As far as what the Italian masters taught, we could read their famous treatises. In many cases, musical scales were introduced to illustrate what the correct musical movements of the voice should be during the execution of the vocal feats. The masters also laid-out the rules and principles that promoted good singing technique, such as the importance of learning appropriate breath expulsion when emitting a tone, smiling when singing, and insuring that the throat and mouth are in harmony with each other at all times (e.g. Mancini). Virtually every area of the singer's experience was discussed, and besides purely singing and musical matters, appropriate attitude, lifestyle habits and even diet are discussed and admonitions strongly voiced.
But to the great misfortune of all future voice culture, the ancient masters left out information of the most important kind. They were exceedingly generous in telling us what great singing is, and describing how it should sound, but they failed to disclose sufficiently—in a clear and methodical fashion—how to develop the vocal skills, techniques, and abilities that made great singing possible.
Giovanni Battista Mancini, for example, describes a number of exercises that he claimed would help a student to achieve beautiful singing, but describing an exercise is not the same as guiding the reader through the exercises in a systematic fashion—this he does not do. In his Practical Reflections On The Figurative Art, for example, he recommends the following procedure to strengthen a weak voice: “He must exercise with a solfeggio with sustained notes in his daily study. The result will be further assured if such solfeggio is kept within the limits, which the voice permits at that time. It must be suggested to those who are confronted by these conditions, to increase the volume each day little by little, directing them thus, with the aid of art and continuous exercise, until they became vigorous and sonorous.”
As we can see, Mancini describes an exercise rather than showing us exactly how this exercise is to be executed. How should we engage the voice, for example, loudly or softly? Which vowel or vowels are we to use in the various exercises? How long is the vowel to be sustained? What does “within limits” mean? And so on.
And when actual exercises are offered, the student faces the same problem of not having unambiguous steps and procedures to guide him to the desired results. In some places, Mancini recommends not to produce the voice in a nasal or throaty fashion, but he neglects to tell us how not to do that. And what are we to do if we suffer from a nasal or constricted throat? Mancini doesn't say. At best, he instructs us “that the throat must unfold the voice.” While this seems like sound advice— advice, in fact, repeated later most notably by Enrico Caruso in the 20th century— voice students still need to know exactly which steps to take to “unfold the voice.”
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