Garcia on the Acquisition of Agility

Q: While the faults of emission are mending, is there any other study to be pursued?
A: The acquirement of agility.

Q: How is this to be obtained?
A: By the study of diatonic scales, passages of combined intervals, arpeggios, chromatic scales, turns, shakes, light and shade.

Q: How long will this study take?
A: Not less than two years.

Q: Is agility the only result of this study?
A: When properly directed, it renders the organ flexible, even, mellow, besides strengthening and preparing it for the florid style as well as for the plain and declamatory (canto fiorito, canto spianato, canto declamato).

Q: Cannot singers avoid all that trouble?
A: They cannot, but they do. Anyone who wishes to obtain proficiency in the art can no more avoid this amount of study than a violinist, a pianist, or any other instrumentalist. A less ambitious singer may be content with ballads or nota e parola pieces. But even if the singer be gifted with a fine voice and talent, the organ will show the absence of culture, by the uncertain and irregular manner of uniting and colouring the vowels.


Garcia, Manuel. Hints on singing. E. Ascherberg, 1894.



From Two Registers to Three…(Registrational Mitosis?)

We now come to 1840—a year made noteworthy in the life of Garcia by another important advance in his career.

Since his appointment to a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire, his reputation had continued to be steadily consolidated, and his clientèle included, besides those who were being trained for the musical profession, a great number of amateur pupils, among whom were to be found not only some of the most distinguished names in Paris, but many members of the royal family itself. Throughout this period he had been steadily working to increase his knowledge relative to the mechanism of the voice, and at last, in 1840, he found that his investigations had reached a point at which they might be found of interest to others.

Accordingly, in this year he set down the result of his studies in the classical paper which he submitted to the Académie des Sciences de France under the title, “Mémoire sur la voix humaine,” to which was added the rather odd-sounding subtitle, “Description des produits du phonateur humain.” In it he embodied the various discoveries which he had made relating to the larynx.

Among the principal points to which he drew attention were the following:—

(1) The head voice does not necessarily begin where the chest voice ends, and a certain number of notes can be produced in either register.

(2) The chest voice and the head voice are produced by a special and spontaneous modification of the vocal organs, and the exhaustion of the air contained in the chest is more rapid in the proportion of four to three in the production of a head than a chest note.

(3) The voice can produce the same sounds in two different timbres—the clear or open, and the sombre or closed.

The memoir on the human voice was duly reported on by Majendie, Savart, and Dutrochet at a public meeting which was held on April 12, 1841, the result being that this resolution was passed: “The thanks of the Academy are due to Professor Garcia for the skilful use which he has made of his opportunities as a teacher of singing to arrive at a satisfactory physical theory of the human voice.” The circumstance gave occasion for a somewhat acrimonious discussion concerning certain points of priority as between Garcia and MM. Diday and Pétrequin, two French scientists.

This was followed up by the publication of the ‘Method of Teaching Singing,’ in which Garcia cleared up the confusion which had hitherto existed between “timbre” and “register.”

He defined the expression “register” as being a series of consecutive homogeneous sounds produced by one mechanism, differing essentially from another series of sounds equally homogeneous produced by another mechanism, whatever modifications of “timbre” and of strength they may offer. “Each of the registers,” he added, “has its own extent and sonority, which varies according to the sex of the individual and the nature of the organ.”

At this time he stated that there were two registers; but in later years, with the invention of the laryngoscope and the examination of the vocal cords which resulted from it, he altered the original division from two to three*—chest, medium, and head-voice,—and this is accepted by all as scientifically correct according to the definition of “register” laid down by him.

Mackinlay, Malcolm Sterling. Garcia the Centenarian and His Times: Being a Memoir of Manuel Garcia’s Life and Labours for the Advancement of Music and Science. W. Blackwood and sons, 1908.


*A salient point to remember is that Garcia Jr. laid out his first treatise as a representation of his father’s (and therefore the Old Italian School’s) work and pedagogical system. In his own words from the preface, “C’est sa méthode que j’ai voulu réproduire, en essayant seulement de la ramener à une forme plus théorique et de rattacher les résultats aux causes.” [It’s HIS method that I wanted to reproduce, trying only to bring in a more theoretical form and attach results to causes.]

Up to this time (c. 1840), Garcia Jr believed in a two-register theory of the voice. It wasn’t until he could SEE the voice in a laryngeal mirror in 1854 that he changed his mind. So, we have, in effect, a direct shift of primacy in voice training from  ‘listening’ to the voice to ‘seeing’ it. Many historians and writers attribute this discovery to a confusion and debate that would rage to the present day.

It is my personal belief that Garcia’s definition of register still holds up to the present day. However, as ‘a mechanism’, the human voice has only two anatomical muscular structures by which sound can be produced (the arytenoid and the cricothyroid muscle systems). Unless a ‘third mechanism’ and its accompanying nerve centers could be proven to exist, there is no way a third register could be operational in the human larynx.

Garcia Jr’s tribute to his father in the preface of his Traité is conclusive proof that Garcia’s father sang and taught a two-register theory of the voice. Manuel Jr was most assuredly trained by his father, and observed him teaching a two-register approach for all his students, both male and female. This ‘mitosis’ of registers by Garcia Jr in 1854 is a watershed moment in the history of voice pedagogy.


From Whence a Voice Science? Part 1 of 2

Scientific knowledge of the vocal organs began to influence methods of vocal instruction about the third decade of the nineteenth century. During something like eighty years before that time the vocal organs and their operations had been a favorite field of investigation for a large number of physicians and acousticians. For a long time teachers of singing paid little attention to the scientific aspects of voice production. But early in the past century the growing public interest in scientific matters began to influence vocal teachers, and the anatomy of the throat received a constantly increasing measure of attention from them. The most enlightened members of the profession made themselves familiar with the structure of the vocal organs, and followed the results of scientific study in this department with close attention.

This awakening of interest in the scientific aspects of tone production was not due to any dissatisfaction with the existing method on the part of vocal teachers and students. On the contrary, they were fully satisfied, as they had abundant right to be, with the results obtained from the traditional system. But a general feeling began to be evident about 1830 that voice culture might be improved if it were placed on a rational basis and supported by scientific principles.

Manuel Garcia (1805-1905), the inventor of the laryngoscope, is the most striking figure in the revolution which gradually took place in the practices of vocal training. He had been carefully educated by his father in the traditional method, and had sung with modest success in the opera, both in Europe and in America. In 1832 he retired from the stage and determined to devote his life to teaching. From the outset of his career as a vocal teacher Garcia took an active interest in all the scientific problems presented by the production of the voice. What actually takes place in the throat during the production of tone was the question which engaged his mind for many years. This question the scientific investigators were unable to answer. They could dissect the larynx and point out the attachments of all its muscles; but that did not show how these muscles operate in phonation. As the larynx is hidden in the throat, no way was known for observing its actual movements.

Garcia labored for several years to find some instrument by which the larynx could be studied during the performance of its functions. At last, in the year 1855, he succeeded in viewing his own vocal cords by means of a little mirror which he held in the back of his throat. He gave the name of laryngoscope to this tiny mirror set on a handle. It was exhibited at a meeting of the Royal Society of London in the same year, and the introduction of scientific methods in voice culture may conveniently be referred to that date.

A curious fact in this connection is that Garcia himself never fully adopted the scientific system. He was fifty years old at the time of his invention of the laryngoscope, of which twenty-three years had been spent in the active profession of voice culture. His purpose in studying the vocal mechanism was partly to satisfy his own inquiring mind, partly to find an assured scientific basis for the traditional method. Nothing was further from his ideas than the complete abandonment of the old method. Until the close of his long life Garcia continued to teach along the old lines, and some of the greatest singers of modern times bear witness as his pupils to the excellence of his instruction.

With the invention of the laryngoscope a new line of vocal investigation was opened up, which was eagerly followed by a vast number of scientists. Most of our present information about the workings of the larynx has been obtained by means of this little instrument. Other aspects of the vocal action have also been exhaustively studied, particularly the management of the breath, the reinforcing of the tones by resonance, and the formation of the various vowels and consonants.

Each new discovery and theory relating to the vocal action was soon absorbed into the current methods, and for some time conditions were decidedly unsettled. It took indeed about twenty years for methods of instruction to crystallize along definite lines. But we may say that since 1875 the scientific system of vocal management has been almost exclusively followed.

Taylor, David Clark. “New Light on the Old Italian Method: An Outline of the Historical System of Voice Culture, with a Plea for Its Revival.” (1916).

Cultivation vs. Production in the Voice Studio

One of the most interesting words that comes up over and over again in treatises and writings on the singing voice pre-1850 is the world CULTIVATION.

Books on singing from pre-1850 or so are entitled, “Bassini’s Art of singingan analytical, physiological and practical system for the cultivation of the voice.” Another singing text is “Baker’s Formation and Cultivation of the Voice: A Complete and Practical Method of Vocalization, Consisting of Every Variety of Scale Exercises and Solfeggios, Progressively Arranged, and Adapted to the Wants of Beginners and Advanced Pupils in the Art of Singing.

Analogies of planting and farming go all the way back to the Italian singing masters Tosi and Mancini. In his book on singing from 1774 Mancini invokes an analogy to farming:

“Art consists in knowing where nature directs us, and to what we have been destined; understanding at once the gifts of nature, cultivating them easily, man can perfect himself; how sure is harvest for the attentive farmer, who has observed and understood the different seeds, which are fecund in diverse types of earth.”

The analogy of cultivation from an agrarian society makes total sense: the pace of life was much slower. Anyone who ever spent time or grew up on a farm (as I did) knows that the cycles of planting and harvest aren’t quick. You have to WAIT for those buds to bud. It’s NOT a quick fix to plant something in the ground and expect instant results. Mums must be planted in the summer for a fall harvest.

The training of singers up to that point in time was a daily affair that lasted for 7-8 years. While considerable, efforts were able to be made over a gradual period, and voices were able to bloom in their own time.

However, a dramatic shift occurred in vocal pedagogy in the mid-nineteenth century, and the word voice CULTIVATION began to be replaced by voice PRODUCTION. Books appeared on the shelves of music stores like Wesley Mills “Voice Production in Singing and Speaking,” and Floyd S. Muckey’s “The Natural Method of Voice Production in Speech and Song” which included a picture of the author at some supposed contraption that was helping him with his voice “production”. Henry Harper Hulbert’s text “Breathing for Voice Production” showed all about how to produce the voice with the proper exercises of the lungs and torso. Pattou’s “The Art of Voice-Production” is another text in that vein.

From my research the word PRODUCTION did not enter the vocabulary of the singer and the voice teacher until about 1850-1860. So, what changed that affected that shift in wording with regard to developing the human voice?

My take is that the zeitgeist of the 1800s affected how voices were trained.  With the impact of the Industrial Revolution, people were looking for ways of ‘speeding up’ processes that normally took great amounts of time. It would only be natural for vocal pedagogy to take a share in the cultural shift toward greater efficiency and faster development. Hence, a shift into a mode of ‘producing’ voices instead of ‘cultivating’ them. Vocal science also came into the voice studio, and many writers and authors point to this as the watershed moment in voice training.

Manuel Garcia II wasn’t immune from this cultural temptation of productivity and heightened awareness of science. His inventing of the laryngoscope was done in an effort to ‘speed up training.’ However, Morell Mackenzie (1837-1892) said that “once the laryngoscope was invented, it threw the whole training process into chaos, because people stopped listening to the voice and began to LOOK at it.”

Salvatore Marchesi had this to say in his book “A Vademecum for Singing-teachers and Pupils” (1902):

But Manuel Garcia, when trying to investigate the mechanism of the vocal organ, aimed exclusively at establishing a rational physiological system for the production and development of the voice in connection with the art of song, and proposed putting an end, if possible, to the dangerous interference of dabblers. We regret having to place on record the fact that the great man did not see his aspirations realized. On the contrary, the new scientific path he had opened to the cultivation of the human voice fell a prey to empiricism ; thousands of undesirable meddlers seized upon the subject and brought about confusion, and, as a consequence, the inevitable decline of the finest of all the fine arts.


Marchesi also had this to say about doctors and speech therapists encroaching into the arena of the voice trainer:

With regard to laryngologists who publish works on “voice-production” and “voice-culture,” I declare openly that they betray their moral, human, and scientific mission, which should be to visit patients and cure diseases of the throat. Instead of so doing, through the publication of books on “voice-production,” complicated with scientific quotations and dilemmas, and consequently out of proportion to the general standard of instruction, they create unconsciously a number of physical disorders and diseases among singing people, and thus contribute to the decline of the art of song. Teachers and scholars, reading a work published under the authority of a well- known laryngologist’s name, try to adopt the new theories proposed by the author, understanding them but partially, incorrectly, or not at all, and viewing the new dilemmas in the light of their own intelligence and knowledge. In so doing, through the inadequate interpretation of what they read, they invent false theories of their own, and ruin thousands of the best voices.


Music style also shifted as well. The humanism of the Enlightenment looked upon the practice of castration as barbarous, and so by the middle of the 1800s there were no more castrati to be found on the stages of the opera centers of the world. The opera buffa also sounded a death knell to the castrato voice: there were no parts in comedy for the evirati. Their voices were more suited to serious opera. So, the virtuoso training practices of these singers were gradually neglected or lost over time. Rossini was one of the last composers who had been highly influenced by the singing of the castrati that he had heard in his youth. Rossini’s music still carried much of the tradition of this earlier school in its approach to vocal display and ornamentation.

Orchestral demands also changed the way singers trained their voices. Orchestrations thickened and suddenly singers had to ‘compete’ with larger symphonic sound. The orchestrations for Bellini’s Norma and Beethoven’s Fidelio are distinctly different. It’s interesting to note that for those singers that had been trained along Old Italian school lines, they remarked they were able to sing all styles of music. The older training was still seen as superior to any newer ‘methods’ of singing. Adelina Patti had never heard the word ‘diaphragm’ until she visited the voice studio of Jean De Reszke in Paris.

It’s interesting to live with this word CULTIVATION in the voice studio. I have come to embrace it as I work with all types of singers to help them understand the path of learning to sing. CULTIVATION to me speaks of indirectness, an allowing of something to happen, and a ‘weeding out’ of improper response. PRODUCTION on the other hand reminds me of DIRECT controls, DOING something, MAKING something happen, and SPEED, as well as conformity and corporatism. I find the latter incongruent with the Old Italian School. By working indirectly on the voice through combinations of vowel, volume, pitches, and consonants, I’m able to cultivate the inherent ‘seed’ that is already in the voice, waiting to be developed at the right time and harvested for a beautiful performance.

Manuel Garcia–The Grand Old Man of Music

Manuel Garcia was born in Madrid on March 17, 1805. His has been not merely a long, but an active life, and is unequaled in respect of its duration in the records of musical art. It amazes one to think that he was an infant 7 months old when the battle of Trafalgar was fought, was 10 years of age at the date of Waterloo, that England has had 5 sovereigns in his time; that it is 84 years since his “beautiful soprano voice changed into a no less beautiful tenor”; and that nearly 80 years have rolled away since he made his début as a dramatic tenor in Paris; and that it is actually 75 years—three-quarters of a century—since he retired from the operatic stage; 72 years since he lost his father, and just half a century since he invented the laryngoscope, and about that time since he settled in London. And now, on the eve of his entering upon his hundredth year, he is wonderfully well.

Manuel Garcia is a fine example of heredity. His family were musical. His father was one of the most accomplished musicians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A born artist, he made his début at Cadiz, when only 17, in an operetta of his own composition. He was the great “primo tenore” whom Murat, when King of Naples, placed at the head of his palace choir; for whom, in 1816, Rossini specially composed the part of Almaviva in “II Barbiere di Siviglia”; who a little later took London by storm, and who astounded New York in 1827 by producing no fewer than 11 new Italian operas within a single year. His eldest daughter was the inimitable Maria Garcia, better known as Malibran, while his younger daughter, still surviving, was the distinguished Pauline Garcia (Madame Viardot). He was not less an instance of heredity in that, like his father, he was an excellent teacher of music, and was active in that profession for over 7 decades in Paris and London.

The first essential of longevity, according to the authorities, is to start life with a good constitution. No doubt that was Manuel Garcia’s endowment; but it was not evident in 1829, when he quitted the operatic stage because “his physique was not equal to the strain.” But there is a second condition, hardly less essential, an active life in a pursuit that gives pleasure. It is the elixir of existence to be happily employed. The human organism is like an electrical machine and wholesome pleasure recharges the battery and there is perhaps no employment so life-giving as the artistic. Darwin, Carlyle, Herbert Spencer, despite chronic indisposition, reached each a great age. Manuel Garcia loved music and loved to teach it, and he had his reward in training vocalists and histrions of historic fame.

Manuel Garcia has the happy satisfaction of having given to the service of mankind a most valuable instrument—the laryngoscope—which he invented 50 years ago. As a teacher of music he long desired to know more about the organs concerned in the production of voice. So far back as 1840 he had submitted to the French Institute a “Mémoire sur la Voix Humaine,” but he desired to know the science of the voice still, more intimately. “I longed,” he says, “to see a healthy glottis exposed in the very act of singing”; and he wondered how this could be done, and so wondering, he invented the laryngoscope. This is how it happened, to quote his own words:—

“One day in the autumn of 1854 I was strolling in the Palais Royal, preoccupied with the ever-recurring wish, when suddenly I saw the two mirrors of the laryngoscope in their respective positions as if actually before my eyes. I went straight to Charrière, the surgical instrument maker, and, asking if he happened to possess a small mirror with a long handle, was supplied with a dentist’s mirror. Returning home, I placed against the uvula the little mirror (which I heated with warm water and Carefully dried), then flashing on its surface with a hand mirror a ray of sunlight I saw at once the glottis wide open before me, so fully exposed that I could see a portion of the trachea. From what I then witnessed it was easy to conclude that the theory attributing to the glottis alone the power of engendering sound was confirmed, from which it followed that the different positions taken by the larynx in front of the throat have no action whatever in the formation of sound.” But far beyond the end Garcia had in view the laryngoscope has been a boon to mankind. Several years passed before even the medical profession awoke to its value; now it is used the world over for examination of the throat and upper portion of the windpipe, and must in the past half-century have contributed to the saving of thousands of lives.

It was not, however, until 1895 that Manuel Garcia severed his connection with the Royal Academy of Music, and afterward he continued to instruct private pupils. Some of his friends are inclined to attribute the excellent health enjoyed by the veteran musician to his wonderful powers of digestion. It is said that even after he was 80 years of age Manuel Garcia relished a lunch consisting of hot buttered rolls and strong tea.—London Daily Telegraph