Tradition AND Science –Why an Either/Or Approach is Ill-Advised

In traditional teaching, the teacher who learned a complete technique attempts to pass along his or her experiences in the process of developing the student’s voice in balance.  In the best case scenario, the teacher has had to solve all relevant technical issues in his/her own instrument and is aware of how the different functions work in balance.  However, developing a proprioceptive awareness in the student is challenging if the student is not already coordinated, to begin with. We also know of the many excellent singers who developed unconsciously and have no idea how they developed balance and often simply tell their students what they were told, to very inconsistent results.

On the science side, teachers learn the structure of the instrument and attempt to balance the instrument based on keen anatomical and acoustical knowledge and principles.  At best, the teacher uses both ears and scientific tools to determine when the student has accomplished the desired results.  Still, a student will not make wonderfully coordinated sounds without a physical experience of proper function.  Knowing is not enough.  The teacher needs to develop a means to cause the desired function and the student needs to develop a proprioceptive awareness of correct function.  For example, knowing that the vocal folds must resist the breath stream efficiently (i.e. without loss of air or excessive subglottal pressure (associated with pressed voice).  Glottal resistance is dependent upon multiple functions.  The student must be guided to balance those functions in order to achieve the correct form of glottal resistance. 

The point of contention has to do with resonance feedback.  Science-based teachers are very resistant to the suggestion of specific resonance sensations.  There is no empirical basis for suggesting that any part of the anatomy should be associated with vibratory sensations relative to efficient and balanced function.  Yet, students have been relying on resonance feedback through bone-conduction since the onset of classical vocal technique.

I have been schooled by both science-based teachers and traditional teachers.  There is much that they agree upon but their jargons are so different that they often do not find a common point of reference.  When the traditional teacher says to a student: “place it in the head,”  confusion may ensue if the student has not yet developed a source tone that produces such resonance sensations.  Likewise, telling a student to adduct the folds more can be just as limiting, because glottal resistance is not one-dimensional.  Longitudinal tension, which impacts both CT and TA groups, has closure properties.  Medial activity alone is dangerous.  All the more reason to be able to ascertain what kinds of resonance feedback seem to be consistent with balance phonation.  Scientists hate this because they cannot put it in a box.  As much of a nerd as I am, I realized a long time ago that in art, often 2+2= 4+.   The goal, therefore, is to connect scientific information with proprioceptive experiences.  In this way, the singer processes singing in the way singers always have–proprioceptively! But improving on the past, the process can be buttressed by an objective process connecting tone production to resonance feedback.  The danger is that similar resonance sensations are difficult to distinguish.  Aiming for a resonance sensation without a relationship to how the source tone is being produced is like sailing in the open ocean without a compass.  The same can be said of source tone manipulation without a sense of how it relates to resonance sensations.

© May 31, 2018

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