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Preparation For Singing
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Theodor Wachtel
Of The Breath
Italian And German
Preliminary Practice
How To Hold One's Self When Practising
Practical Exercises
White Voices
Preparation For Singing
The Vowel-sound _ah_

Of The Breath And Whirling Currents


The veriest beginner knows that in order to use the breath to the
fullest advantage, it must remain very long diffused back in the
mouth. A mistaken idea of singing forward misleads most to press
it forward and thus allow it to be speedily dissipated.

The column of breath coming in an uninterrupted stream from the
larynx, must, as soon as it flows into the form prepared for it
according to the required tone, by the tongue and palate, fill this
form, soaring through all its corners, with its vibrations. It makes
whirling currents, which circulate in the elastic form surrounding it,
and it must remain there till the tone is high enough, strong enough,
and sustained enough to satisfy the judgment of the singer as well as
the ear of the listener. Should there be lacking the least element of
pitch, strength, or duration, the tone is imperfect and does not meet
the requirement.

Learning and teaching to hear is the first task of both pupil and
teacher. One is impossible without the other. It is the most difficult
as well as the most grateful task, and it is the only way to reach

Even if the pupil unconsciously should produce a flawless tone, it is
the teacher's duty to acquaint him clearly with the causes of it. It
is not enough to sing well; one must also know how one does it. The
teacher must tell the pupil constantly, making him describe clearly
his sensations in singing, and understand fully the physiological
factors that cooeperate to produce them.

The sensations in singing must coincide with mine as here described,
if they are to be considered as correct; for mine are based logically
on physiological causes and correspond precisely with the operation of
these causes. Moreover, all my pupils tell me--often, to be sure, not
till many months have passed--how exact my explanations are; how
accurately, on the strength of them, they have learned to feel the
physiological processes. They have learned, slowly, to be sure, to
become conscious of their errors and false impressions; for it is very
difficult to ascertain such mistakes and false adjustments of the
organs. False sensations in singing and disregarded or false ideas of
physiological processes cannot immediately be stamped out. A long time
is needed for the mind to be able to form a clear image of those
processes, and not till then can knowledge and improvement be
expected. The teacher must repeatedly explain the physiological
processes, the pupil repeatedly disclose every confusion and
uncertainty he feels, until the perfect consciousness of his
sensations in singing is irrevocably impressed upon his memory, that
is, has become a habit.

Among a hundred singers hardly one can be found whose single tones
meet every requirement. And among a thousand listeners, even among
teachers, and among artists, hardly one hears it.

I admit that such perfect tones sometimes, generally quite
unconsciously, are heard from young singers, and especially from
beginners, and never fail to make an impression. The teacher hears
that they are good, so does the public. Only a very few know why, even
among singers, because only a very few know the laws governing perfect
tone production. Their talent, their ear perchance, tell them the
truth; but the causes they neither know nor look for.

On such unconscious singing directors, managers, and even
conductors, build mistakenly their greatest hopes. No one hears what
is lacking, or what will soon be lacking, and all are surprised when
experienced singers protest against it.

They become enthusiastic, properly, over beautiful voices, but pursue
quite the wrong path in training them for greater tasks. As soon as
such persons are obtained, they are immediately bundled into all
roles; they have hardly time to learn one role by heart, to say
nothing of comprehending it and working it up artistically. The stars
must shine immediately! But with what resources? With the fresh
voice alone? Who is there to teach them to use their resources on the
stage? Who to husband them for the future? The manager? the director?
Not at all. When the day comes that they can no longer perform what,
not they themselves, but the directors, expected of them, they are put
to one side, and if they do not possess great energy and strength,
often entirely succumb. They could not meet the demands made upon
them, because they did not know how to use their resources.

I shall be told that tones well sung, even unconsciously, are enough.
But that is not true. The least unfavorable circumstance,
over-exertion, indisposition, an unaccustomed situation, anything can
blow out the unconscious one's light, or at least make it flicker
badly. Of any self-help, when there is ignorance of all the
fundamentals, there can be no question. Any help is grasped at. Then
appears the so-called (but false) individuality, under whose mask so
much that is bad presents itself to art and before the public.

This is not remarkable, in view of the complexity of the phenomena of
song. Few teachers concern themselves with the fundamental studies;
they often do not sing at all themselves, or they sing quite wrongly;
and consequently can neither describe the vocal sensations nor test
them in others. Theory alone is of no value whatever. With old singers
the case is often quite the contrary--so both seize whatever help they
can lay hold of. The breath, that vibrates against the soft palate,
when it is raised, or behind it in the cavities of the head, produces
whirling currents through its continuous streaming forth and its
twofold division. These currents can circulate only in unbroken
completeness of form. The longer their form remains unimpaired, and
the more economically the continuous breath pressure is maintained,
the less breath do these currents need, the less is emitted unused
from the mouth.

If an elastic form is found in the mouth in which the currents can
circulate untouched by any pressure or undue contraction or expansion
of it, the breath becomes practically unlimited. That is the simple
solution of the paradox that without deep breathing one may often have
much breath, and, after elaborate preparations, often none at all;
because the chief attention is generally directed to inhalation,
instead of to the elastic forming of the organs for the breath, sound
currents, and tone. The one thing needed is the knowledge of the
causes, and the necessary skill in preparing the form, avoiding all
pressure that could injure it, whether originating in the larynx,
tongue, or palate, or in the organs that furnish the breath pressure.

The singer's endeavors, consequently, must be directed to keeping the
breath as long as possible sounding and vibrating not only forward but
back in the mouth, since the resonance of the tone is spread upon and
above the entire palate, extends from the front teeth to the wall of
the throat. He must concern himself with preparing for the vibrations,
pliantly and with mobility, a powerful, elastic, almost floating
envelope, which must be filled entirely, with the help of a continuous
vocal mixture,--a mixture of which the components are indistinguishable.

Next: The Singer's Physiological Studies

Previous: Of The Breath

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