may have been tired by too much previous exercise, by excitement, or perhaps by a bad night; your body may not furnish sufficient force for the “practising hour.

Go, rest, and take your practice later with renewed strength. No stimulants, pray. For stimulants are quite as apt, for the moment, to impair the judgment as they are to do away with the temporary weakness of the body. Reserve those for the very rare moments when something serious is at stake, and when you need them absolutely.

IV. You have been singing quite properly, with a sound organ, also in physically good condition. But you have been demanding from your voice what you heard other singers do after long years of hard professional work, after oft-repeated struggles with choruses and orchestras.

You did not yet know, that your own vocal cords may still be like silken ribbons, while with older singers they have turned into bands of finest tempered steel, capable of in finite pressure and elasticity. Slowly, insensibly, your fibres also will strengthen. It is incredible what strain that small organ in its box, the larynx, can sustain in the way of ten sion and endurance; but if you begin by push ing and tearing, a baneful result is inevitable. Many voices “break down” (often only in part) long before their owners have reached the thirties. Once having passed that critical period, most people’s throats, even in spite of a bad method, can endure startling efforts and constant abuse for a much longer period.

Please do not think you are ever called upon to imitate phenomenal voices. All phenomena are exceptions, whims or gifts of nature, never the reward or product of intelligent work.

There are persons who earn their bread and astonish the multitude by breaking stones with their fists. You can see women swung by their hair through the horror-stricken silence of a circus, while performing useless and inane tricks. Soprani exhibit themselves who sing Mascagni’s Intermezzo, sometimes shrilly,sometimes sweetly, in the otherwise impossible octave above the high soprano notes; tenors appear on the stage who torture your ear during an entire performance until they reach the clarion-like C or C# for which alone they are engaged. Do not feel disgraced, if you cannot do likewise. Look at your natural limitations; try to overcome and to expand them. Within that circle of your individual qualities — useful and always at your command, because they are products of your physical self — try to do beautiful things beautifully, portray characteristic things with truth and refinement, execute music meant for mere display with ease and grace.”

Herman, R. L. “The Open Door for Singers.” New York (1912).

(Rule number 2 will follow shortly…)

2 thoughts on “Rule Number 1 for Singing

  1. A couple of these are just what I needed to help someone in one of the choirs I direct. She goes all semester balancing in to the group just fine, and then at the concert she takes all sorts of “Stumlants,” including coating her throat laboriously with honey, and ruins much of the work of the whole. I have spoken with her lovingly about this, but obviously she has personal issues that run deep. Ah, the joys of non-auditioned community choirs!

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