Oskar Guttmann

In 1882, Guttmann published an English edition of his then popular book on vocal gymnastics under the long title of: Gymnastics of the Voice: A system for correct breathing in singing and speaking based on physiological laws (Guttmann, 1882). Guttmann’s voice gymnastics book was first published in German in 1859 and, after 23 years and several more editions in German, was republished it in New York where Guttmann established a practice as “a teacher of oratory and the dramatic art” (Guttmann, 1882, p. vii).

Guttmann devoted two of the five sections of his book to respiration. One on anatomy of respiration and another on exercises designed to improve breathing during singing and speech. In the section on respiratory gymnastics he warns:

These exercises should not be performed as mere muscle-movements, but should always be accompanied by breathing. It is true that we can perform them without breathing by mere contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm or other muscles. This, however, is a forced action of the muscles, and would result in no benefit (Guttmann, 1884).

Guttmann’s respiratory gymnastics included several series, with each involving an exercise regimen. He describes the series as:

For all exercises in these series, Guttmann offers the following advice having to do with muscle conditioning:

“…certain gymnastics of the lungs, as well of the other organs, must be performed daily just so long as the artist desires to practice his art with success; for just as the dancer through long inactivity loses the elasticity of his limbs, so the singer or the speaker fares with his lungs” (Guttmann, 1884).

Guttmann’s therapies were influential and adapted by others. For example, Leo Kofler (1837-1908), an organist at St. Paul’s Church in New York city and a student of Guttmann’s, used Guttmann’s breathing exercises in his practice as an elocutionist, and as a singing teacher, publishing his own exercise materials based on those of Guttmann (Kofler, 1887).


Guttmann, O. (1882) Aesthetics of physical culture. The Voice, 4: 61-63.

Guttmann, O. (1884) Gymnastics of the voice: A system of correct breathing, singing and speaking, based upon physiological laws. Edgar S. Werner, The Voice Press. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo1.ark:/13960/t1zc8h145&view=1up&format=plaintext&seq=8&skin=2021

Kofler, L. (1887). Art of breathing as the basis of tone-production for singers, elocutionists, educators, lawyers, preachers, and all others desirous of having good health. Kessinger Publishing Company.

Stathopoulos, E. & Duchan, J. (2006). History and principles of exercise-based therapy: How they inform our current treatment. Seminars in Speech and Language, 27, 227-235.