Every vocal student must train his own ear, as this is something that no one else can do for him. There is only one way that the musical ear can be trained: this is by attentive listening to musical sounds. It is a simple matter to form the habit of attentive listening. When this habit is formed the ear really trains itself.
Hear as much music as possible. Take advantage of every opportunity to go to concerts, recitals, and operas. Learn to know and to recognize the characteristic tone qualities of the various instruments of the orchestra. Everything in the way of music that you hear and listen to closely helps in the training of the ear.
Listening to other singers is one of the most valuable means for training the ear. A curious aspect of the relation between the ear and the voice is this: When listening to a singer we can tell from the sound of the tones how the voice is produced. A correctly used voice comes out freely and clearly, while a badly produced voice seems to be caught or held back in the singer’s throat or nose. If the singer’s throat is stiffened or strained, no matter to how slight an extent, the attentive listener at once detects this condition in the sound of the tones. With a little experience in listening to singers the ear becomes keen enough to note the slightest trace of muscular strain revealed by a voice.
Badly produced voices are usually either throaty or nasal. Both of these faults, the throaty and the nasal tone, are easily recognized. The throaty tone is so called because it gives the evidence of stiffness and tension in the back of the throat, while the nasal tone gets its name from the impression it gives of being pinched in the singer’s nose.
Whenever you are in doubt whether a voice you are listening to is correctly produced, imitate in your own mind the singer’s tones. If you feel that you would have to contract or strain your throat in order to produce tones similar to those you hear, you may be sure that there is some fault in the singer’s tone production.
While the old masters in all their teachings appealed to the faculty of imitation, they did not merely sing correct tones for their pupils to imitate. They also pointed out several striking characteristics of the perfectly produced vocal tone, in order that the pupils might more readily hear how the correct tone sounds, and how it differs from the wrongly produced tone.
Taylor, D. C. “Self help for singers.” New York: The HW Gray Co (1914).