Information On Voice-training Collected By The Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association

I am indebted to the Rev. W. Miles Barnes, rector of Monkton,

Dorchester, for the following information, recently obtained by him on

the subject of voice-training. It appears that for the information of

choir instructors (some 200 in number) in union with the Salisbury

Diocesan Choral Association, the advice of precentors and organists of

cathedrals was lately sought as to the best way of correcting a very

common fault
in the singing of country choirs.

The following questions were proposed:

"(I.) It is a common practice in country choirs for boys and

tenors to force the lower register to sing notes which

should be taken in the higher or head register. The

notes thus forced are harsh and unmusical in tone, and

generally flat in pitch. How would you correct this

fault in boys?"

"(II.) What method is employed in ---- Cathedral for developing

and strengthening the higher (head) register in

boys' voices?"

The following are extracts from the replies:--

Rev. F. J. HELMORE, Precentor of Canterbury.

I should recommend the practice of the first five notes of the scales of

A, B[b], B, and C, piano, taken rather slowly, and then of intervals

from G to D, G to E[b], G to E, A to E, &c. &c. After that I would try

them with the complete scales of E, F, F[#], and G, fast and forte,


If no improvement is perceptible, begin again. Practice is the main

thing, after a boy has got to understand his faults.

Rev. W. MANN, M.A., Precentor of Bristol.

(1.) I think it almost impossible to remedy the evil you complain of

after the boys have been accustomed to sing upper notes from the chest

for some time--say one or two years. Our practice here is to secure boys

between the ages of 9 and 11, before they have been singing elsewhere,

or certainly before they have acquired any faulty tricks of forcing the


(2.) In training boys' voices never allow them to shout. If they

commence singing when young they may be taught by scale practice (always

singing quietly) to bridge over the break which exists between the chest

and head voice. This is an art, and requires experience.

(3.) Speaking generally, I should say that judicious scale practice is

the remedy likely to be of most service in the case specified, teaching

boys, by singing quietly, to glide the chest voice into the upper

register. I recommend the syllable "la" as generally best for the

purpose all through the scale. Boys should keep their tongues down, open

mouths well, sing not through teeth, &c. &c. I find that boys acquire

the cathedral style of singing (with the well-known flute or bell-like

tone) chiefly by example. In singing with boys who have already acquired

it the younger ones catch the style, just as birds are taught to sing by

trained songsters. The untrained rustic can never naturally produce this

tone, but much may be done by (1) careful scale practice; (2) strict

enforcement of a quiet easy style, and rigid prohibition of shouting, or

forcing the voice; (3) the occasional example of trained singers.

Rev. C. HYLTON STEWART, Precentor of Chester.

The great thing is not to train boys up through break in the voice,

but down through it, and so to coach them that the break becomes

imperceptible. The top notes ought to be practised very softly until a

good round note is procured. This, however, can seldom be done out of a

cathedral, as it requires constant attention.

Rev. W. E. DICKSON, Precentor of Ely.

In this Cathedral, and I suppose in every other, the boys have at least

one hour of daily practice under the most favourable circumstances of

quiet music-room and good pianoforte, and an able teacher. The two

orderly services follow with the regularity of a clock, and in these the

voices of the boys are balanced and supported by those of adult

singers--presumably, good vocalists.

I think you will agree that no practical rules, available by instructors

of village choirs, can be founded upon arrangements so far beyond their

reach. To describe any "Method" of developing voices under such

circumstances would be quite delusive.

A life-long experience in the training of parish choirs would lead me to

say that the best approach to true voice production is made when a lady

takes charge of the choir, and has the boys to practise at her own


To say that all instructors should use unwearied diligence and unfailing

patience and kindness in the attempt to get soft singing, is only to

repeat a very trite remark.

In schools, the mistake is often made of singing almost all the

exercises in the key of C, and commencing all scales with the syllable

"Do." In trying candidates for admission to the choir, we constantly

find that they have been accustomed to a scale of 13 notes only (one

octave) up and down. The scales should begin on all or any of the

notes--D[#], B[Symbol: natural], G[b], &c., and the peculiarities of the

intervals should be familiarly explained.

A pamphlet might be written. But there is no "Royal road."

J. M. W. YOUNG, Esq., Organist of Lincoln.

The precentor has forwarded your note to me. In answer to your question

asking how to prevent the trebles in country choirs from forcing the

upper notes, I would suggest that when practising the choir, care should

be taken that the trebles are never allowed to sing even the middle

notes loud, only mf, and they should be frequently practised to sing

piano. If this be attended to, it will, in a great measure, prevent

the forcing of the voice on the higher notes, which should never be

practised otherwise than softly.

Country choirs nearly always sing twice as loud as they ought to do,

consequently the tone becomes harsh and grating, and they invariably

sing the upper notes out of tune.

I never allow the Cathedral choristers to practise in a loud tone of

voice, yet their voices are rich and mellow, and there is never any want

of power when it is required. Any tendency to force the voice is checked

at once. It will be found very useful to practise the trebles with the

diatonic scale at a moderately quick pace, taking care to sing it

smoothly and piano throughout, first to "OO," next to "Oh," and

finally to "Ah."