The Vowel-sound _ah_

There is much discussion as to whether ah, oo, or some other vowel

is the one best adapted for general practice. In former times practice

was entirely on the vowel-sound ah. The old Italians taught it; my

mother was trained so, and never allowed her pupils to use any other

vowel during the first months of their instruction. Later, to be sure,

every letter, every word, was practised and improved continually, till

it was
correct, and had impressed itself upon the memory, as well as

the ear, of the pupil for all time.

I explain the matter thus:--

The singer's mouth should always make an agreeable impression. Faces

that are forever grinning or showing fish mouths are disgusting and


The pleasing expression of the mouth requires the muscular

contractions that form the bright vowel ah.

Most people who are not accustomed to using their vocal resonance

pronounce the ah quite flat, as if it were the vowel-sound lying

lowest. If it is pronounced with the position of the mouth belonging

to the bright vowels, it has to seek its resonance, in speaking as

well as in singing, in the same place as the dark vowels, on the

high-arched palate. To permit this, it must be mingled with oo. The

furrows in the tongue must also be formed, just as with oo and o,

only special attention must be given that the back of the tongue does

not fall, but remains high, as in pronouncing [=a]. In this way ah

comes to lie between oo-o'ah'y[=a], and forms at the same time the

connection between the bright and the dark vowels, and the reverse.

For this reason it was proper that ah should be preferred as the

practice vowel, as soon as it was placed properly between the two

extremes, and had satisfied all demands. I prefer to teach it, because

its use makes all mistakes most clearly recognizable. It is the most

difficult vowel. If it is well pronounced, or sung, it produces the

necessary muscular contractions with a pleasing expression of the

mouth, and makes certain a fine tone color by its connection with oo

and o. If the ah is equally well formed in all ranges of the

voice, a chief difficulty is mastered.

Those who have been badly taught, or have fallen into bad ways, should

practise the vocal exercise I have given above, with ya-ye-yah,

etc., slowly, listening to themselves carefully. Good results cannot

fail; it is an infallible means of improvement.

Italians who sing well never speak or sing the vowel sound ah

otherwise than mixed, and only the neglect of this mixture could have

brought about the decadence of the Italian teaching of song. In

Germany no attention is paid to it. The ah, as sung generally by

most Italians of the present day, quite flat, sounds commonplace,

almost like an affront. It can range itself, that is connect itself,

with no other vowel, makes all vocal connection impossible, evolves

very ugly registers; and, lying low in the throat, summons forth no

palatal resonance. The power of contraction of the muscles of speech

is insufficient, and this insufficiency misleads the singer to

constrict the throat muscles, which are not trained to the endurance

of it; thereby further progress is made impossible. In the course of

time the tone becomes flat at the transitions. The fatal tremolo is

almost always the result of this manner of singing.

Try to sing a scale upward on ah, placing the tongue and muscles of

speech at the same time on [=a], and you will be surprised at the

agreeable effect. Even the thought of it alone is often enough,

because the tongue involuntarily takes the position of its own


I remember very well how Mme. Desiree Artot-Padilla, who had a low

mezzo-soprano voice, used to toss off great coloratura pieces,

beginning on the vowel-sound ah, and then going up and down on a,

ee, aueoah. At the time I could not understand why she did it; now

I know perfectly,--because it was easier for her. The breath is

impelled against the cavities of the head, the head tones are set into


Behind the a position there must be as much room provided as is

needed for all the vowels, with such modifications as each one

requires for itself. The matter of chief importance is the position of

the tongue in the throat, that it shall not be in the way of the

larynx, which must be able to move up and down, even though very

slightly, without hindrance.

All vowels must be able to flow into each other; the singer must be

able to pass from one to another without perceptible alteration, and

back again.