How Much Science Does Your Student Need to Know?

Weekly Teaching Tip – May 29, 2017
by John Henny

Voice science has been embraced by more and more teachers in recent years, and for good reason, it is one of the best ways to understand what your student’s voice is doing and how to best approach it.

However, the question often arises as to how much we need to tell the student about voice science. In some ways I treat it like my parents treated The Santa Clause question, if I asked, it was time to tell me.

We all know voice science can be very confusing at first, even more so to the voice student. That is why we need to be careful how much we tell them and how we tell them.

I find explaining pitch making and air resistance at the vocal fold level much easier to understand for the average person, it is the vocal acoustics and registration that tends to confuse even the smartest students.

A word like “formants” Is likely to confuse any voice student, so I talk about resonators, which is much more easy to understand.

Most students with a musical instrument background will understand the concept of harmonics. If they don’t, I explain how the pitch you hear is made up of many pitches, the bottom of which we hear is the pitch, and the ones above we hear as color.

I then explain how the sound wave with all of its harmonics enters the resonators and is influenced by the size and shape of the resonators in either helpful or non-helpful ways.

I also tell them how the interaction of the harmonics and the resonators gives us the sensation of chest, middle, and head voice (or however you like to describe vocal registers).

At that point it is pretty easy for them to understand a register violation, such as pulled chest, in terms of an unhelpful relationship between the resonator and the sound wave. They can then understand how adjustments to the resonators, or the vowel, can help create a better vocal balance.

I find that even just that little bit of deeper understanding helps them approach their instrument in a more informed and aware manner.

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