In order to be able to offer comprehensive vocal instruction, one needs a comprehensive understanding of the vocal mechanism. While it may be enough to be able to offer exercises and advice which create a beautiful voice, to be a fully effective instructor, one needs to be able to understand what happens physiologically to the larynx during phonation.

Efficient and Accurate Instruction

If we as teachers know what is happening physiologically in and around the larynx during beautiful singing, we will be able to more efficiently guide students to their potential. One can hack and slash their way aimlessly through a jungle, and maybe, eventually, they’ll get the buried treasure. Things would just be easier with a map.  The same concept holds true to vocal instruction. If we know (insert positive examples of vocal anatomy) we are able to encourage a student to that goal. Conversely, if what know what is physically creating a less than desirable sound, we will be more able and equipped to correct it. For example, if a singer strains and presses the sound ascending in pitch, we could indirectly influence correct technique by saying things like “Easy!” or “Use the breath!”  or “Don’t strain!” These encouragements may or may not be effective. But if we know that as the voice ascends one needs to maintain relaxed and stable larynx (through a release of tension in the laryngeal elevators) and we know ways to elicit that in another singer (regardless of whether or not the student understand the anatomy themselves), our instructional efficiency will take a giant leap forward.  

There was a time when I was studying to be strength and conditioning coach for professional sports teams.  If an athlete wants to increase their sprinting speed, it would be an “easy fix” to get them to run sprints every day. However, the muscles in their legs may not be the problem.  It could be a problem with their range of motion, their flexibility. It could be an issue with the musculature of the abdominal and lumbar regions.  Or it could just be they have poor technique.  We could spend months just sprinting and maybe times would improve…or we could spend a few weeks working on flexibility and make better progress. Knowing the anatomy of the larynx allows us to get right to the heart of the problem more quickly.  I could spend weeks with a breathy singer (aspirate phonation) preaching about breath management, when I should also be addressing their aspirate onset with exercises which encourage glottal onset.

Correct anatomical understanding also prevents mistruction. In mistruction video posting, I identified a woman who believed that her diaphragm inflated like a balloon during a breath. Her faulty understanding of the anatomy obviously influenced her pedagogy – in the video, she encouraged extreme abdominal distention because it was “proof that the diaphragm was working”. To her, the diaphragm was doing the work, a lot of work, and how she taught reflected that belief.  

The same holds true regarding our understanding of the larynx. If we believe that our vocal folds are “vocal cords” our instruction can’t be right because we are trying to instruct a physical response that is impossible to produce. Knowing that the breath creates an oscillation of the vocal fold, and oscillation creates the vibration which produces sound provides a positive concept of the creation of sound which will influence our pedagogy.

Much of teaching is a form of improvisation and successful improvisation is based on awareness and knowledge. If I believe that it is possible to “open the throat”  (and there exists no muscles which perform this function) I may, in the middle of a lesson, try to concoct ways to get a student to open their throat.  On top of being potentially ridiculous, my coaching won’t be helpful and is probably harmful.

Additionally, if we know the anatomy of the larynx, we are more equipped to identify issues that are not technique related. Knowing the parts of the larynx and their function creates an awareness of possible trauma and a consciousness of healthy singing. Not being fully aware of the anatomy, a teacher may encourage a singer with a persistently breathy tone to “use more air” when, in fact the singer may need to stop singing and see a doctor.

As stated in the text, it is possible to be and produce beautiful singers without anatomical knowledge.  However, the knowledge informs the pedagogy to produce a singing voice more efficiently and effectively.

Posted 2 years ago with 3 notes
Tags: Music Education  Anatomy  Vocal Education  Vocal Technique  
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