#10  Singing The Rapids

Singing coloratura runs, also known as rapid melismas, are a challenge, yet with practice you can become proficient with them and the daily practice of vocal dexterity serves as a coordinative skill for both the vocal mechanism and the support mechanism. 

In Richard Miller’s “The Structure of Singing, he subtitles his chapter on Agility in Singing as Flexible Application of Breath Power.  Miller suggests that the challenge in singing fast melismatic lines is in maintaining a sense of agility and suppleness to the support system so that the tendency towards building up tension as the line extends in length is counterbalanced.  In Miller’s Solution’s for Singers (another very fine text to add to your collection) he suggests “a successful breath-management system cannot be constructed on rigidity…a fully resonant and vibrant voice avoids holding in any part of the instrument…stay as long as possible in the inspiratory position, but only as long as is comfortable”. 

Another consideration in singing through long melismatic runs is that the performance speeds of these runs are often slightly faster than you can think consciously of each note.

Learn the run slowly and then increase your speed. Notice that if you have a clearly defined mental concept of how the run completes at the very end, the voice will tend to work better throughout the run.

Our coordination is then subconsciously applied to pace the breath, and our voices will move at a reflexive speed, provided we know the run well enough that we can hear it clearly in our heads at a slightly slower pace without singing it. 

Try this:

When working on learning the melismas in the Mozart Requiem start slowly and experiment with seeing if you can hear the entire run clearly in your head without singing it.  Often it is the last few notes that are the foggiest.  If this is the case, try learning the run from the end section, then add the preceding sections until you’ve built from the end to the front. 

Consider as a way of developing your vocal dexterity, extrapolating a short section of one of the melismatic runs and convert it into a warm up exercise.  Transpose and use as part of your regularly daily warm-up, starting in the most comfortable key and transpose both upwards and downwards.

II Kyrie

Sopranos: m.s 12-16

Altos: m.s 2-5

Tenors: m.s 5-9

Basses: m.s 9-12


Have a very fine week,






Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs