The Slow Ascending Scale:
The vocal workout of the great Lilli Lehmann (1848-1929), and her great respect for the Slow Ascending Scale, she imparts in her book, How to Sing (New York, Dover Publications, 1993), first published in German in 1902. In it we find Chapter XXIX: what she refers to as The Great Scale, and from which the following is excerpted.
“This is the most necessary exercise for the voice. As a pupil one must practice it twice a day, as a professional singer at least once. The great scale, properly elaborated in practice, equalizes the voice, makes at flexible and noble, gives strength to all weak places, operates to repair all faults and all breaks, and develops the voice to the very heart. Nothing escapes it. It brings ability as well as inability to light. In my opinion it is the ideal exercise, but the most difficult one I know. By devoting forty minutes to it every day, a consciousness of certainty and strength will be gained that ten hours a day of any other exercise cannot give. This should be the chief test in all conservatories. If I were at the head of one, the pupils should be allowed for the first three years to sing at the examinations only difficult exercises, like the great scale before they should be allowed to think of singing a song or an aria, which I regard only as cloaks for incompetents.
“In earlier years I used to like to shirk the work of singing it. There was a time when I imagined that it strained me. . . . It cost me many, many years of the hardest and most careful study; and it finally brought me to realize the necessity of exercising the vocal organs continually, and in the proper way, if I wished always to be able to rely on them. Practice, and especially the practice of the great, slow scale, is the only cure for all injuries, and at the same time the most excellent means of fortification against all over-exertion. I sing it every day, often twice, even if I have to sing one of the greatest roles in the evening. I can rely absolutely on its assistance.
“If I had imparted nothing else to my pupils but the ability to sing this one great exercise well, they would possess a capital fund of knowledge which must infallibly bring them a rich return on their voices. I often take fifty minutes to go through it only once, for I let no tone pass that is lacking in any degree in pitch, power, and duration, or in a single vibration of the oscillating vocal cords.”
Ms Lehmann’s words are as relevant today as they were when her book was first published. Keep in mind that Ms. Lehmann was working a full two and one-half octaves, maybe more, and she may have rested a minute or more between the upper scales. She probably worked all five vowels (one vowel, one day) and a few more to include the umlauts. (The voice can be fully developed within structure on the [a] vowel, however, with the appropriate modifications.) She knew every pitch through vowel character and sensation (resonance) of every scale she sang. Such a comprehensive education was core to the Old Italian School of Singing. It is a dynamic-tension exercises, and much ignored today.
For three months I would not take it above F, top line, treble clef; that is, all voices except baritones and basses--E-Flat for you, gentlemen. The second slow scale depicted above I suggest to beginners. Also, untill the top notes are secure, you may increase the tempo of the upper scales; make it easy on yourself in the beginning.