The Singer’s bible – Part 1. The books that every singer, teacher and student should read.

There are a number of ‘schools’ or ‘methods’ out there, Bel canto, Italian-Swedish, Richard Miller, Lamperti, Estill, Complete Vocal Technique. I consider myself to be a fairly loyal student of the Bel canto/Lamperti schools of thought. I do not, however, believe certain methods are necessarily superior to others. These are simply the methods that work for me personally.

Here’s the catch though; No matter who I learned from, I came prepared. As a student, it is very easy to be lead down the garden path towards some kind of dogmatic methodology. It is better to realise that all schools of thought ‘generally’ come from the same fundamental background. They just use different imagery.

That is why I am challenging my readers to become educated around the voice BEFORE committing to a teacher who is known for teaching a ‘method’. By doing this, you will be able to recognize what one teacher means when they use certain terminology.

So without further ado, here are the first three entries:

Singer’s bible 1:

The Functional Unity of the Singing VoiceBarbera Doscher

This is probably what I would call ‘the’ singer’s bible. I have listed it first for that very reason. It is a very technical read; starting with a lot of detail around the anatomy of the larynx and muscles of the respiratory system before moving into details around the breathing mechanism, tongue/vowel relationships, resonantion chambers (sympathetic vibration) and voice characteristics.

Internationally renowned bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam once told a colleague of mine that this book was his ‘bible’ and that he carried around a hard copy wherever he went. Technology allows us to get these books on our iphones/ipads now, so now it’s a lot easier to do just that! For me personally, it allowed me to come into lessons without having to ask my teacher to explain themselves when they gave advice. As a teacher, it meant that I could explain what I was doing technically when a student asked why they voice sounded a certain way after doing something.

If there is one book that all singers and teachers (for all genres) should read at some point, I believe it is this one. It makes singing far less mysterious and it will allow students to waste less time and money learning the terms from their teachers.

Singer’s bible 2:

The Structure of Singing: System and Art in Vocal TechniqueRichard Miller

I have a confession to make here: Despite my reservations about teachers who tend to focus on one particular method or school of thought, the person who fixed my instrument fundamentally is a disciple of the Richard Miller technique. Miller is relatively synonymous with the Bel canto/Italian-swedish schools of thought, but is more scientific. I find that teachers from this school are very good at diagnosing and solving problems that no one else has worked out how to solve. The school is also focused around resonance as being a product of good laryngeal function rather than ‘placement’.

Like Doscher, the book goes into considerable depth about the vocal structures and mechanisms in the body. It may even read more easily to some readers. Also, if you have seen my articles on vocal fach, you will notice that the primo and secondo passagio locations for each fach are taken from this book. Miller also has a lot more suggestions for voice excercises to develop certain qualities.

The other nifty benefit to Miller is that there are more books that focus on each fach. I will probably write an article dedicated to them; however if you are interested, here are some noteworthy texts:

The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults

Securing Baritone, Bass-Baritone and Bass voices

Training Tenor Voices

Training Soprano Voices

Singer’s Bible 3:

Fundamental’s of Great Vocal Technique: The teachings of Michael TrimbleMichael Trimble

Michael Trimble is a tenor who has appeared on youtube lately. He evidently comes from the golden age of singing as you can tell from the video (link below). Unlike the two aforementioned books, this one is a little easier on the wallet and takes its inspiration from the Bel canto school of singing. The Bel canto school is more about sense and feeling – the ‘feeling’ of the appoggio (the mechanism of breath support) which is explained in a number of ways.

The book contains insights from a number of well known singers as well as unnamed colleagues of Trimble who all describe the ways in which they engage with certain concepts (e.g. open throat, low breath, appoggio, vowel shape, tongue position) as well as Trimble’s own insights.

This is a book that you can read a page from and then test for yourself, which is rather complimentary to the extremely technical passages and prescriptive language of Miller or Doscher.

As promised, here is a clip of Michael Trimble singing. Sadly, due to health reasons, he had to cut his professional career short; but this does not take away from the golden-aged knowledge that he can impart:

 

What if I am not a classical singer? Can I benefit from these books?

I am in the process of going through more texts. My recommendation for contemporary singers is to start with Doscher. Miller is a great person to go to if you want a good training regiment of exercizes to develop the core of your voice, no matter what style you sing. Trimble may also be useful for development of the appoggio – which is something that all singers should have.

If you are well versed in how your breathing mechanism, body and vocal structure works at a technical level, you will save a lot more time when talking to a teacher. These are three of the 9-10 or so books that I would recommend for basically everyone who wants to sing or teach singing. If anything, I would say at this point that they are my top three picks!

DISCLAIMER: Use these books for knowledge and understanding of yourself or, potentially, your students. Remember, there is no 100% right person to follow. These are simply the best books that I believe exist around vocal pedagogy at this time. 

Thanks for coming along.

As always, happy singing!

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Credit: Calvin Peter photography

M O’Connor-Potts

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