A universal certification for voice teachers is not possible

standardized tests for certificationWhy develop a universal certification for voice teachers?

“Differences in terminology have gotten out of hand recently.” No, there has been confusing, conflicting terminology since Garcia in the 1840s. Things have been “out of hand” for a long time! Who gets to decide “correct” terminology for the softer, conceptual aspects of teaching singing?

“Voice science gives us a way to objectively name and work with the voice.” OK, so you can certify voice researchers in a type of knowledge, but how will that relate to actual teaching? We are not even close to dealing with teaching outcomes yet. Why do the conferences go on and on about the physical sciences and devote so little time to educational psychology, general instructional methods, and ethnographic studies of singers’ educations? Is application of knowledge a relatively dirty business? Not academically sexy enough to get us noticed in our journals?

“Physiotherapists and physicians are certified, why can’t we do the same?” Because teaching voice is not just about vocal health. I would not trust my podiatrist to teach me how to dance. I would not let my speech therapist explain the musical, expressive, and technical implications of the huge leaps in the aria “Ruhe sanft”. Health professionals, technique teachers, and coaches at advanced levels are never found in one person (music and sports!).

Some proponents of universal certification of voice teachers may not like certifications in Speech Level Singing, Institute For Vocal Advancement, Somatic Voicework, Estill Voice, etc., due to a perceived incomplete or not-current scientific knowledge base. However, these organizations are trying vigorously to help teachers to teach, not just to know. These organizations serve real-world private teachers who are working with vast variations in clientele and repertoire.

Elementary and secondary public schoolteachers learn teaching methods that are based on successful outcomes in the past. Their principals hold them accountable for outcomes. Until the voice teaching profession finds a way to identify good outcomes, and trace back from there to come up with something teachable to all, we will keep talking about why nationwide or universal standardized certifications aren’t happening. In a profession where objectives and successful outcomes are all over the map, and the methods used with successful singers are incredibly diverse, we can’t give a praxis exam for voice teachers that will do much.

Maybe we can test for the anatomy part, or the pathology part, or some rudimentary biomechanics, but until we can figure out how to test for deep listening, ability to construct a useful personalized exercise regime, and successful application of technique to performance (Imagine trying to codify even this one thing!), we can’t certify that a teacher is competent. But stepping back from these suggested competencies, which reflect my personal bias, let’s ask a really big question:

Is a voice teacher a rehabilitation specialist, a trainer, a performance coach, or an artistic consultant? What domain are we certifying?

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

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3 Replies to “A universal certification for voice teachers is not possible”

  1. ASHA has decided that no training but theirs (the CCC-SLP certification) can designate a person qualified to do vocal rehabilitation, which is why we’re left with the thorny line between habilitation and rehabilitation in discussions about certifying vocologists. I agree with you, Brian, and think that the best we can do is try to influence the pedagogy curricula and provide more developmental experiences for voice teachers.

    1. Thank you Katherine. When I went back for my music education degree at Maryland, I can’t say all the courses were revelatory or perfect, but there was a clear program to introduce classroom teachers to how to teach, both very generally and content-specifically. So many BM and MM graduates decide to teach private voice and don’t know where to start. It is indeed daunting, without a proper course sequence in college, student teaching, observation, and mentorship that most public school teachers have access to. My MM in “performance and pedagogy” was very, very light on the teaching part.

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