Clippinger Explains the Old Italian Method

What was the magic formula used by the masters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in producing those marvelous singers about whom historians so delight to rhapsodize? That they produced great singers is beyond question, but as to possessing a secret which has been lost nothing is further from the truth. The so-called secret may be discovered by any one who will study the works of such Italian masters as Tosi, whose book was published in 1725, and Mancini, whose book appeared in 1775. Their secret may be briefly told. First, these men were musicians. They knew music. They were men of fine musical taste, and particularly sensitive to tone quality. Their ideals of tone quality and artistic singing were very high, consequently they set a high standard for their pupils. What was their method of realizing their ideals in their pupils? In other words, how did they teach? They knew nothing of vocal physiology and make no reference to mechanism further than that of dividing the voice into two registers, chest and falsetto, making the latter synonymous with head voice. They developed the upper voice out of the light register. Their sensitive ears would stand for no forcing and most important of all their pupils has daily lessons of an hour each for five, six, or eight years. The great secret of the Italian method then was that pupils were under the guidance of a sensitive musical ear every day in the year.

Clippinger, D. A.. “The Old Italian Method”, Etude Magazine, March 1913 : 209.

2 thoughts on “Clippinger Explains the Old Italian Method

    1. I think it’s important, but our culture of voice training has accepted a once a week (or occasionally twice a week) format. Speaking personally, if we consider the voice a physical mechanism then consistent (supervised at the beginning) exercise makes sense. Yoga practitioners would not think of practicing only once a week and expect to achieve a high level of fitness. Same with those visiting the gym. The student is with the teacher once a week, and the student is largely left to their own devices on the remaining six. Practice does not make perfect, as we’re often told. Practice makes PERMANENT. It ‘locks’ in the skill – so that is the hard part for the teacher. If I work with a student who practices poorly, then we’re taking ONE step forward and SIX steps back. Under those circumstances, I almost prefer they NOT practice, frankly.

      Are there solutions? I think so. I would recommend a re-evaluation of our approach to voice training. Many teachers would balk at this idea, but I’m not interested in supporting the status quo. Some academic professors have turned their ‘office hours’ into ‘vocalization hours,’ where students can come in to be vocalized every day – a solution that if I were in academia I would absolutely enforce. If I were in higher education that’s the route I would take. I would want to see each student for around 15 minutes daily according to their schedule for nothing more than scales and voice work.

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