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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Dame Clara Butt on Silent Practice and Vocal Rest (1912)

'Here is another point which beginners should take to heart, and follow

as far as they are able. Try to avoid over-anxiety. Students often make

the mistake, through over-anxiety, of over-working their voices just

before a concert, with the result that they are not at their best when

on the platform. It is a good plan to rest both the body and the voice

before singing in public.

I should like to emphasise the importance of this very fully. Young

singers seem to lose sight, half the time, of the fact that they should

be at their very best when on the platform. Personally I always keep,

and have always kept, this clearly before my mind. It is the greatest

possible mistake to waste your efforts at the last moment in private.

Rest before you sing in public, in order that when you go on to the

platform you may give your audience--who, after all, have paid to be

entertained--of your best. Remember that while polishing is highly

desirable, there is such a thing as over-polishing, and this, instead of

improving, only wears out. I am a great believer in the quiet study of

a song without the aid of a piano. Not only does this avoid tiring the

voice, but it enables the singer to fully grasp all the beauty and the

meaning of the words and the music, and so to enter into the spirit of

the subject when upon the platform. When on tour I frequently adopt

this method of studying. It enables one to be doing something useful

when in the train, or elsewhere, when actual practice is undesirable or


This resting of the voice before singing in public applies not only to

vocal exercises, but to all kinds of over-exertion of the throat. Even

those who are aware of the danger, and who are careful to refrain from

singing-practice just before an appearance in public, very frequently

forget that speaking may tire the voice every whit as much as singing.

It is most important not to do too much talking for some hours before a

public appearance is made. In this way the throat will be thoroughly


In singing, as in everything else, experience teaches, better than any

amount of instruction, what an individual is capable of, and how the

full power and merit of the voice may best be acquired and preserved.

When students have "found their feet" sufficiently to understand the

best way to manage their voices, they will be able to regulate their

practice according to what leads to the best result in each individual

case. Some may be best suited by morning practice, others by afternoon

practice. Personally, I put in most of my practice between the hours of

eleven and one each morning.'



Clara Butt, “How to Become a Successful Singer,” in How to Become a Successful Singer (London: George Newnes, 1912).

There are plenty of wonderful recordings of Clara Butt, but this is perhaps my favourite, recorded in 1909:

The image below is a cartoon of Clara Butt by George Belcher, published in Punch Magazine on the 13th of April, 1927. The text reads as follows:

Dame Clara Butt.

There are contraltos useful in their way, but

None that can rival CLARA RUMFORD (née BUTT);

Deep as a ‘cello, poignant as a sackbut,

Against all others I’m prepared to back Butt.

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