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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

John Curwen Giving a Preliminary Lesson in Sound Production for Choristers (1852)

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

‘2. To produce a good note, the singer should be in an easy posture, with his head upright and his shoulders back, so as to allow the muscles of the chest and the larynx to have free movement. His mouth should be moderately open. His tongue should lie down - just touching the roots of the lower teeth; and his lips should have the position of a gentle smile…

Some teachers require a small cork, of the thickness of a little finger, or the little finger itself, to be placed between the back teeth during the earlier exercises. The pupil, who would learn to sing without fatigue, should practice, for a few minutes every day, the taking a full inspiration, and then giving out the air very slowly and steadily. This will give command of the muscles of the chest.

“Children, heads up! shoulders back! but sit easily. That is the way in which you should always sit (or stand) when you sing. Can you feel a little lump in your throats? That is the Larynx - the beautiful little instrument that you play upon when you sing. Some day I may show you a picture of it, and tell you more about it. Always hold up your necks to give it plenty of room, when you sing. Now let us all take a deep breath * Once more. * How it seems to open your chest! You should always have your chest open, in that way, if you want to sing easily. Try again, and while I raise my hand do you draw in your breath, and when I lower my hand again gently do you let out the breath again very slowly. * Again. * Now you are ready to sing. Who will give us the first sweet and distinct note? Open your mouth a little; let your tongue lie down; and look good tempered about it, and then sing ‘Ah’ just as I do. * Let those who are willing to try - ‘hold up hands,’ and I will choose who shall sing first. We will all notice whether he sits properly and whether his chest is open, and whether he gives a clear and steady note. * Now, let another try. Any note will do so that it is a good one."'



John Curwen, Singing for Schools and Congregations: A Course of Instruction in Vocal Music (London: T. Ward & Co, 1852).

The image below is a trading card from the ‘Wolrd’s Dudes’ series, issued in 1888 to promote Allen & Ginter Cigarettes.

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