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 for
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.