By Courtney Ruckman, Special to The Sybaritic Singer
During an earlier period of my career, I was auditioning for everything I could, but wasn’t receiving the results I hoped for. By this I mean I had auditioned for several years in a row without receiving a single offer for a paid gig. Many factors go into audition results, but for me personally, the biggest factor was having a poor technical foundation. This led me to an intensive study of technique over the course of four months, followed by a complete overhaul of my audition repertoire. With just a few method books, a practice journal, and a metronome, I improved immensely and finally received my first offer! This technique-based style of practicing has been my focus since.
Technique Enables Expression
Singers can either train specific concepts to apply to repertoire, or learn through specific examples in said repertoire. I’m firmly in the “training concepts” camp and believe that technique enables expression, so let’s get practicing! Two caveats: this is by no means a comprehensive list, but gives plenty of material to work through. And secondly, I understand that we cannot always drop repertoire. We have gigs, y’all! I’m merely advocating for an increased focus on technical work. Onward!
Beginning with the basics: learning the anatomy of your instrument and what proper support means. While we’ll never know what a lesson with Garcia may have been like, we luckily can pore through works written by the greatest teachers and singers to get an idea. All roads lead back to Bel Canto and many of the best resources are based in that school of teaching.
- Great Singers on Great Singing: A Famous Opera Star Interviews 40 Famous Opera Singers on the Technique of Singing (Jerome Hines)
- Your Voice, an Inside View: Multimedia Voice Science and Pedagogy (Scott McCoy)
- Caruso and Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing
- On the Art of Singing (Richard Miller)
- Solutions for Singers: Tools for Performers and Teachers (Richard Miller)
- Training Soprano Voices (Richard Miller)
- Training Tenor Voices (Richard Miller)
- Securing Baritone, Bass-Baritone, and Bass Voices (Richard Miller)
- How To Sing (Lilli Lehmann)
Consistent Technical Practice
Now you’ve done your research and are ready to get into the practice room. Me, too! The books below will help you build your technique from the ground up. Starting minimally with long tones on a single note, you’ll steadily advance to tricky coloratura, trills, leaps, etc. Dedicating yourself to consistent technical practice and working methodically through these books will pay dividends in your singing.
*Pro tips: Use a metronome to sing steady rhythms and continually assess. “Is my tongue relaxed? Is my body well-aligned? Was that exercise easy or difficult to sing? Why? Which vowel was the easiest or hardest? What can be improved?” Additionally, work slowly and focus on singing with ease and refinement. As Joyce DiDonato says, it’s all about the process.
- Bel Canto: A Theoretical and Practical Vocal Method (Mathilde Marchesi)
- An Hour of Vocal Study, Volumes 1 and 2 (Pauline Viardot)
- Vocal Course (Estelle Liebling)
- Daily Exercises (Francesco Lamperti)
Beyond Single Concept Exercises
After spending lots of time in the technique books, you’re ready for some actual songs. I get it, scales aren’t the most exciting! Vocalise and sight reading books are the perfect way to continue building basic skills while adding accompaniment and melody to the mix. These exercises have no (to some basic) words; they can be hummed or sung on any vowel of your choosing. Here is where we take singular exercises and blend all of the skills we’ve been practicing. It’s about to get real.
- A Practical Method of Italian Singing (Nicola Vaccai)
- Twenty-Four Vocalises (Mathilde Marchesi)
- Fifty Lessons (Giuseppe Concone)
- La Mélodie: Études Complémentaire Vocales et Dramatiques (Gilbert Duprez)
- See and Sing: A Basic Approach to Vocal Sight Reading, Books 1 and 2 (Walter Ehret)
Moving From Technical Exercises to Repertoire
You are nearing the end of a marathon of vocal study. Well, never truly the end, but I know we are all itching for some words, amirite? Here we have a seemingly random collection of books to try. On the surface, they have little in common, but all of these outwardly simple pieces need beautiful Bel Canto technique for their beauty to shine.
- Fifty Songs (John Dowland)
- Raccolta Graduale Di Arie D’opera (per soprano, per mezzo soprano, per tenore, per baritono) (Gabriella Ravazzi)
- Folk Songs for Solo Singers, books 1 and 2 (Jay Althouse)
- Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Schirmer)
- 36 Arie di Stille Antico (Stefano Donaudy)
Check Your Progress
Ready to get back to your normal repertoire and put your skills to good use? Break out the songs and arias, folks! After singing through your pieces, assess where you are. What feels easier? Are your tempi the same? Have you eliminated any breaths? Is your body more relaxed? When practicing technique, the goal is always to free the voice from impediments to communication and expression.
What are your thoughts on technical practice? Have a favorite technique book? What gems did I miss? Let’s chat in the comments or on social media via the hashtag #singchat. Happy practicing!
Soprano Courtney Ruckman is an opera singer and lover of both traditional and contemporary repertoire. She doubles as a social media coach, helping artists put a personal spin on their professional storytelling. Want to learn more about her story? Visit www.courtneyruckman.com.