More Advice on High Notes from a Singer

Yesterday, I posted a selection from a book published in 1882 that features a lot of pedagogically sound information on the training of the singing voice along Old School lines.

The assertion that chest voice is highly operative in higher notes is further elucidated by our Singer author:

I have entered into this at some length because it is a point which is more and more ignored by the singers and teachers of this generation. I might also say that a school of singing exists the whole aim of which is to abolish the natural upper part of the voice, in order to stretch and force the one lower register up beyond its natural compass. I do not deny that in certain cases a voice results from this treatment which is powerful, effective, and capable of executing a good deal of music with much success and satisfaction to the performer; but for one case where this treatment so far succeeds, it fails in twenty to produce a voice both pleasing and useful; it is, moreover, in singers trained on this method that we commonly hear the odious (and involuntary) trembling of the upper notes commonly called the vibrato.

So, let’s take a moment to digest this.

What KIND of music is this author discussing?

Not pop. Not jazz. Not Musical Theater.

If you guessed CLASSICAL music and CLASSICAL singing, you win the prize.

Throughout my research and study I have discovered one thing: there was a school of singing that carried many names, depending on who you were talking to. Some called it “The Old School”, or “The Italian School” or the “Bel Canto Schooling” or the “The Natural School”. In light of this knowledge there was ANOTHER way of working on the voice that went contrary to the teachings of this older school. This is a point of fact that cannot be refuted. This distinction in training has been drawn in the writings of too many pedagogues and celebrated singers. Multi-register singing WAS the training of this school. 

What I believe our Singer is describing above is bringing the chest voice up too high into the range, and creating a classical sound that is built entirely upon loud for the sake of loudness. Here is a mantra in my studio: Volume is a by-product of efficient phonation. When the voice is working the way it should, it will ‘carry’ in most places. When singers try to sing loudly, they have to understand what kind of loud it is. Is this a BIG tone or a LOUD tone? The two aren’t the same.

The interesting fact is that in 2014, we struggle with the same pedagogical problems. Why can’t men and women sing a successful messa di voce? This was THE TEST for singers once upon a time. The mastery of this exercise demonstrated complete vocal proficiency. It WAS the proficiency test for the voice. Some teachers called it the King of Exercises. Today, this idea is shunned in favor of breath strategies and resonance. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but COME ON! Where is this exercise in today’s studios, and how many singers commit to master it?

And yes, this is a maneuver that I work on all the time. Is it successful? Nope. But I keep at it, as I read these old school singers did too.

Voices just take TIME to train in this ‘Old Schooling’, by golly.

Our Singer author goes on:

…so many tenor singers are utterly unable to produce the real tenor “tone” and sound like barytones [sic] forced up to a higher compass. There is no sweetness in the upper notes so produced – nothing but force and noise; while the hapless perpetrator of the howls which represent high notes turns scarlet in the face, and quivers all over with his exertions.

Advice. Advice to singers, by a singer. 1882.

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