Does Science Teach Singers to Sing?

The answer depends on whom you ask. If you ask a voice teacher that has been trained scientifically, that is, at a university where priority is given to scientific research, investigation and the accumulation of stacks of facts, the answer will be yes. However, if you ask an empirically-based voice teacher who is rooted in an historic vocal school like that of Francesco Lamperti, the answer will be no.

The scientific-based teacher rails against the voice teacher who uses metaphors, imagery and a steady diet of words like voice placement, while the empirically-based teacher demands to know who among the science-based students has learned to sing staring at a voiceprint and being able to name the muscles of the larynx.

Does one view-point have to be better than the other? I think not. My perspective is that both schools have their place: the scientific view being the most useful for the voice teacher who is already trained in his art. After all, Manuel Garcia - the father of modern vocal pedagogy - thought it better to refrain from confusing the mind of the student with unnecessary facts and anatomical jargon.

Do you teach a young child grammar so that he can learn to speak? Then why teach a voice student who can't sing a 5-tone scale what a formant is? The truth is: knowing everything doesn't solve everything. If it did, everyone would be a vocal genius. But that is not the case. Better to educate a student's ear by example, which is - believe it or not - how the 18th century teacher taught. While modern minds may think this method unsophisticated, it was the primary avenue of vocal training for more than two centuries. Stacks of facts are no substitute for a beautiful tone. Which - do you think-  is better remembered?

Ok, you say. What about the voice teacher who sounds like a god but can't teach to save his life? My response? The teacher who sounds like a god but is an ineffective teacher isn't doing his job. And what is his job? To teach his students to listen.

Listening, if you haven't figured it out already, is an empirically-based skill.


Doundou Tchil said…
Once I found a 19th century book about a man who wanted to study the physiology of voice production. He had a supply of cadavers which he manipulated with machines so they produced sound. He'd calibrate and experiment, but he couldn't get his corpses to sing.

Frankenstein science! I wish I still had this book, for curiosity sake.