Historical Perspectives: Witherspoon’s Sixteenth Lesson

Lesson 16

Two important additions will be made to your study in this lesson. The first is the messa di voce, the Italian term for a gradual swelling and diminishing of a note, from piano to forte and back to piano. Exercise 41.

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This should be practical on the middle notes of the range, but not, at first, on either very high notes nor very low notes.

Swell the voice with real intention, but not with pushing of the breath. The “swell” is made by both greater volume and greater intensity of tone. Try to keep the vowel sound pure and even, swell by thinking the tone louder, and diminish by thinking the tone weaker. It takes some time to accomplish the messa di voce with real evenness and skill.

The gestures of the arms will aid in this exercise. Be sure that your breath sensation is never one of forcing the breath. Think the tone louder or softer and the breath will soon do its duty.

It is interesting to time the length of the messa di voce. Watch the second hand of your watch or clock. You will find that ten seconds is fairly long to begin with, but you will soon prolong it to twenty seconds or more. Listen carefully to the pitch, because if the pitch alters you are forcing the breath, and the vocal organs are no longer in adjustment for perfect resonation. The tone must not waver or “wobble” or shake. If it does, stop at once and use the sounds given to perfect the vowel. 

The second addition to your practice will be the first exercise from your book of pieces without words.

For soprano an excellent book is entitled Prime Lezioni di Canto by F. Lamperti.

For all voices use the first volume of “Masterpieces of Vocalization.”

Use at first an exercise which is not too extensive in range, and is of an easy flowing progression.

Sing the vocalise on AH. If you have difficulties, use the phonetics which you have learned already to aid the voice in the bad spots, and then return to the vowel AH again.

Sing standing up and get a friend to accompany you, or else sing with no accompaniment, observing the rests carefully, without losing rhythm.

It is excellent practice to sing without accompaniment, touching the piano keys once in a while to test your correctness of pitch or interval.


Be sure to get a good start in tone quality.

Sing the first note of the melody on AH, then sing it on MAH-NAH, several times repeated, then on LAH, repeating in the same way.

This will give you a good, well formed vowel and tone to commence with. Sing the melody legato, and listen carefully that you do not slur nor scoop, that you are singing true to pitch, that the loudness is moderate, that you are not stiffening the ribs or body to control the breath.

Do not try to sing too long a phrase on one breath, you will only ruin the tone and force and exhaust the breathing organs.



Witherspoon, Herbert. Thirty-Six Lessons in Singing for Teacher and Student. Meissner Institute of Music. Chicago. 1930.