Column of Breath
What did the Last Great Empiricist Francesco Lamperti teach?
Sing on the breath, but not with breath.
What does this mean?
Practically-Speaking, it means students were taught to create a column of breath by shutting the mouth and inhaling up and into the middle of the head—initiating a reaction, not only in the torso, but also in the head and face—the reaction itself being the column.
If done correctly, the singer feels the ribcage open, abdominals engage, muscles of the body lift in a wave-like motion, and the spine extend both up and down.
The student who breathes mechanically without sensing/feeling? The wave passes and the body returns to its original state before inhalation. Singers gifted proprioceptively keep the column of breath through the musical phrase and beyond. They can even start a note without taking a breath—which is also how one accomplishes García's vaunted coup de glotte.
How is the column of breath maintained?
The student must have a clear conception of pure vowels, the saying of which keeps the column of breath intact and up.
Does someone have to show you how to do this?
You better believe it.
The teacher must be able to show as well as tell the student the meaning of Lamperti’s instruction, illustrating the reality of the words on this page with voice and body. It’s not enough to know about it. Creating a column of breath must be illustrated over and over and over until the principle worms its way into the ear of the student, the ear itself being the ultimate creator, arbiter, and sustainer of tone.
(There really is no other way. The teacher who yaks about it but doesn’t embody it only teaches confusion.)
Then it must be practiced, first within the core of the voice, then extended to two octaves, using portamento and legato.
Those who have ears to hear—or as Tomatis would say—listen—can do this pretty quickly. Those with listening problems do not. For the latter, I recommend a course of Tomatis Listening Training.