I didn't know that! Issue# 6- Vocology makes a better singing teacher

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How does studying vocology make one a better singing teacher? I see several aspects of teaching that benefit from vocology study:

Vocology: “The science and practice of vocal habilitation and treatment of voice disorders” (Titze, Principles of Voice Production). This definition emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of the field of vocology. Vocologists include those who explore how to best enable a person vocally - why one approach works better than another, for example (voice scientists and medical doctors) as well as those who take this knowledge base and apply it in the training of voices (speech pathologists, acting voice coaches, singing voice teachers). For vocologists who specialize in the singing voice, our job is to find a way to implement the most up-to-date, scientifically-based knowledge on voice training, which has been gathered from all voice disciplines as well as from the fields of psychology and medicine, in the training of an artistic endeavor. The science informs our methodology.

1. Vocalizing, by including the incorporation of non-singing strategies and exercises from other disciplines, such as laryngeal massage, using vocal fry, humming, lip trills, etc.;
2. Organizing teaching methods and practicing strategies based on motor learning theories;
3. Using technology from the speech sciences to assist with initial assessments of students, to enhance the teaching studio environment and to track progress objectively;
4. Choosing repertoire;
5. Pedagogy teaching (drawing from all voice disciplines for resources; using technology to enhance learning pedagogical principles);
6. How one listens (functionally as well as artistically – this can be learned in part with the assistance of technology);
7. Collaborative relationships between teachers of singing, teachers of acting voice, medical doctors, speech-language pathologists, voice scientists, which aid all parties in understanding the relationship teaching singing has with other voice disciplines.

Here is a sample dialog between a vocology trained singing teacher and a new student. Note the types of questions the teacher asks:

Teacher: What's your favorite vocalise? Can you sing it for me?

Student: OK. [Sings 1-3-5-8-5-3-1 arpeggio on /i/]

Teacher: Ok. Nice sound! But how do you use it?

Student: What do you mean?

Teacher: In what range?

Student: Well, I generally start at the bottom and work my way up.

Teacher. Ok, that helps me understand what you do. [Taking notes]. Do you always use the same vowel?

Student: Well, I start with /i/, then try other vowels.

Teacher: Do you ever use consonants with it – like using a consonant to start the exercise, or one at the top of the arpeggio?

Student: Oh, sometimes I will – other times I just do vowels.

Teacher: Ok. When do you use it? Do you use it early in your vocalizing?

Student: Fairly early. Usually I do some sighs first, then this exercise.

Teacher: Ok, that’s good for me to know. How long do you stay with this one exercise?

Student: Oh, I go through different vowels and so forth, then move on to something else.

Teacher: OK. Why do you like it? What does it do for you?

Student: Oh, it helps me feel like I have my voice focused on the way up.

From here, the teacher can examine how this student’s favorite vocalise works: the vowels, the consonants, the pattern, the range the student uses it in, when he or she does it, and what it is doing physiologically. Then the teacher might be able to suggest ways in which the student might make it more effective.

Here’s another sample dialog between a vocologist/singing teacher and a new student.

Teacher: Tell me how you vocalize...you know, what do you do first, second, third, etc.

Student: Oh, well, I generally stretch some, then do some lip buzzes on descending patterns, then maybe some
descending scales [sings 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 on /u/], then some shorter ascending patterns, like [sings 1-2-1-3-1-4-1-5-1 on /va-i-a-i-a-i-a-i-a/]. After that, I might do a down-up-down pattern, like [sings 8-5-3-1-3-5-8-5-3-1 on /e/], then maybe some long scales or some phrases from pieces I am working on.

Teacher: How long do you spend vocalizing at one time?

Student: Oh, about 25 minutes.

Teacher: How much time do you spend with each exercise?

Student: Depends on how I feel that day, I guess.

Teacher: How many vocalises do you do in one session? You mentioned four before you started working on repertoire.

Student: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Teacher: How many times a day do you vocalize? Do you do several sessions per day, or just one?

Student: Well, if I have a rehearsal with my pianist or an opera rehearsal, I might practice more than once in a day.

Teacher: Did you devise these exercises yourself? Did you get them from your former teacher, or from a book?

Student: From all of the above – some I had heard other singers doing, and tried them and liked them; others are from my old teacher …

Teacher: Do you vary your vocalizing when you are warming up to perform?

Student: No, typically I just do the same stuff I always do.

Teacher: Why do you do what you do? Why in that order?

This type of initial dialog can give the teacher a great deal of insight into the student’s practice habits and how they have gotten to where they are technically. From this short interview, the teacher can begin to help the student shape their practicing in more effective ways.