Breath Follows Tone

I would counsel talking as little as possible about “breathing,” at first, though breath is the first and and paramount necessity for any tone-work. But as long as the student cannot get rid of his laboriously acquired “breath” in singing, as long as he cannot employ and distribute the painfully stored-up air, you make his body rigid and un-elastic. To teach a pupil to educate his breath-capacity without any due proportion of tone-work seems to me like teaching some one to drive a nail, giving him hammer and nail but only air to hammer on; or to teach a person to plane a board, instructing him in detail of the motion of the tool, with never a board to work on. I have known a professor, in one of the greatest of contemporary schools for violin-playing, to instruct a boy in drawing his bow across the open violin-strings for seven months, without giving his fingers or his ears any relief from that single exercise. I have known singing-pupils who were kept on breathing-exercises for a half a year and more without being permitted to sing more than an occasional scale, much less a word. I insist that breath-development should proceed parallel with tone-development. Whatever breath the tone requires should be forthcoming, and intelligently prepared. But to develop a breath which might do for Brangäne’s night-song or Händel’s “Let the bright Seraphim” before the pupil can manage the simplest portamenti (tone-connections), seems an utter waste of time and strength. For only the just proportion between sound and air-supply makes the tone beautiful. Too much air is quite as harmful as too little.

Herman, Reinhold. “An open door for singers, hints to vocalists, by Reinhold L. Herman.” (1912).

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