Teaching What You Believe

Important pedagogical point ahead:

What I BELIEVE is WHAT I TEACH.

If I don’t believe in global warming, I will act differently than someone else who DOES. My behaviors spring from that belief.

If I believe I’m going to get hit by a bus while walking outside, I’ll have a different outdoor experience than someone who does NOT have that belief.

Consider the following:

  • I am a male voice teacher that believes that men do not sing in head voice on the high notes of the scale above E4. My students are the benefactors of my belief.

(Therefore, we get a student singer with a full, powerful, and chesty voice that stops somewhere in the vicinity of E4-F4 on the piano, and then get an OBVIOUS change of color/timbre as the singer ‘hooks,’ or ‘covers’ into the high voice at around F#4 or G4.  Likewise, we might see the tenor that sings in a powerful chest voice all the way up to A4 can go NO higher. So that singer will be categorized as a ‘baritone,’ because he cannot ‘sing the high notes’ required in operatic repertoire. (Perhaps if he could just get more ‘support’ those pesky notes would show up! :-/)

  • I am a teacher that believes that mix is a “resonance strategy” (more men than women believe this BTW) and NOT registration-oriented. I am going to use resonance as my ‘way in’ to the voice to solve all its inherent problems.

(Then we get singers with muddy middle registers, no high notes, and no solid low notes, over-spaced vowels, and perhaps a few wobbles or tremolos along the way.)

  • I am a female teacher that does not believe in chest register for women, so I am going to TEACH that belief. My singers will be the recipients of my belief. Ditto the male voice teacher that does not believe in falsetto.

(So these female singers will lose all impact in the lower part of their voice, and struggle throughout a lifetime with issues in the middle voice since this register is not called upon in the teacher’s belief system. Men’s upper voices will be limited to barking and shouting on the upper tones, which will exhibit little beauty and be unable to diminuendo with any real dynamic contrast.)

  • I am a voice teacher that doesn’t believe in registers. So I don’t teach that. I make sure that my students are ‘connecting to their breath’ (another belief), and ‘spinning the tone’ (another belief) while singing with a good lift in the zygomatic arch (which is a bone that cannot move in the face. Huh?). My students start singing in the middle voice, and we strengthen that. HOWEVER, I will make particular fach designations based on where in the voice they ‘transition.’ (The sound you just heard was my brain exploding.)

 

Thousands of voices have been erected on a teacher’s personal BELIEF SYSTEM. This wouldn’t be an issue if the foundations of those beliefs had historical and scientific merit and precedence.

Beliefs can be rational, logical, and affirmed by extensive knowledge and exposure – but they don’t have to be. Caveat emptor, students.

We all have our own individual belief systems in this life. Politics and religion easily come to mind. The media now has the ability to spin news in two different directions. We can now have liberal and conservative views of the same news story. Facts themselves can become a political issue. It becomes a codification of values, ethics, and beliefs that will confirm my pre-existing biases. After all, I like to feel safe – and a flat earth makes me feel that way.

Science, rationality, history, scholarship, common-sense intelligence, and logic be damned!

Belief systems in pedagogy are extremely dangerous. Why? Because vocal function is not subject to ‘personally held beliefs.’ A ‘do your own thing’ school of singing is frankly dangerous (not to mention tremendously egotistical). It discounts the vast historical record on singing as well as the most modern scientific information gleaned from years of research.

Imagine the same male singer mentioned first above, who learns that YES he actually has a head voice but that it has never been developed or integrated into his singing technique after years of singing opera.

What happens when this same singer builds this shunned head voice, integrating into his voice so that his voice soars easily up to high C? The voice becomes wide ranging, flexible, and singing becomes an experience of sensuous pleasure and fun. It would appear that the idea that ‘men don’t sing in their head voice’ would have been a false belief, no?

(In case you’re wondering about this singer – it is yours truly.)

The most important questions any teacher of singing can ask are:

  • “Why do I believe what I believe?”
  • “Upon what do I base my beliefs?”
  • “Are those things biased in and of themselves?”
  • “Do my beliefs support how I personally feel (confirmation bias) or are they willing to change in light of newer information?”

Your vocal beliefs matter, and are damn important. You owe it to your students and to the profession at large to examine them in light of what we KNOW about the voice – from the empirical training of the Old Italians, to the modern knowledge of the scientific investigator.

The “Do Your Own Thing/Personal Belief” Schools of Vocal Pedagogy need to go the way of the dinosaur, and pronto.

 

 

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