Vocal Pedagogy is NOT Voice Science

I’ve recently come to an interesting and personal conclusion. Voice Pedagogy is NOT Voice Science.

In many academic institutions throughout the United States, voice students can take classes in Vocal Pedagogy at the college level.  Most of these classes are formed upon an intensive study of laryngeal muscles, the throat, the torso, as well as an in-depth discussion of acoustics, resonance, and formant tuning.  But I believe that this particular approach is deeply, deeply flawed.

The aura and imprimatur of science is dangerously alluring and tends to give a sheen of respectability to these higher education courses. Science legitimizes its own study, precisely because it is so respectable, and because of this it is not questioned for study in Vocal Pedagogy classes. But, in my opinion science is the what; pedagogy is the how.

The definition of ‘pedagogy’ according to dictionary.com is as follows:

1. the function or work of a teacher; teaching.
2. the art or science of teaching; education; instructional methods.

For Vocal Pedagogy courses to be TRULY pedagogical in nature, their function should be established as a discovery and study of the great teachers, writings, and teaching methods of the past. This is because study should be upon the art and science of TEACHING voice.  Science to date has offered fascinating knowledge of what the voice is DOING, but has not offered us an operant principle upon which a system of voice training can be built.

HOWEVER, the writings of the Great Masters DO provide us with a treasure trove of information on how voices have been trained over centuries. This is valuable information for the emergent voice teacher, and CAN help the teacher formulate a method based on the work of centuries in singing studios all over the world.  No mathematician or scientist EVER made a contribution in their field without knowing the theories and work of those men and women that came before. For a college student to take Voice Pedagogy and NOT study the writings of Tosi, Mancini, Manfredini, Garcia, and Marchesi is a miscarriage of justice! You cannot formulate a technique of singing on charts and graphs of the human body alone.

My particular theory on why academia teaches SCIENCE instead of TRAINING HISTORY is because science is not as controversial to college voice faculty who may be publicly exposed for teaching untenable concepts in their lessons. I can imagine a student poring over bel canto texts and wondering why their teacher is talking about ‘putting it in the mask’, ‘spinning the tone’, or ‘inflating the tube’ when NONE of these classic voice training texts mention anything of the kind.  This type of pedagogy course could potentially put out of business many of those in academia who suffer from an “Emperor Has No Clothes” teaching methodology. Students might demand a higher level of instruction if they were to become aware of the vast body of teaching information that dates back to the 1600s.

As a corollary, I recently purchased a book on pedagogy for teaching piano. Chapters include such topics as “Developing a Teaching Philosophy”, “Systems and Principles of Learning”, “Goal Setting”, “Note-Reading Approaches”, “Teaching Children/Adults”, “Common Problems of Beginners”, and “First Year Goals”. THIS kind of pedagogy is what is SORELY lacking in many academic programs throughout the country.  Many of these questions can also be solved by reading the Old Masters and how they tackled many of these same issues.

Voice Science is a wonderful thing for teachers everywhere, but it shouldn’t be lumped into Voice Pedagogy courses as if it were somehow the foundation and crux of all voice training.  In my opinion, two classes should be offered: Voice Science, and Voice Pedagogy. The bifurcation of these two ideas would give them their proper setting and place them within a specific context for teaching purposes in higher education.

Historical teaching and pedagogy needs to take place of prominence in any course carrying the title of “Voice Pedagogy”.

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2 thoughts on “Vocal Pedagogy is NOT Voice Science

  1. I completely agree! Last year I took a vocal pedagogy class at my university, and the first month mainly consisted of recreating the larynx out of Play-Doh (allegedly to aid in memorizing the structure of the larynx and vocal tract), reading esoteric articles on acoustics and resonance, and memorizing how many times per second the folds vibrate at various pitches. This is great information for a singer to know, however, following these topics of “preparation”, we were to give lessons to high school students preparing for Solo & Ensemble. Needless to say, most of us had no idea what to do, other than recreate the methods we’d observed our instructors use with us during lessons, and possibly describe what was anatomically happening in the breathy-voiced girl’s vocal tract – which wasn’t exactly an efficient skill set to help her improve. So I really appreciate you saying “science is the what; pedagogy is the how.” I’m about to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in music, and to reference another of your posts, much of my education consisted of learning an “aesthetic” as opposed to correct function and how to help others do the same. I’m strongly considering studying with a certification program first, such as IVA, instead of pursuing a master’s degree. Do you know of any master’s programs that give decent pedagogical training? Jeanie LoVetri through Shenandoah Conservatory perhaps?

  2. Dan,
    I think it is valuable that you are considering options other than university for your continuing education. As you and Justin stated so well, pedagogy is only good so far as it gives practical application to diagnosing and then training the voice. Anatomy does not inform the instructor as to how to best correct imbalance in the singing voice. I can vouch for IVA and its program. I am not an expert, but I don’t believe there is anything in a Master’s program at university in the US that will give you the tools that IVA does as a voice teacher. The training is exceptional. I understand that as far as employment in a university is concerned, the Master’s Degree is valuable. Jeanie LoVetri also seems to be a fantastic resource for continuing education. Justin can speak to that better than I can. I wish you well in your journey! Tina Meals

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