An Experiment

An interesting pedagogical experiment:

Subject One: One high-level, expert voice teacher. Does not speak a word of English. Has trained many successful singers and has a high sensitivity to voice function and artistic use of the voice. A “Master” teacher.

Subject Two: One young adult American student. Intermediate beginner. Some experience singing in choir and in school musicals. Does not speak Italian.

Methods: Put these two people into a room with a tuned piano. Comfortable temperature – air controlled. Good lighting.

Hypothesis: Could the Italian teacher teach the American student how to sing better based on no common shared language? How would the teacher transmit concepts of good singing without readily available pithy, trendy pedagogical terms and words like:

  • Spin
  • Lift
  • Ribs
  • Support
  • Up and over
  • Lift up and pull back
  • Release into the top
  • Connect to the pelvic floor
  • Mix
  • Falsetto
  • Chest
  • Head
  • Diaphragm
  • Breath
  • Relax
  • Open/close
  • Tall/long
  • Tight/Released

It would be interesting to discover if great singing could be taught without recourse to a shared language. Can you teach someone to sing better without using a single comprehensible word?

Perhaps in this lexical impoverishment, voice teaching would recognize its particular (and in my opinion, it’s TRUEST) purpose: working with SOUND, and the systems that elicit such sound.

Other means of education would need to occur in order to transfer pedagogical information: gestures, facial expression, demonstration, and utilization of intelligently drawn exercise and maneuvers in something INTERNATIONAL and available in Western music: pitch, intensity, and vowel. All three of those things don’t need any language tied to them in order to teach them. Just think about that.

Words related to singing are a psychological byproduct to describe something that usually has ALREADY happened or something that one HOPES will happen – a means to describe the MEMORY or ANTICIPATION of sound – not the sound itself.

There is no guarantee (based on available scientific peer reviewed papers) that singers who think in words (like ‘support’ for instance) are accomplishing the particular pedagogical goal that those words are supposed to achieve. In other words, singers aren’t actually doing the thing their words are telling them they’re supposed to in the first place. Their bodies aren’t lying, their words are!

Many skills could be taught without the necessity of language: painting, dancing, sculpture –  just three among many.

Words can be an armor that voice teachers collect in order to appear intelligent. It won’t necessarily make them a better teacher if they can’t relate (or TRANSLATE) those words back to the thing that matters: the SOUND. Call it ‘peanut butter and jelly’ if the sound is right – that’s the goal of voice teaching in the first place! Not learning vocabulary lists.

Words can also baffle and confuse.

We can get ‘hung up’ on words, and miss the forest for the trees.

Let’s not hide behind or fetishize our words, teachers.