Francesco Lamperti: guide to the study of singing II
Second part of Francesco Lamperti’s Theoretical-practical-elementary guide to the study of singing.
Of the vocalization, that is, of the agility.
Q. What does it mean to vocalize or to perform agility?
A. It means making a series of sounds or groups of notes on the vowels, more or less quickly.
Q. How many ways there are to study agility?
A. Agility can be accented in many ways, but the main ones are four.
Q. Which are they?
A. The agility of portamento, legato, picchettato and martellato.
Q. Which one is the most useful and the first one to be studied?
A. Legato agility.
Q. For what reason should legato be studied first and foremost?
A. Because legato is the predominant quality not only of agility but of bel canto in general, so it would be enough for the student to study the other accents when he knows how to perfectly execute legato.
Observations and precepts on article VIII
Agility must be studied slowly. The first exercises should be done in such a way as to distinguish the intervals well, to maintain the fiato from one note to another, to make each note come out very clear, and, almost martellate to get the ear used to master the sounds well, without that dragging that is easily confused with legato, while it is nothing more than a defective version of it. Once the student has mastered the intervals, he can apply himself to the study of the other accents, not forgetting that having a clear and sure agility will always depend on the first exercises.
We have said that at the beginning of the studies it should be done slowly and we understand that this principle applies both to the voices generously endowed with agility by nature and to those that do not show this attitude, since it can be verified in both cases the common situation in which the voice, due to performing many exercises and too quickly, becomes shaky and weak; wherever they are done with caution and parsimony, they will serve the voices with ease to control their initial instinct to rush, and for the voices with fewer aptitudes it will always be a useful exercise, provided that the teacher takes into account the age of the student in such a study.
Finally, I find it timely to add that the superfluous amount of exercises, as I had the opportunity to find in different singing methods, can do more harm than good for the preservation of the voice and the clarity of the agility.
Useful exercises should be very melodic and tasteful, and it is their quality and genre, not their number, that can make a good singer out of a student; and when the student has mastered the exercises, he should start them from the bottom up, piano, and gradually reinforce them according to their quality and length, and vice versa from top to bottom. This rule also applies to melodies, except when the composer indicates otherwise.
Of the portamento and legato of sounds.
Q. What does the portamento of the sounds of the voice mean?
A. It means moving from one sound to the other by dragging the voice, but in such a way that the intermediate sounds are felt as little as possible, leaving the first sound before it finishes its value to anticipate the second to which the voice is being carried by the portamento.
Q. What can be deduced from the preceding example?
A. It can be deduced that if you want to syllabify on two notes with portamento, you will reach the intonation of the second note with the vowel of the first syllable before articulating the corresponding syllable.
Q. Should the portamento of the voice be executed slowly or quickly?
A. The portamento does not have a specific type of movement, but the greater or lesser speed of its execution is indicated by the type of movement of the step to which it belongs.
Q. What does making sounds legato means?
A. It means to pass from one sound to another clearly and quickly, without the voice stopping or dragging on intermediate sounds, producing the effect of the legato sounds played on a harmonica or on a wind instrument, according to known rules.
Observations and precepts on article IX
Since the prolongation of notes is the essential privilege of the human voice, the student must make a special study of the legato that links them together. He who can’t sing legato can’t sing at all.1 It should be noted, however, that the student can easily fall into the trap of making dragging sounds by believing he is singing legato; for example, when there are second minor intervals it is easy to go through commas instead of reaching the semitone, that is, to pass from one tone to another by slowing down the note to take the other one, to abandon the fiato from one note to the other, thus destroying the legato and the prolongation of the voice: both good things that constitute, as we already said, the true incarnation of the soul and the most heartfelt expression of song.
In any singing genre, when the notes go through conjunct motion, the following note must not be anticipated or delayed, nor must be made to feel the dragging of the commas; the sound must be emitted pure, observing the rule of fiato.
See article 12 —”Application of the rule for the appoggio of the voice.”
Only in the singing of portamento legato, no matter how small the skip is, it is necessary to anticipate the note on which the voice makes the portamento, whether it is higher or lower.
And so on for all 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc. skips.
The teacher will be able, according to the voice, capacity and attitude of the student, to follow the exercise previously detailed, always keeping in mind the fundamental rules of the fiato and of the application of the voice.
General rules for studying with profit.
Q. What is the first thing a singer needs to study successfully?
A. A piano perfectly tuned to the tone of the orchestra to educate the ear to precise intonation.
Q. What is the best time to exercise your voice?
A. The best time is after the digestion period both in the morning and after lunch, and particularly at night because the individual is in the fullness of his physical means.
Q. Would it be harmful to exercise on an empty stomach or during the digestion period?
A. Yes, because in both cases the need to take air is too frequent, so it will tire the chest to the detriment of the voice.
Q. How should you study to get the most out of it?
A. You should study with your voice spread out, clear and sonorous, taking scrupulous care not to force or thicken the sounds.
Q. Should the study of singing be practiced for long or short intervals?
A. It is a general rule to study moderately, and in several sessions, always leaving the study before feeling tired.
Q. On which range should the voice be exercised daily?
A. On the central range, omitting the two or three extreme notes of the voice, both low and high.
Q. What will help the student to maintain the position indicated in article 3 and to hold the mouth and vocal apparatus as stated above?
A. A mirror, which should be kept in front of you during the study, and should be checked frequently so that you don’t get any bad habits.
Q. How should the student study the individual exercises before performing them physically?
A. You should study them mentally until you have fully understood their intrinsic nature and then proceed to their physical execution.
Observations and precepts on article X
On the happy choice of the teacher entirely rests the achievement of all that I have explained in article 10. It is false to think that any teacher is good for getting started in singing. Once the voice is broken it is impossible to fix it, which is not the case with other instruments that can always be changed. This is why one has to choose the best and most reputable teacher for the beginnings, because the student will be able to easily see if the second one is bad while he will always consider the first instructor to be good, however bad he may be.
It is the beginning of this career, so costly for families, that decides its future.
It is advisable for the student, in the first studies, to sing according to the rules dictated by me in relation to the fiato, that is to say the appoggio, and to the long voice,2 to the point that such habits become for him a second nature. In doing so, he should be careful not to force or exaggerate the voice to a greater extent than that of the fiato, in order to avoid the danger of making his voice shaky. This defect is almost always caused by having forced it, it derives from a weakness in the nerves of the vocal system, and can be remedied with rest and with the rule of the fiato when it is practiced on the spot, before the paralysis takes hold of the nerves, in which case the cure is useless. –Another vice that should be avoided by the student consists in singing a superficial piano without the rule of the fiato; this tires the throat, makes the intonation uncertain to the detriment of the support of the voice. In singing, piano must be a child of forte, and be made with the same character of voice, with the same support and the same amount of air, so that, reduced to the pianissimo, it can be heard as much as the forte. –Then it will be necessary to sing, to study, as little as possible, so as to keep the voice fresh and the instrument new for the career, and for this it is necessary to make a mental study of singing, which educates the throat without consuming its virtues.
I will close these observations to article 10 by recommending once again that the trembling of the voice be avoided, a defect that at the beginning of the century was enough to exclude a singer from the art of singing, and which should not be confused with the oscillation, a consequence of the soul and the expression of a passionate feeling.
Of the pronunciation.
Q. What special features are the attributes of the human voice?
A. The human voice has, more than any instrument, the faculty to speak to the soul, and to obtain all the resources it offers, it is necessary for it to be emitted with a long and continuous sound, that the pronunciation does not destroy without legitimate reason the sonority, since such alteration, in addition to damaging the expression becomes also seriously damaging to the syllabification.
Q. How many parts is the pronunciation divided into?
A. In two parts, Articulation and Sound.
Q. What is the result of poor singing articulation?
A. Poor articulation can cause hardness and roughness.
Q. What are the consequences of poorly emitted sound?
A. Sound when poorly emitted can alter the purity and elegance of pronunciation, which happens easily to foreigners.
Q. What is the study that introduces the student to good pronunciation?
A. Solfeggio, which is one of the most necessary things for those who undertake the study of singing.
Q. How can the student regulate himself to avoid defects in the articulation?
R. In order to avoid a defective syllabification it is necessary that from the solfeggi the student pays particular attention not to use double consonants when they are single, and vice versa, and that he regulates his breathing or voice support (on which often depends the success of a singer) in the study of solfeggi, always singing on the vowels that come in the names of the notes, thus making the singing elegant.
Q. When do double consonants find each other in solfeggi?
A. Every time the note Sol is followed by other notes and also when it repeats itself.
Q. Of how many species are the consonants used to form the name of the notes?
A. They are of four species: Linguo-Dental, Linguo-Palatal, Labial and Labio-Dental.
Q. Name all the consonants mentioned above, indicating the note to which they belong.
A. I begin with the first note, Do, which has the consonant D, called Linguo-Dental, because the tongue and teeth are used to pronounce it well; Re has the R, the Linguo-Palatal consonant, so called because the tongue and palate come together in its pronunciation; Mi has the consonant M of Labial nature and in order to pronounce it it is necessary to compress the lips one against the other; Fa has the F, a Labio-Dental consonant, so called because the lips and teeth participate in its pronunciation; Sol, La, and Si have Linguo-Palatal consonants, so called for the reason already explained.
Q. How should the student conduct himself in order to make the double consonants clearly when studying solfeggio?
A. Since consonants have no sound, it will be necessary to steal a small space of time from the first of two notes, one of which is ending, the other begins with a consonant, to leave the second one intact, thus producing an imperceptible silence between the two notes, as will be revealed in the following exercise.
Q. What will be the easiest way to get used to articulating double consonants clearly?
A. Repeating the exercise on combined notes so that they always have double consonants, which should be performed in the manner indicated on the preceding scale. The student will then focus on giving the right sound to the vowels: A, E and I, and rounding the lips a little for the vowel O, avoiding making double vowels, like Fua instead of Fa, Lua instead of La, etc; as well as placing the consonants precisely on the vowel and never anticipating it.
Example for the double consonants.
Note: the rest produced in the syllabification of the L is marked with the symbol
Application of the rule for the appoggio of the voice.
By support 4 or rule of the fiato it is understood that all the notes from low to high and vice versa are produced with the same volume of air, retaining the breath, that is, not allowing the fiato collected in the lungs to escape more than it is necessary.For this it will be good that the student does not make any effort with the neck, to avoid those defects of the face that are derived from this, as the frown of the forehead, the contraction of the tongue, the excessive opening of the eyes, etc., the voice will never be well supported or properly animated until the student proves to be free of all fatigue in its emission, and until his physiognomy is calm and natural, being more susceptible to the expression of the various affections.
The student’s mouth should be open and still while doing the exercises, both in conjunct motion or with any type of skip. Sometimes the mouth can be opened imperceptibly in the last high notes, but this subtle movement should be done without the slightest effort, nor the slightest sound of aspirated air, which will be obtained by retaining the fiato. This exception may be tolerated when performing conjunct motion but never in skips. The student must then, with the help of the teacher and through study and patience, ensure that his mouth remains motionless, otherwise, in spite of the beauty and strength of his voice, he can only be a bad singer.
1 Translator’s note: Lamperti writes “Chi non lega non canta,” he who doesn’t link the sounds doesn’t sing.
2 Translator’s note: Lamperti writes voce lunga.
3 It is necessary to set the mind on singing over the vowels o, e, i, a, o-l, a, i, o.
4 Translator’s note: Lamperti writes “Per appoggio ossia regola del fiato.”
Text excerpted and translated from Guida teorico-pratica-elementare per lo studio del canto, Francesco Lamperti, Milan, 1864.