Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Case for Voice Science in the Voice Studio

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Case for Voice Science in the Voice Studio

Article excerpt

IF ONE ACCEPTS MANUEL GARCIA'S INVENTION of the laryngoscope as a plausible starting point, the singing community now has had over a century and a half of experience with the explorations and contributions of the field of voice science. University faculty are increasingly renaming and adjusting voice pedagogy courses to be courses in voice science and pedagogy. While teachers in earlier centuries relied primarily on the authority of historic schools of pedagogy and teacher lineage, the situation today is somewhat different. Though few would claim to base their teaching exclusively on voice science, many now seek to compare historic pedagogy, or at least their own personal pedagogic histories, with information emerging from the investigations of voice science in order to confirm or adjust their approach, for new input, and for help in articulating more accurately vocal function and strategy for their students.

There are nonetheless those who claim that voice science has not helped voice instruction, that it has been a distraction, or still worse, a substitute for effective teaching. While this no doubt has been true in some instances, the same criticism could be leveled at exclusive reliance on historic pedagogy. Excellence in the teaching of singing in either case is not an easy pursuit. The prudent course of action would be to consider every potentially fruitful resource in the quest for effectiveness. There is no necessary conflict between the art of teaching and the investigations of voice science. If approached with sufficient care, patience, and humility, they can be tremendous allies.

This is not to say that emerging voice science always has been on the right track, nor that everything it observes is of use in the studio. That is not how science proceeds nor is pedagogy its only or even its primary purpose. Furthermore, there is still too little collaboration between excellent teachers and excellent voice scientists. There is and probably always will be some skepticism from both sides. Can teachers ever be more than dabblers in science who, because of their less sophisticated understanding of the principles involved, risk making naive errors in their tentative hypotheses? And how sophisticated are the assessments of voice scientists in matters of vocal quality? Do voice scientists ask and explore the questions that would be most beneficial to the pedagogic community? The best hope for effective collaboration lies both in increased communication and cooperation between excellent teachers and excellent scientists and in those few individuals who are truly conversant in both fields. The more that teachers and scientists honestly and respectfully seek to understand each other, acknowledging the value of each other's perspective, the more progress we will make with fewer misguided or marginally relevant tangents.

A SIMPLE EXAMPLE

Let me give an example of how very simple science can assist pedagogy. Though we all have heard excellent singers with notably noisy breathing, most voice teachers recommend a noiseless inhalation. Noiseless inhalation is not only aesthetically more pleasing, it is evidence of prephonatory tuning for an open throat. Noisy inhalation is caused by some obstruction or narrowing of the vocal tract, usually in the pharynx but possibly also at the glottis, that generates an increase in air speed through that narrowing with resultant audible turbulence. Because of our skewed perception of what feels open throated, merely telling the student to open her throat rarely eliminates the noise. She probably will form a yawny /a/ shape, perhaps lowering the pitch of the noise somewhat but not eliminating it. This is not her fault. Ask a crowd of uninitiated singers which vowel feels the most open throated and most will say /a/, or which feels the most closed throated and most will say /i/. These are accurate perceptual answers to the question of how it feels, but the opposite of the actual physical circumstance, as any voice examination reveals. …

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