Vocal Science: Is It Necessary?
I was discussing the topic of vocal science with a well-known voice teacher when he suddenly stopped me and said, “John, I did not choose this career to become a scientist. I chose teaching voice because I love singing and want to help people.”
Does this teacher’s resistance to vocal science negate the good results he gets with his students? Of course not.
I have known a number of effective voice teachers who have very little knowledge of how the vocal cords and resonance function.
So do I think that it is necessary to study vocal science? No, I do not.
Teaching voice is a combination of different skills and experiences. There is no substitute for the empathy, experience and innate intelligence of a skilled voice teacher.
However I found in my personal teaching as well as my work with other voice teachers that increasing your knowledge of vocal science even a small degree can have a profound impact on your teaching.
The Big 3
There are three main components to singing: air, vocal folds and resonance. Each of these need to be in balance to successfully negotiate all of your registers in a healthy manner.
These three factors are what drive and control singing – everything else a singer experiences is an aftereffect or a result of these three elements.
Sensations of chest voice, head voice or split resonance are merely sympathetic vibrations being transmitted to the nervous system. These sensations can be felt so strongly that they can lead the singer and even the voice teacher to believe this is what is happening physically.
The search to give physical reasons for these sensations leads to a number of erroneous conclusions, some of which I admittedly used to teach.
However science can accurately explain what is happening throughout these different registers and sensations. This information gives the teacher much more clarity and gives them greater control over tool choices during the lesson.
The State of Vocal Science
Some teachers try and dismiss vocal science altogether, either arguing that the researchers can’t sing well (as if that should be a requirement) or that the science is somehow flawed or still lacking answers.
Although it is always evolving, the science of singing is not attempting to discover the origins of the universe or anything so grand. The basics are very well established. Also, the parts applicable to the voice teacher are not so difficult to understand, if the teacher makes the effort.
Real World Application
After working basics concepts of how the vocal cords work and (most importantly) resonance and vocal bridges, I have seen teachers make huge advancements in their teaching.
They analyze the voice more quickly and give students more exacting adjustments. The change in their student’s voices is remarkable.
These teachers are also better able to disseminate the huge volumes of vocal information floating around the internet.
So to once again answer my initial question: is it necessary? No.
Will it make a good teacher even better? Absolutely yes.