The Great Scale

This is the most necessary exercise for all kinds of voices. It was

taught to my mother; she taught it to all her pupils and to us. But

I am probably the only one of them all who practises it faithfully!

I do not trust the others. As a pupil one must practise it twice a

day, as a professional singer at least once.

The breath must be well prepared, the expiration still better, for the

duration of these fiv
and four long tones is greater than would be

supposed. The first tone must be attacked not too piano, and sung

only so strongly as is necessary to reach the next one easily without

further crescendo, while the propagation form for the next tone is

produced, and the breath wisely husbanded till the end of the phrase.

The first of each of the phrases ends nasally in the middle range, the

second toward the forehead and the cavities of the head. The lowest

tone must already be prepared to favor the resonance of the head

cavities, by thinking of [=a], consequently placing the larynx high

and maintaining the resonating organs in a very supple and elastic

state. In the middle range, ah is mingled particularly with oo,

that the nose may be reached; further, the auxiliary vowel e is

added to it, which guides the tone to the head cavities. In descending

the attack must be more concentrated, as the tone is slowly directed

toward the nose on oo or o, to the end of the figure.

When oo, a, and e are auxiliary vowels, they need not be plainly

pronounced. (They form an exception in the diphthongs, Trauuum,

Leiiid, Lauuune, Feuyer, etc.) As auxiliary vowels they are only

means to an end, a bridge, a connection from one thing to another.

They can be taken anywhere with any other sound; and thence it may be

seen how elastic the organs can be when they are skilfully managed.

The chief object of the great scale is to secure the pliant, sustained

use of the breath, precision in the preparation of the propagation

form, the proper mixture of the vowels which aid in placing the organs

in the right position for the tone, to be changed for every different

tone, although imperceptibly; further, the intelligent use of the

resonance of the palate and head cavities, especially the latter,

whose tones, soaring above everything else, form the connection with

the nasal quality for the whole scale.

The scale must be practised without too strenuous exertion, but not

without power, gradually extending over the entire compass of the

voice; and that is, if it is to be perfect, over a compass of two

octaves. These two octaves will have been covered, when, advancing the

starting-point by semitones, the scale has been carried up through an

entire octave. So much every voice can finally accomplish, even if the

high notes must be very feeble.

The great scale, properly elaborated in practice, accomplishes

wonders: it equalizes the voice, makes it flexible and noble, gives

strength to all weak places, operates to repair all faults and breaks

that exist, and controls the voice to the very heart. Nothing escapes


By it ability as well as inability is brought to light--something that

is extremely unpleasant to those without ability. In my opinion it is

the ideal exercise, but the most difficult one I know. By devoting

forty minutes to it every day, a consciousness of certainty and

strength will be gained that ten hours a day of any other exercise

cannot give.

This should be the chief test in all conservatories. If I were at the

head of one, the pupils should be allowed for the first three years to

sing at the examinations only difficult exercises, like this great

scale, before they should be allowed to think of singing a song or an

aria, which I regard only as cloaks for incompetency.

For teaching me this scale--this guardian angel of the voice--I cannot

be thankful enough to my mother. In earlier years I used to like to

express myself freely about it. There was a time when I imagined that

it strained me. My mother often ended her warnings at my neglect of it

with the words, You will be very sorry for it! And I was very sorry

for it. At one time, when I was about to be subjected to great

exertions, and did not practise it every day, but thought it was

enough to sing coloratura fireworks, I soon became aware that my

transition tones would no longer endure the strain, began easily to

waver, or threatened even to become too flat. The realization of it

was terrible! It cost me many, many years of the hardest and most

careful study; and it finally brought me to realize the necessity of

exercising the vocal organs continually, and in the proper way, if I

wished always to be able to rely on them.

Practice, and especially the practice of the great, slow scale, is the

only cure for all injuries, and at the same time the most excellent

means of fortification against all over-exertion. I sing it every day,

often twice, even if I have to sing one of the greatest roles in the

evening. I can rely absolutely on its assistance.

If I had imparted nothing else to my pupils but the ability to sing

this one great exercise well, they would possess a capital fund of

knowledge which must infallibly bring them a rich return on their

voices. I often take fifty minutes to go through it only once, for I

let no tone pass that is lacking in any degree in pitch, power, and

duration, or in a single vibration of the propagation form.