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Bel Canto
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This short compendium that I wanted to call Canoro Catechism, by the way religious must surrender to the study, for dialogue to be established between the student and the teacher, and the divine inspiration that is needed to succeed vocal, is a sincere a

‘Bel Canto’’

An Overview

by Jesús Quiñones Ledesma


Technical aspects for attaining optimal natural placement of the voice, without losing its beauty, spontaneity and flexibility, as taught in the old Italian school of singing.


·         In order to make a sung sound free and ‘well-placed’, retaining its’ quality, color and brightness, it is necessary, (with balance and accuracy), to maintain the presence of air within the space, as the proper connections and outgoing air are then in accord with one another, a symbiotic balance. If intercostals breathing is properly taken, a sort of ‘invisible belt’ will form around the diaphragm, which will release the throat from rigidity and contraction; the connection will work instantly.


·         Through this process, always achieved in one motion, (single, powerful and synchronized), the air can allow for a large arch, with mental control, suspending the voice from above, (thinking of the arched upper palate), leaving it suspended (allowing for the high sound) and supported by the intercostals breathing process in order to be able to feel the empty space so that the voice is above the air stream, (sulfiato) thus protecting the vocal cords. In this way the singer is ready to allow the vocal process to occur in a natural fashion.


·         Regarding the throat: I can only emphasize that it should be left relaxed, with a flexible body surrounding it; the voice should definitely remain mentally focused in the mouth, an illusion that can only be achieved with use of great mental concentration, suspended on the upper palate. The glottis should remain as low as the sung language dictates without nasal resonance, which stiffens the throat and could cause muscular contractions; the throat must remain muscularly passive. One should achieve friction of the vocal cords, assuming that the space has been achieved, always avoiding the ‘metallic’ sound should unwanted and excess air enter the space. It is important that the voice ride on top of the air column at all times. Thus one avoids ‘burning up’ excess air in creating the sound.


·         In terms of inhalation, follow the same process, which must remain intercostals and which should be mentally induced in order to achieve adequate support and immediate connection to the voice, (one cannot lose any time in this process which should be instantaneous, in a single motion, powerful and synchronized), the forthcoming vocal utterance can (in every situation and placement called for) work naturally and safely through its entire range. This also allows the sound, suspended from above (always on the air column and in an upward motion toward the top of the cranium), to find its space and ‘bloom’ in the mask and then in the head, (suono di testa) and expand like a fan without losing it’s altitude, clarity and brightness (Squillo).  In this way an easy and satisfying upper register can be easily achieved.


·         Regarding connection and focusing on the lips: both work together and are closely related in the placement process of natural sound, so long as long as the oval shape of the mouth is preserved. Any mismatch in focus on the lips will affect the connection. Care must be taken, under constant mental supervision, to insure that the upper lip does not open upward or spread sideways (the ‘smiling’ American school), that the feeling of height is not lost, that the vowel is not spread, and not showing the upper teeth, which can create a harmful situation and is basically the cause of the mismatch of resonance. High concentration is required to avoid this; one must maintain solid concentration in a constant attempt to not adversely affect the process of vowel placement.


·         ‘Vocalization’ is important to shape the vocal process to discover the simple, but difficult wonders of vocal technique. One does not necessarily sing as one vocalizes, but one must exercise the vocal cords so that they become accustomed to the technical process which eventually provides security so that one can sing properly. One should not ‘overheat’ the voice, rather one must train the diaphragmatic musculature, which strengthened, can serve to release tensions and rigidity of the throat area. In this entire process the most important thing is to develop the intellect that is the ultimate basis of all vocal study. Intelligence is the ultimate gift that is needed to face a career as a singer. Even with a good voice, and desire to succeed, if one lacks intelligence a long career will be difficult. After all, we still have the luck and happiness that God has given us; the reward will be to achieve our goals.


·         What I have summarized in this compendium are mostly things which confuse young singers in their unbridled desire to learn the art of singing. Inner calm and perseverance are necessary to deal with the voice. The process cannot be rushed; rather, one must give it time. Hurrying could serve to lengthen the process rather than shorten it. Avoid confusion and transitions that can create bad vocal habits difficult to correct later. Attention to the study of singing should be consistent and constantly analyzed, asking for help as many times as necessary to clarify the source those weaknesses which, if not addressed in time, may increase the confusion of the student.


·         To all who read the Catechism Canoro: I invite you to read it several times and try to analyze its content.


·         I should like to share the contents of this compendium with teachers or coaches who participated in my recent workshops with the idea that they can understand with the highlights of the compendium and assist in analyzing them. This will help in understanding the vocal process so that there can be no doubts or confusion which could affect the progress of students. If teaching the basics of the system concur with the Italian singing school there should be no confusion, but if not, then you should seek alternatives which match the canoro process analysis, to be shown by the progression of the student. It is not my intention through this compendium that everyone immediately solves their current vocal problems. Nevertheless, one must follow the criteria of the Old Italian school of singing, with the desire to find the definitive way for themselves.



Notes and explanations

for fellow teachers


The statements set forth in this compendium are limited, in many cases, to explaining the most common problems of young students of singing. Surely, many aspects should be taken into account in vocal training. In addition, the brevity of the compendium which in and of itself relates to more advanced stages of study makes it unadvisable to push young students to make the principles described therein to function over a short period of time. Technical command of the voice takes time to achieve and should not try to be absorbed by a young vocal and mental system prematurely.

In the old days one studied singing for many years; the student was not ‘hurried’. It paid well to let the voice ripen slowly. Today we want to expedite the process and are often not given the opportunity to study with proper mental awareness and dedication. Today there are many higher degrees, masters and doctorates. They look great on a wall, but not on stage.
Gigli, Pertile, Merli, Corelli, Del Monaco, all famous tenors, Cigna, Tebaldi, Caniglia, Melis, De Hidalgo, famous sopranos. They were viewed on the stage as Gods but had no ‘degrees’. What was the reason for this? Great teachers taught privately. Through them became big names and sang worldwide.

Today there is a reason to have a diploma, which is very good, with the idea in mind that if one doesn’t have a career life I can go further. To be sure economic security is very important. However, many of those who have not prepared well or have made short careers slide into Schools of Music, Conservatories, and Universities, sometimes with good, and sometimes with mediocre success. This is not a criticism; it is just a simple fact. Many good voices have been lost due to lack of a good teacher. My interest is to be open to dialogue and seek ways to help bring out vocal talent. Teachers and coaches should constantly improve their skills to better serve the environment. One does NOT learn to sing by reading books. One must face this reality. A good teacher makes a good singer. Most school teachers must continue studying in order to retain their license to teach and to keep up with the requirements of teaching. Singing teachers should attend seminars and workshops, to help insure that we have best teachers to help their disciples.

In recent workshops I did in Puerto Rico I heard a young singer who is also is singing teacher. To my surprise, after singing for me, he asked me to give him some ideas on how I could improve vocal output. I worked with him; it was an undertaking of great camaraderie between colleagues. He was a very dynamic and intelligent young man, with no mental problems or counterproductive ego issues. I aligned his voice and, to be fair, I congratulated him on his quick grasp of technical issues and hard work. It is the smartest way to learn to sing, to keep studying, learning, and questioning. There are those who would do the same if they really would want to continue progressing vocally. There is no need to come to me. It is only necessary to see reality. In Italy there are courses for teachers of singing. It would be a good idea to attend one or two to catch up. There are no books to read in these courses, rather a ‘searching’ for the voice, like discovering things that one thought one could never manage. Intelligently facing a total improvement process should be the profession of teacher and student.


 © Copyright 2001 Jesús Quiñones Ledesma

Translated by Thomas Silverboerg