The Bel Canto Method of Singing
© 2007 Lori Joachim Fredrics
The term, bel canto, literally "beautiful singing" in Italian, is a technique that emphasizes skillful smoothness (legato) in singing a line of music, agility of voice, immaculate articulation and beauty of tone.
The skills acquired by a singer attempting to perfect this technique are a strong foundation for singing any style of repertoire.
Constantly flowing, unforced airflow is required to produce and sustain a legato phrase in the bel canto style. The command of the breathing mechanism achieved by a singer in order to accomplish this goal strengthens the voice so it can project without strain.
Agility and flexibility gained by singing scales and exercises with florid ornaments rid the voice of excess tension. Since it is impossible for a singer who sings with unhealthy air pressure or tension in the vocal mechanism to sing with agility, learning to sing fast scales and arpeggios with ease ensures that a singer has a healthy technique.
Beauty of tone required for bel canto is described in Italian as chiaroscuro or bright-dark timbre. This means that the singer learns to balance the bright and the warm resonances in the voice. The bright tones help the voice to project without strain and the dark ones make the voice warm, round and listenable.
The secrets and traditions of bel canto, which have been passed from master to student over the centuries, have caused the process to be unnecessarily shrouded in mystery. Some even thought that Italy was protecting its secret from outsiders. The simple fact is that the Italian bel canto masters personally demonstrated their techniques to for their students and then listened to them while giving them positive feedback when they produce the desired sound. Eventually the student recognizes the sensations felt when they are singing well and can produce a desired tone at will.
This tradition lives on and is still being passed from teacher to student today.
"It occured to me that maybe the world didn't need a new Bing Crosby. I decided to experiment a little and come up with something different.What I finally hit on was more the bel canto school of singing, without making a point of it. That meant I had to stay in better shape because I had to sing more.." -Frank Sinatra
Source: Pleasants, Henry,The Great American Popular Singers: Their Lives, Careers & Art. (New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1974), p.189.
"His (Sinatra's) Italian instinct for singing long lines on lovely vowel colors, with judicious emotional inflection and impeccable enunciation gave his slow ballads a special warmth and beauty. At the same time,his macho,street-level code of life gave his up-tempo tunes a rhythmic, jazz tinged sexuality that was and still is at this writing, absolutely unique. The result was a new school of singing."
Source: Anderson, Simon V, Pop Music USA. (New York: Simon and Schuster Inc,1997), p.122.
Habanera from Carmen (Bizet)