Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Do You Teach All Voice Types the Same Way?

Wednesday musings...

The question today is, do you teach all voice types the same way? The short answer is, no. The longer answer is, HELL no!!!

Yes, we all have breath, muscles, larynx, resonators, vocal cords, and the mechanics have similarities - but that does not make a singer, nor does it develop a voice type.

A teacher must develop knowledge about what certain voice types demand, what certain physicalities demand and what certain psychologies demand.

Each voice type has a specific psychology, and that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Each singer within that voice type has a unique physicality which cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Can a male teacher work with a female singer and vise versa? Of course! But the determining factor is KNOWLEDGE and they can get that knowledge across.

As teachers, we must be willing to develop the knowledge, and then the language to share that knowledge and help a singer develop that reality for themselves. If we do not, we are not teaching - we are hoarding. We must recognize our strengths and our limitations and be willing to send a singer onto someone else who will better serve them.

We cannot teach a soprano the same way we would a tenor, or a bass like a mezzo. But then, each soprano will be taught slightly differently too!

I guess the question becomes - do you teach the material or do teach the singer?

Ultimately, it is the INDIVIDUAL SINGER that comes first. The material develops within that singer. The physicality, the voice type and psychology of that voice type will develop crucial recognition and tangibility as the individual is approached first and foremost.

I have always believed in, and work acutely to discover where a singer IS and begin there.

The teaching of singing is not an exact science nor is it a formula that you slot singers into. It is as precise and specialized and unique as each singer that walks into that studio. It is not going on automatic pilot. It demands a great deal of overall knowledge and very specific knowledge in order to reach a singer where they ARE.

Some teachers have more 'success' with certain voice types. This is great! Recognizing as a teacher where your strengths are is an important tool, so singers know why they are coming to you!

The multi-dimensional singer "type" is as unique as a fingerprint - and it must be developed thus.

There will be definite similarities and issues each voice type faces that is common ground. Common ground is not plug in and spit out however. Recognizing the similarities and pitfalls of a voice type is one thing - but having the knowledge to guide and develop the voice through those things is another. Developing the reality and tangibility of the psychology of the voice type is also a very real and NECESSARY thing.

Often the stereotypes of singers is laughed at, but at its core, these stereotypes have a basis in truth of psychology. We must, as teachers and singers, recognize, learn and develop the knowledge and the truth about the psychology in order for the voice to truly develop into itself.

I believe a teacher can teach a singer who is not their voice type, but I also believe it is important for each singer to have contact with a teacher or mentor via masterclass/workshop/coaching who IS that voice type. Recognizing a "kindred" who can add more reality from living it can add so much to the development of a singer's psyche!

The "voice type" has many levels of consciousness, and the singer that possesses that voice type or is developing that voice type - in general and into a specificity - needs to be treated with the uniqueness they deserve and possess. The voice is a tangible, multi-dimensional, intricate and wonderful thing - embodied in someone equally multi-dimensional, intricate and complex!

Cookie-cutter "vocal technique" is not vocal technique at all.

Developing knowledge, understanding, and working ability to address the voice types generally and specifically - as well as addressing singers generally and specifically - is the ongoing requirement of teaching AND studying as a singer.

Singers need to develop their knowledge about their voice and their psychology. This brings another dimension of reality into the studio with a teacher who will meet them generously where they are.

Each voice type is unique and must be treated thus. Each singer is even more unique and must be treated thus. Technical behavior is about awareness, prowess, ability, consciousness, availability and access. Voice type finds its technical behavior through the psychology and the physiology and the singer's ability to embrace both. The teacher needs to UNDERSTAND the intricacies of both. The teacher needs to recognize his/her own ability to meet the singer AND the voice type in the truth of what it is and guide it as far as he/she can, and then send that singer on...

A truth of great singing and great teaching is the ability to say "I don't know" - and either find the answer or go to someone who has it.

If every singer in a studio sounds the same - the teacher is not teaching the singer, but only the material. If every singer in a studio is uniquely developing - the teacher is teaching the singer, and this is the beginning!

Do the tenors sound like tenors? Do the sopranos sound like sopranos? Do the mezzos sound like mezzos? Do the baritones sound like baritones? What does a tenor sound like?

Do we have this knowledge as singers - and as teachers? Do we recognize "sounding like a tenor" has a physicality of body and vocal mechanism as well as a psychology that MUST be integrated? Do we acknowledge ALL voice types and subcategories have this SAME uniqueness?

Are we willing to INVEST in developing that knowledge and INVEST in developing that truth as teacher and singer?

We have no choice if we call ourselves teachers or call ourselves singers. If we go on automatic pilot and believe we can teach all the same way, we need to take some time off. Immediately.


  1. I couldn't agree more. When singers come out of a studio like cars off an assembly line, it drives me crazy. No two bodies are the same, no two singers are the same.

    Fantastic piece.

  2. Great post, Susan. I think this sort of thing is very daunting to teachers newer to the profession, and perhaps it should be! There is mega-lots to learn to develop the ability to reach and help more of our students, more of the time.