Francesco Lamperti: guide to the study of singing I

After declaring in the preface his opinions about the state of vocal art at the beginning of the second half of the 19th century, maestro Francesco Lamperti begins the presentation of the articles that make up his Theoretical-practical-elementary guide to the study of singing.

Of the voice.

Question. What is the voice?
Answer. The voice is the sound produced by the air that is sent out from the lungs through the apparatus we have in the throat, called the larinx.

Q. Are all voices suitable for singing education?
A. No.

Q. Which are the voices that deserve to be cultivated?
A. Those that present a wide vocal range, homogeneity, strength and flexibility.

Q. Will it be enough to have a beautiful voice and a wide vocal range to become a good singer?
A. No, it is essential, in addition to the voice, to have a natural facility for repeating the sounds that come to our ears both from other voices and from any other instrument, as commonly said, to have an ear for music, since if we lack such a skill the most beautiful voice would be totally sterile.

Of the sounds of different nature produced by different vocal registers.

Q. The sounds that the voice can produce from low to high, are all of them of the same nature?
A. They are not. Only those who belong to the same register are of the same nature; the others, even though they could be homogeneous through all the range of the voice, differ essentially because there is a different mechanism of the throat being produced.

Q. How many registers does the female voice consist of?
A. Three registers.

Q. Which ones are they?
A. The chest register that is the lowest, the falsetto or middle register that is in the center of the voice, and the head register that is the highest and brightest of the female voice.

Q. How many registers make up the male voice?
A. Two registers only, chest register and falsetto, commonly known as mixed voice.1

General range of the female voice.
General range of the male voices.
Of the position of the person, of the mouth and of the vocal apparatus.

Q. In what position should the student be during the study?
A. The pupil should stand up straight, chest out, natural posture of the back, and head not too high or too low, in a word: in the position of the soldier.

Q. What is the most convenient way of placing the mouth to facilitate the emission of the voice?
A. The mouth should take the form of a smile, moving away the angles of the lips to show the teeth in the upper jaw, narrowing the lips against the teeth so that the sound wave hits a hard part and oscillates more strongly and the voice can come out free and clear.

Q. How do you place the tongue and the entire vocal apparatus so that the breath 2 flows without finding obstacles from the lungs to the lips?
A. The tongue is spread out in all its length so that there is as much free space in the mouth as possible and the entire vocal apparatus is naturally dilated and flexible.

Of breathing.

Q. What does breathing mean?
A. It means the double action of the lungs to attract the external air and resend it in reverse motion.

Q. Is it important for the singer to know how to breathe properly?
A. It is very important, essential, because it is not possible to develop the voice or to achieve a perfect singing of any kind if you do not know how to breathe well, and, moreover, if you are not the absolute master of your breathing mechanism.

Q. How can you achieve an excellent breathing?
A. Excellent breathing will be achieved by being in the position indicated earlier and observing all the precepts of Article III, then inhaling the air, without making it rub against the throat, little by little to fill the lungs slowly and without shaking, being thus able to retain it for more seconds without fatigue

Q. What will be the name of this slow and complete inhalation?
A. A full breath.

Q. When you sing any exercise or melody to a strict time, do you always take a whole breath?
A. No, unless the exercise or the melody are interrupted by long pauses, but when the singing is continuous and particularly if it is an allegro, you need to breathe slightly and swiftly, introducing a small increase of air into the lungs to fill the need of the moment.

Q. What will be the name of this swift breathing?
A. A half breath.

Q. Can it be set for everyone the same period of time for the length of breathing?
A. No, because having a longer or shorter fiato depends on the greater or lesser capacity of the lungs, on the ease with which the singer can emit a given note, and therefore the system of fixing the breathing points in the music can be harmful.

Q. Up to how many seconds can the pupil who is well trained in this type of breathing generally extend the duration of the fiato?
A. Up to twenty or more seconds.

Of the timbres.

Q. Which are the main Timbres that have a different action in the voice?
A. The main Timbres are two: open and close.

Q. Which is the Timbre that should be adopted for the daily study?
A. The open Timbre.

Q. For what reasons is the open Timbre adopted?
A. The open Timbre is adopted because it corrects the defects of the voice more easily, makes it easy to emit high-pitched sounds, it allows the voice to come out cleaner and above all it does not tire the vocal organ.

Q. How do you achieve open Timbre sounds?
A. They are achieved by putting into practice the precepts set out in Article III and by having the back of the throat well dilated with the vowel A.3

Q. Why do you indicate the vowel A above the others?
A. Because this vowel is the only one that opens the bottom of the throat well, and because when the student vocalizes clearly on A it is very easy for him to vocalize on all the other vowels.

Observations and precepts on Article V.

It was said earlier that it is necessary for the study to adopt the open Timbre, but this should not be confused with the white and sguajato Timbre.4 The emission of the Timbre, as Duprez opportunely observes, must be taken for the singing emission with the vowel A of the [Italian] word anima, it must be formed in the bottom of the throat, and the singer must take care that it does not change into O, because such an inflection would drag along the guttural timbre, which could give the voice a more rounded character in a room, but it would render it mute and without vibration in a theatre.

A very essential thing to observe in the education, especially of women, is the development of the central notes,5 generally weak in the female sex, that become even weaker and more defective by the compulsion to force high notes in the sopranos and low notes in the contraltos. With few exceptions, it is this general weakness in the centre of the voice that is the most damaging to the artists, as they must sing in these notes most of the time, and achieve through them the greatest effects.

Among the defective Timbres the most inapt for the study of singing is the one produced by bronchial imperfection and, according to Mancini’s opinion, the least inapt would be the nasal Timbre.

Of the emission of the voice.

Q. What is it meant by emission of the voice?
A. It is meant to attack the sound with maximum limpidity, with firm and precise intonation, sustaining it throughout the whole duration of the fiato.

Q. How many ways are there of practicing the messa or tenuta 6 of the voice?
A. There are four ways.

Q. Which one is the first?
A. The first way that is adopted for the emission of the voice, after having inhaled slowly and fully like it was described in Article IV, is to attack the sound clearly with a sonorous voice, without forcing it, supporting it on the fiato, and sustaining it with the same energy throughout the whole duration of the breath, ending the sound before the air runs out.

Q. Why is it that the sound is at first emitted with a sonorous voice instead of attacking it sweetly and then making it stronger?
A. Because the beginner cannot and should not attack the sounds sweetly, and wanting to force this, instead of helping the emission of the voice he would make it tired without any profit.

Q. Which is, and when is it studied, the second way to sustain sounds?
A. The second way is to be studied when the voice has been sufficiently trained; and it means to attack the sound with a sonorous voice as it has been said before, then diminishing it gradually until pianissimo and finishing before the fiato is exhausted.

Q. Which is the third way?
A. The third way is to put the voice on the fiato,7 pianissimo, to gradually make it stronger up to the greatest force, then holding the fiato sweetly to finish it before the lungs are completely empty.

Q. Which is the fourth and final way of emitting the voice and when should it be studied?
A. The last way is the most important and difficult to practice, and it should be studied only when the student is well trained in vocalizing and has mastered his breathing, so that he can attack the sound with maximum sweetness, making it stronger until the full development of its strength and then gradually diminish it to finish it pianissimo, preserving the same color throughout all the gradations of crescendo and diminuendo without effort.

Q. How do you call these sounds sustained and colored in this way?
A. They are called suoni filati.

Observations and precepts on Article VI.

The way in which the voice is emitted is one of the essential qualities of singing and deserves to be diligently cared for, the pleasant impression that the audience receives depends on the ease of emitting the singing spontaneously. And since the emission of the voice depends for the most part on the breath, let us want, as it is generally said, to breathe in all the largest volume of air that the lungs can hold, to avoid in the act of breathing any noise, any expression of effort in the figure, also to avoid raising the shoulders, and to give the emission the most easy and elegant aspect.

To this end, it is advisable to bring the mouth towards the smile; in the case that the student assumes an affected air by exaggerating such placement, it will be convenient to make him adopt with the physiognomy a pleading gesture.

It will also be optimal to make the emitted voice much smaller in strength than the amount of fiato, which will make the singing more natural, more uniform, more spontaneous, and will allow the artist to keep an amount of fiato even after the sound ceases.

Mancini believes that, with the aim of correcting the resulting defects in the emission of the voice, the teacher will be able to obtain a more correct and elegant sound by imitating and exaggerating the defects of the student.

On the support of the voice.

Q. Which is the support that should be given to the voice in order to be able to study without tiring the throat?
A. It is the support of the chest muscles and of the air concentrated in the lungs.

Q. How do you get such chest and fiato support?
A. By staying in the position and following the rules indicated in Article III and opening well the bottom of the throat with the vowel A the voice will come out limpid, sonorous and well supported both in piano and in forte, which is very important to obtain, since to a large extent the success of the career depends on this. Should it be the case that the student could not emit the vowel A, well supported on the chest, and it would come out too open, or, as it is said, in the mask, or nasal, he could at first emit it with the L, pronouncing La, in order to facilitate the way of making it supported and secure.

Observations and precepts on Article VII.

It will be of paramount importance for the pupil, under the protection of the teacher, to study the true character of his own voice in order not to be deceived in its extent, which in the beginning could have the appearance of a tenor and be a baritone or to believe that it is a soprano while being a contralto.

The nature of a voice can easily be understood by taking into account the duration of the breath on a given range of notes, on which the student can easily speak or syllabify and apply to them the colors that occur in the expression of love, hatred, joy and all the diverse feelings of man.

It is through the support of the voice that the student, as long as he is well directed, will know in which tessitura he can sing, will be able to render it elegant, to remedy the defects of intonation if they are not organic, and to train in a good singing school. In my opinion, it is in the support of the voice that rests the greatest secret of the art of singing and the future of an artist. Those who do not support in the aforementioned way do not sing, they may be able to emit stentorian sounds, but this sounds won’t be able to take part in any characterization, they can’t either emit spoken sounds 8 in which the soul is transfused and which can express human feelings and passions. The unsupported voice lacks expression; love, hatred, revenge produce a sound of the same impression and always the same or, instead of a sound, an unspeakable rumor, a mixture of different sounds.

1 Translator’s note: Lamperti mentions voce mista (mixed voice) as another way of calling the falsetto register. This doesn’t mean this is a register of “mixed” voice. Rather, he is alluding to the resonance mixture inherent to the optimal production of this register.

2 Translator’s note: Lamperti originally writes fiato, breath in our translation, referring to the air that is active in the production of the voice. Later on we chose to keep the original Italian word.

3 The famous Bernacchi of Bologna, in the Method of singing published by his pupil Bernardo Mengozzi, maintains that the vowel E could also be used: and in this regard it is stated in that Method: “We have said in Chapter II of this part that the scale should be executed with the vowel A and with the E alternately, and we add that you must vocalize only with these two vowels. We absolutely reject the use of vocalizing with other vowels, especially with I and U, because their articulation is totally contrary to the position of the mouth. This prohibition is based not only on the defects that these vowels give to the voice, but also on the unpleasant and monotonous effect produced by the singing phrases prolonged by more than four notes with the vowels that we exclude. A singer or composer who would apply singing phrases to these vowels would give a fair idea of their bad taste and would be worthy of disapproval. [Translator’s note: in this prescription regarding the use of vowels, Mengozzi, and Lamperti as well, refers to the written vocalizzi or solfeggi that enable the students —in the context of advanced studies, preparatory to the study of the repertoire— to exercise the tools already acquired in the primary studies of vocal education (emission studies). It is important to clarify that the vocalizzi that belong to the first stage of vocal education —those that make possible the development and union of the registers, as well as the corrections of the natural defects of the voice— make regular use of the vowels u and i, which have been used by the singing teachers since the dawn of the method as efficient resources for the development of the voice.]

4 Translator’s note: Lamperti uses the adjectives bianco e sguajato to describe an overly open timbre that, due to the tension produced in the throat, generates a strident sound.

5 Translator’s note: Lamperti writes delle notte di mezzo, the notes in the middle of the voice.

6 Translator’s note: we preserve the original names used by Lamperti: messa o tenuta, refering to the study of long, maintained notes.

7 Translator’s note: Lamperti writes “mettere la voce sopra il fiato”.

8 Translator’s note: Lamperti writes suoni parlati and refers to the possibility of emitting “spoken” sounds, characteristic of the center of the voice.

Text excerpted and translated from Guida teorico-pratica-elementare per lo studio del canto, Francesco Lamperti, Milan, 1864.

Part II