Secrets of Svengali – Gymnastics for Singers

Trilby is a fortunate girl.

Nature and Du Maurier have done a great deal for her.

Besides her superb voice, they have given her the body of a Juno. She doesn’t need to do any gymnastic exercises just yet, although everyone needs them in time, and for the general singer and student I think they are very necessary.

They will often correct a bad position, thereby greatly improving the voice, and they do much to keep the voice in condition for artists, by their general good effect on the body as a whole.

For poorly developed girls who have musical talent and wish to devote themselves to vocal art, gymnastics will do wonders if studied conscientiously and practised regularly. Almost any girl can develop a fine chest if she begins young enough, and even in persons well along in the thirties I have seen changes take place in less than a year that would be difficult to believe.

For one destined for a stage career special corrective exercises cannot fail to be of benefit. The exercises required depend on the faults of the body in each individual case.

As I shall show that special positions of the head, neck and chest are required for the easy and sonorous emission of the voice, especially in the upper register, I shall first of all indicate the exercises best calculated to make these special positions facile and natural.


To acquire an easy position for the proper production of the voice, especially of the upper tones, exercises for the neck, chest, diaphragm and abdomen are to be recommended.

For these exercises dumb-bells, although not absolutely necessary, are of value. I prefer Sandow grip dumb-bells, but if they cannot be had I should say ordinary iron ones will do; three pounds for a woman or five for a man, generally speaking.

Stand erect, heels together, chin well in and neck well back.

Grip the dumb-bells, holding out the arms, shoulder to elbow horizontal, elbow to wrist vertical. Move the elbows around, backwards and forwards, in a circle of which the original position on the elbows will form the center, keeping the forearms, from elbow to wrist, always vertical.

Grip bells tightly and make five slow circles. Increase to ten or twenty, according to strength.

Then take a great inhalation and do it twice, holding the breath. Increase to five. This is the Sbriglia exercise of which I have already spoken. (See Exercise I.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 2.16.11 PM

Stand erect, heels together, chin in, neck back.

Grip bells tightly down at the sides, arms unbent, palms of hands held forward.

Keeping the neck well back and chin in, shoulders down, bring the arms forward, the dumb-bells still held down, arms unbent, turning the hands until the bells touch together in front, backs of hands forward. Slowly reverse and return to first position.

Do it five times. Increase to ten. (See Exercise II.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 2.17.13 PM

This is the greatest exercise to develop the pectoral muscle. It is especially effective for women with scant chest development.

Neck exercises are very helpful.

Breathing exercises are necessary for anyone, I believe. They are doubly so for singers.

As I said before, the “setting up” exercises as given in the army are good for men. Women should only use the less violent ones.

I believe it is useless to go into details about these here. The different teachers of physical culture in the Y. W. C. A. and other gymnasiums will indicate the exercises necessary for each individual. I only insist on the few exercises I have indicated as they are directly helpful to voice control.

Of all the systems I have studied and books I have read, I think Sanford Bennett’s volume on “Old Age, Its Cause and Prevention,” contains the best exercises for singers, especially for women, as he describes a system that is not too tiring.

Exercise in the morning before breakfast, and in good air. Don’t do enough of it to tire the body for singing.

Never sing directly after exercising.

Never sing after fatigue of any kind.


Duval, John H. The Secrets of Svengali on Singing, Singers, Teachers and Critics. JT White & Company, 1922.

Leave a Reply