When “voice science” seems overwhelming

informationoverloadIf you are a singer or teacher who has been exposed to lots of the current research on voice science, you may find it fascinating or boring, useful or irrelevant, but I think we can agree that the quantity of it is increasing at a very fast rate.

To quote Stephen Smith again, “Science is very good at telling us what happens, but we can’t do what happens.” If that makes no sense, let it sit for a bit and come back to it.

There is a widespread belief now that you have to understand formants, flow phonation, subglottal pressure strategies, and spectrographic analysis in order to be a good teacher. Bosh! There have always been good teachers who did not know these things, either because they developed before we could measure all of this stuff, or because they didn’t relate to it. The proof is in the ability of their students to sing. Many different approaches have trained good singers. Like many teachers, I have my pet approaches and beliefs about how singing should be taught, but I would be an absolute fool if I did not admit that teachers using ways that seem bad to me have done a great job with their studios.

The inclusion of hardcore science in the studio is yet another one of those “approaches” that pop up like weeds in Pedagogy Land. It is blatantly obvious that many great singers from way back as well as recent memory were trained well without it. Let’s think about how that could be. Do good teachers with wildly different ideas about “technique” and “pedagogy” have ANYTHING in common? I invite you to share your answers to that question. I believe that the one thing they have in common, and maybe the only thing, is highly developed listening skills and the ability to convey, within their own vocabulary and abilities, the right next steps for the singer before them.

As a teacher who has had general success in my studio, I will keep trying to improve myself along the lines of what has served me so far, but I have to remind myself daily that some people whose ideas seem wacky (including the scientists’!) , are getting good results. What I hope we can avoid is feeling like we must use all data and all techniques that cross our paths in this age of vast information overload.

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