Practical Advice for the Voice Pedagogue

Article excerpt

[Editor's Note: This article is an opinion piece predicated on a subjective definition of "exemplary" and an assumed level of pedagogic excellence that should not necessarily be construed as shared by NATS or the Journal of Singing.]

TEACHING APPLIED VOICE IS CHALLENGING: it combines the complex areas of knowledge in music, anatomy, linguistics, psychology, acoustics, and a variety of teaching philosophies.1 In music, a voice teacher must be familiar with complex theoretical and historical styles and approaches. In anatomy, a voice teacher must understand the vocal mechanism and the mechanics of breathing. In linguistics, a teacher must be knowledgeable in several languages, at the very least English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; a teacher must be able to teach the nuances and complexities of each. In psychology, a teacher must be able to understand and work with each individual singer's ego and have an understanding of his or her learning style. In acoustics, a teacher must understand the physics involved in producing sound and use of the harmonic series. In sum, the art of teaching applied voice is a highly complex and subjective field.

When completing research in the area of voice pedagogy, one encounters a three-fold problem: 1) historical research is often vague and sometimes contradictory; 2) contemporary research can be biased, predicated upon personal opinion or methodology; and 3) scientific research frequently is far removed from the private studio, conducted by scientists with terminology that is complex and confusing. Overall, voice pedagogues are overwhelmed by a vast amount of research, with no clear guidelines for separating good from great pedagogic advice.

On the other hand, it is recognized that some voice pedagogues are more effective teachers than others-not merely more knowledgeable, but more resourceful, engaging-and have the ability to excite students.2 These teachers have the skill to elicit optimum vocal growth, a comprehension of personal abilities, and the realization of professional goals. Most would agree that exemplary voice teachers are those who have trained their students to perform with high levels of technical proficiency and artistry. Questions then arise: 1 ) Who are these exemplary teachers? 2) What are they doing differently that allows them to train aspiring singers to perform at such high levels? 3) Are there some common threads among their teaching philosophies and studio techniques? 4) Are these common threads (ideas or techniques) transferable to other voice teachers?

In her research, Blades-Zeller expresses a need for further investigative research in the area of voice pedagogy.3 She suggests that a researcher should document one exemplary voice teacher, interview the teacher, his or her students, and observe lessons. A resulting report would provide a full, holistic model of successful teaching strategies.

The purpose of the present study was to determine how three exemplary voice teachers address specific voice pedagogy with their students and to find out what advice they have to share with other teachers and singers. The specific research questions were:

1. How do three "exemplary" voice teachers address technique, artistry, and musicianship while teaching voice lessons?

2. Do they adjust their teaching style for the needs of each individual? If they do, how are the adjustments made?

3. What are the common threads of advice that exemplary voice teachers have to share with beginning voice teachers and aspiring singers?

The first step was to identify three exemplary teachers or subjects for this research project. Many experts suggest that proof of exemplary voice teaching is found in the products or the students that are produced.4 Such students demonstrate a complete understanding of vocal technique and an intelligent musicianship based upon sound pedagogic practices that result in optimum performance skills. These students are those who obtain professional performance careers. …