#3  The Structure of Singing

I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time writing about a very important person in the world of singing who passed away this last year.  Richard Miller (1926-2009).  He followed in the steps of William Vennard (1909-1971), the first modern science vocal pedagogue

Both Vennard and Miller began as classically trained singers who became teachers.  Through research, they began to shift the world of singing from the bel canto approach, which was the premiere method of teaching singing through the mid 17th to 18th Century, to an approach for teaching singing based in modern science, physiology and anatomy. Vennard and Miller’s books and articles have graced every well educated vocal pedagogue’s library since. 

My first experience with Vennard’s The Mechanism and Technique” was as a young singer.  It was a thick and complicated volume, and it was hard at that time to apply to my own singing. In college I did gain a good nuts and bolts view of the vocal mechanism in an anatomy and physiology of the speech and singing mechanism course, and at the very least didn’t lead my students astray.  It wasn’t until years later that Richard Miller’s “The Structure of Singing” graced my studio, and I have appreciated and referred to it regularly since.  It’s a text with a comprehensiveness that relates the science; anatomy, physiology and the larger historical picture of bel canto to developing voices systematically. 

In Millers “The Structure of Singing” subtitled “System and Art in Vocal Technique” the skills that combine to make for a well trained and well informed singer are presented in a sequence which explores each aspect in depth; the theory, purpose, history and research associated with developing that particular skill, followed by exercises that sequentially go from the most simple to the most advanced.


Try this:

This week as you are practicing, think about adding to your skill set any or all of these four (of fourteen in Miller’s book) concepts:

Coordinating and achieving a balanced onset; gentle staccato arpeggios

Breath management; count in 4, hold 8, and exhale 12.  Try increasing your counts.

Agility; singing scale like passages first slowly then gradually more quickly

Resonance; try some simple nasal consonants [m]s, [n]s and [ng]s,  opening to [a]s.  Notice the resonance of both the closed and open sounds. 


Have a very fine week,





Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs