This publication was written by the great tenor Jussi Björling’s father, who taught Jussi and his brothers when they were children. Much of the pamphlet addresses the care and upbringing of children, which I have omitted. The rest is included verbatim. David Björling received his training at the Metropolitan Opera School in New York and at the Conservatory of Vienna, coming in contact with the world’s foremost song artists and specialists for the voice, which was a valuable guidance for his vocal studies. The unusual vocal endowment of his children should be considered when judging his assertions.
Care of the Voice Organs
Its importance for the Health and Well-being of Man
There are lots of books published about the vocal organs and tone production, upon which certain daring individuals coin money and mislead many young, struggling good talents who can not afford to acquire instruction from a good teacher. Do not depend upon such a book, if you do not know for a certainty that the author is or has been a good singer or vocal instructor.
A vocal instructor has not proved his ability as a vocal teacher, if one pupil out of ten makes progress, while nine show no marked improvement. In such a case the credit must be given to the pupil and not to the teacher. In such cases it is the pupil that is adapted to the teacher and not as it should be that the teacher is adapted to the pupil.
If people only knew what a great importance the respiratory organs have for health and comfort. The cavity of the mouth and nose are of great importance. Breathing through the nose filters the air that is inhaled by the lungs. Stoppage of the nose causes poor hearing and in many cases reduced power of vision. Gargle your throat and mouth cavity every morning with salt and lukewarm water; an even teaspoon of salt in a glass of water. Keep to this as strictly as to the toothbrush.
Breath control is the first and most important thing in singing. Without good breath control nobody can sing well, no more than a violinist can play well with poor bowing.
In inhaling air, raise the chest and imagine that you extend it on all sides in order to give the lungs plenty of room to receive the air that is used in producing the tone. Contract the lower part of the stomach [abdomen] when inhaling the air and the diaphragm [solar plexus] will swell. In exhaling air, the action is reversed. Never allow the chest to sink in when exhaling or when singing. Train yourself to keep the chest high and the back straight.
Placing of the Tone
Open the mouth as in laughing. It is not enough to open the mouth, but the cavity of the throat as well, in order to produce a rich and beautiful tone. The daily exercises should be short, simple scales, so that each tone will be placed right. Never strive for a high or a low note that you cannot produce with ease; it will come in time by itself, while as for the tones that you can produce, practice them and make them as round and beautiful as possible and with plain enunciation of the text.
In singing scales, never draw in the tip of the tongue but let the tongue rest at ease and flat in the mouth. If you sing scales with a stiff tongue, you will never be able to pronounce the text distinctly in singing songs. Children [and beginners] must not sing pianissimo because that contracts the throat and affects the voice. Nor must they sing too loud so that it sounds like screaming, but let them produce a rich and powerful tone with open throat cavity and chest high and deep breathing, and you will soon obtain results. If you feel tired and sore in the small of the back, you should not let that trouble you, for it only shows that you are breathing in the correct manner, and the soreness will gradually disappear.
There is a great difference between singing and practicing upon an instrument. In instrumental music you have the assistance of your eyes and fingers, while in singing you have the aid of the ear alone, and that is why so many mistakes are made. Although your throat feels the same all the time, yet great changes are taking place there in producing various tones and in text enunciation. There is a cure for it, and that is deep breathing. Press the air down on the diaphragm and the pit of the stomach as much as you can, then sing the tone with the throat open, keeping the diaphragm rigid [firm] all the time, and you will soon note great progress. Through deep breathing you can sing with throat open which otherwise is impossible. By opening the throat you also open the canals of the nasal cavities, and the tone places itself-or the resonance in head and nasal cavities-and thereby becomes soft and beautiful. A tone taken with a contracted throat also turns out a contracted nasal tone, which is disagreeable to listen to. But an open and free tone, instead of sounding nasal, becomes true and beautiful-and it becomes easy to the singer and enjoyable to the listener.