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
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.