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Science Meets Singing

An examination of the connection between traditional science and vocal pedagogy.
by

Iain Sturrock

on 20 April 2010

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Transcript of Science Meets Singing

Science: from Latin 'scientia' meaning knowledge, is defined by Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary as "knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, especially as obtained and tested through scientific method and concerned with the physical world." What is Science? Science is knowledge. What is Singing? Webster says to sing is "to utter words in musical tones and with musical inflections and modulations by means of the voice." Singing is uttering. Science + Singing "Uttering musical truths of general laws in musical tones as obtained through scientific method by means of the voice." Observation vs. Empiricism ...and likewise scientists often neglect singing as a viable field of study. There is a danger for singers to write off vocal science as ubiquitous jargon... Science is a staple in the public education system.
It receives adequate funding and is taught at every level of institutional study.
It can be taught out of textbooks that progress in subject matter and difficulty on a definite spectrum.
Can be clearly illustrated in said materials.
Each step logically and formulaically leads to the next.
Work is executed in a controlled environment.
Progress can be observed and measured by standard examination and is practically universal.
Singing is being increasingly overlooked in public education.
It is an elective and deviant scholarly path.
You can't learn how to sing from a book (there is no definitive work on singing- only theories).
Learning is heavily dependant on sensation and must be considered relative to the individual.
Not all variables can be controlled.
There is a substantial psychological element.
No two voices are alike.
Vast aray of methodology.
So which is better? Lynn Helding, author of the column "Mindful Voice" in the Journal of Singing says that the 'either-or' approach "has proved just as polarizing
and unproductive as the age-old 'nature versus nurture'
debate." There are similarities in both practices. A balanced synthesis between the two disciplines is possible... Learning begins with basic foundations and principles.
Progress is observed through performance.
There is still much to be learned in both fields.
Science can confirm what teachers hear and singers feel.
There is a proces to a singer's phonation and feedback that is almost sceintific in nature (command-control-plant process examined in class).
Tools like VoceVista and Sing and See can lend an element of certainty to an otherwise entirely empirical practice.
The study of vocally relevant anatomy can be immensely beneficial to understanding how your voice works as well as in terms of vocal health.

Singing Science has plausibly been extant since Manuel Garcia II brought the laryngoscope into prominent use in 1854- so vocal pedagoges have had over 150 years to develop an approach that includes sensory and scientific methods. A general lack of cooperation between these two fields can be attributed to limited collaboration between singers/teachers and scientists.
If singers/teachers don't fully understand all of the principles involved in vocal science, they risk erroneous assumptions and possible flawed methodology.
Scientists are rarely singers themselves, and so cannot grasp the specifics of vocal quality and production. Kenneth Bozeman of Lawrence University states that "Teachers needn’t burden the voice student with
great detail, but carefully can choose what is truly applicable
and helpful. Well informed voice teachers also
have much to offer the voice science community in terms
of identifying and carrying out pedagogically fruitful
research agendas and by providing context and access
to excellent subject pools. By working together, well designed
and executed studies can be undertaken that will
fulfill that which motivates both communities: our mutual
love of beautiful, liberated singing." Scott McCoy of Westminster Choir College compares The Singers and The Scientists to a racecar driver and his pitcrew... The driver is in control of the vehicle like the singer controls his/her own voice. Intution, natural ability, and confidence all play a role in the successful performance of their respective task. They don't necessarily need to know how everything works, but need to know when something isn't working. The pitcrew does need to know how everything works and how to fix it. They may not be able to drive the car or sing the song personally, but they know what it takes to make an efficacious machine. The point is that these two entities must work together in order to achieve the highest standard of excellence. Works Cited
Austin, Stephen. "FredericW.Root's 'Systemizing Voice Culture'." Journal of Singing 66.2 (2009): n. pag. EBSCO Host. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.
Bozeman, Kenneth. "A Case for Voice Science in the Voice Studio." Journal of Singing 63.3 (2007): n. pag. EBSCO Host. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.
Helding, Lynn. "The Missing Brain." Journal of Singing 66.1 (2009): n. pag. EBSCO Host. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.
McCoy, Scott. " Voice Pedagogy NATS and NASCAR." Journal of Singing 64.1 (2007): n. pag. IIMP. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.
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