School of Visual and Performing Arts

A Few Ideas on Singing and on the Training of Young Singers

by Erik Johanson

Because of the intense competition in the business of singing today, the college-level teacher bears a heavy responsibility, not only to train well the young students, but also to help channel the students into a realistic acceptance of their own talents, whether these tend in the direction of a career as a chorister or a soloist, or rather tend toward developing as an amateur in the best sense of that word. Having made this statement, I must qualify it by saying that there are many ways that students can discover their talent, even in the early years of vocal training. This process of discovery can lead to a sense of where one belongs in music and in life.

How does one accomplish these aims? In the first place, vocal training must be considered as training of the whole body and mind. Too often the psychological and intellectual aspects of singing have been emphasized, at the expense of the physiological. The body--and the body includes the face--needs to be strong and flexible, freed of self-consciousness in expression, stance and gesture, so that it can respond to the emotional demands of music and drama. By drama I mean not only opera but also that expressed in concert, recital and choral singing as well. Whether or not large movement is required is irrelevant. Freedom of the body allows the training of the vocal mechanism to progress with far greater ease. To this end a combination of vocalization and body movement is effective.

Inconnection with this aspect of teaching I believe that, even as early as the freshman year, training can begin in operatic acting via movement exercises. The student, without performing arias, can learn musical styles, stage techniques, how to move with a musical phrase without appearing to do so, how to time a gesture or a movement to fit a phrase, etc.. All these skills are useful to any singer in any area.

Asto teaching actual vocal techniques, I think the modern teacher has an obligation to use audio, video, and computer technology in teaching, in order to help students learn more readily by listening to, watching and seeing print-outs of their own performances. By increasing awareness of the sensations felt during performance and then by learning how to analyze what one has sensed, one can smooth one's own path in the learning process. Examination of the physical act of breathing with video can at least help to hasten what is usually a long learning process.

Since singing is acoustical as well as physical, the teacher needs to be aware of the relationship between vocal color and pitch and efficient operation of the vocal mechanism. A mechanistic approach in this area usually works well, for too often singers, while striving for perfect diction, work at cross purposes, seeking to produce a clear tone but getting in the way of same by using a vowel suitable for speech, which does not allow for proper resonance. The use of phonetic symbols as a routine part of the vocabulary in voice training is indispensable. Again video can play a part in the observation of the physical workings of lips and tongue in forming vowels which are efficient and resonant.

The artist who can reveal in performance a vocal artistry which illustrates a beautiful sound produced with seeming physical ease, combined with musicality and grace, and then have a vocabulary to describe to the student--in concise, understandable terms--the means by which the artistry is accomplished, is well suited to teaching.

Byusing these methods, by tailoring them to fit each student and by encouraging each one to observe, absorb and learn from history, other art forms and the occurrences in everyday life, I believe that teachers can develop human beings who can be total artists, whether professional or amateur, who are enlightened and concerned about their fellow human beings and the world they live in.

Last Updated: 8/8/17