Singing and Science: Body, Brain and Voice - Second Edition

Jean Callaghan
SKU: C058
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Looking at voice science from the practitioner’s viewpoint, Singing and Science: Body, Brain and Voice is a comprehensive book for all those interested in how the singing voice works. It has application to singers, teachers of singing, music educators, choral conductors, voice scientists, and speech-language pathologists and physical therapists working with singers. The title reflects a major change since the first edition of Singing and Voice Science in 2000. That is that new technology has facilitated neuroscience research, making available information on the role of brain and mind in music learning, in language, and in psychomotor learning and performance.

The text explores modern voice science and scientific findings in the context of musical concerns of the singer. Modern scientific knowledge of the mechanics of the vocal instrument allows what is heard to be associated with specific physical co-ordinations as well as providing a basis for teaching technical skills, for diagnosing and correcting vocal faults, and for ensuring efficient voice production. This science is put into an applicable body of information under familiar terms, such as breath management, phonation, resonance and articulation, and vocal health.

Also examined are the relationship between music and language and how singers approach conveying both linguistic and musical meanings. The growing knowledge in the fields of neuroscience and cognition is applied to how the singer works as a musical instrument, in terms of embodying the technical aspects of voice in a holistic way capable of conveying musical, linguistic and emotional meanings to an audience. This informs an efficient approach to teaching and learning.

Scientific knowledge of vocal function, vocal health, and brain function has increased greatly in recent decades, spurred particularly by new technology capable of displaying the larynx in operation, measuring muscular effort, acoustically analyzing vocal sound, and examining brain function. While there is a growing body of scientific knowledge of both voice and brain, much of it is physically, intellectually and psychologically inaccessible to singers and singing teachers. Publication in specialist scientific journals following the traditional format used in disseminating the results of experimental research, and often not suggesting any practical application, makes advances in scientific knowledge physically and intellectually inaccessible. Moreover, the tone of the work and its dissociation from the artistic world of musical sound and live performance makes it psychologically inaccessible to teachers, the majority of whom continue to identify themselves as artists who teach.

The scientific information is presented in the context of the musical concerns of the singer and singing teacher. In the process it addresses some age-old controversies of vocal pedagogy, such as the role of the diaphragm, ‘covering’, ‘nasal resonance’ and issues involved in registration and voice classification. Issues important to both singer and teacher in relation to efficient practice, learning a song, and translating technique into performance are also examined.


Science and Singing: This chapter describes the need for the book, in the context of traditional pedagogical writings and recent developments in voice science and neuroscience. It draws the distinction between what is taught (voice) and how it is taught (pedagogy). It describes the main purpose of the book: to identify issues of physiology and acoustics relevant to singing and examine scientific understandings of voice and mind relevant to those issues. A list of references is provided.

The Voice as a Musical Instrument: As a background to the review of the literature of voice science relevant to singing, this short chapter consists of a description of the voice as a musical instrument. Aspects of vocal function necessary for producing musical elements such as pitch, loudness, duration and timbre are identified.  A list of references is provided.

Body Alignment and Breath Management: Efficient breath management is fundamental to vocal control. Fine control is needed to meet most musical demands: for example, in relation to vocal onset, pitch accuracy, pitch range, loudness, phrase length, and musical articulation. Scientific literature is reviewed under the headings: The role of the diaphragm; Body posture and breath management; Appoggio Technique; The concept of support; and Breath management and laryngeal control. Applications to pedagogy are then discussed and a reference list provided.

Phonation: Practitioners are concerned about phonation in its application to vocal timbre, musical articulation and pitch control. Scientific literature is reviewed under the headings: Effect of factors external to the larynx; Onset; Vibrato; and Control of pitch. Applications to pedagogy are then discussed and a reference list provided.

Resonance: Practitioner concerns about resonance and articulation include production of the timbre appropriate to the musical context, vowel quality, vibrato, and articulation of text. Scientific literature is reviewed under the headings: Vowels and resonance; Control of formant frequencies; The singer’s formant; Nasal resonance versus brilliance; Vibrato; Acoustic characteristics and perceptual judgment; and Word articulation. A list of references is provided.

Registration: Singers need control of vocal registers in order to facilitate use of the whole pitch range of the voice and, if aesthetically appropriate, the ability to sing a gradually modulating quality through that range, avoiding sudden ‘breaks’ in quality and loudness. Registration has historically been an area of controversy, perhaps more so in recent years with the demands of many different vocal genres and styles. Definitions and terminology are discussed and the scientific literature reviewed under the headings: Register terminology; Definition of registers; Register change; Control of registration; and Registration and voice classification. A list of references is provided.

Vocal Health For Singers: knowing how to care for the voice is necessary in order for the instrument to be available in good condition whenever needed. Teachers need this knowledge in order to give good advice to students, to be sure that their teaching of vocal technique is based on healthy practices, and in order to inform their diagnosis of vocal faults. Information on vocal health is readily available and the area is less controversial than other aspects of voice, but for the sake of completeness, the issues are discussed under the headings: Hydration; General fitness, health, and lifestyle; Vocal strain and fatigue; Vocal efficiency; and The effect of commonly prescribed medications. A list of references is provided.

The Voice of the Mind: The title of this chapter borrows from the title of Herbert-Cesari’s 1951 book on singing, to draw attention to the concern of singer and singing teacher: overall control of the instrument and its use to communicate verbal, musical and emotional meanings. This is the area where recent research has much to offer practitioners. The following issues are discussed: The meaning of meaning; - Meaning and imagination; Consciousness and the brain; Musical perception and cognition (including musical intelligence, skill acquisition and memory, practice, feedback and technology); Music and language (similarities between linguistic and musical intelligence, language and music as semiotic systems, learning a song, meaning in language and music, the singer’s text and the expression of meaning); and Embodiment. A list of references is provided.

Teaching and Learning: This chapter draws together conclusions from Chapters 3-8 and relates them to issues raised in Chapters 1 and 2, discussing how knowledge of the components of voice can be translated into the holistic mind/body understandings required in singing. These issues are discussed under the headings: Singing as mental representations; Teaching, learning and mind change; Voice knowledge (from the point of view of scientists, singers, and singing teachers); Transferring technical and musical skills into performance (the self-regulated learner; the singer’s text; dealing with performance anxiety); and Professional education of singing teachers. A list of references is provided. Index

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