Decoding Vocal Jargon: A Comprehensive Resource for Vocalists and Educators

The realm of vocalists and voice teachers is a tapestry woven with a multitude of teaching philosophies and methodologies, a fact that is as enriching as it is complex. This richness has, however, given rise to a considerable challenge: a lack of standardized terminology across disciplines, including singing teachers, speech-language pathologists, vocologists, and voice researchers. The history of singing is ancient, with the earliest formal singing techniques documented in the 13th century. It was not until the 19th century that the invention of the laryngoscope provided a window into the physiological workings of the voice, offering a scientific lens to view what had been, until then, primarily an art form passed through oral tradition.

This tradition of singing, steadfast and largely unchanged for centuries, is extraordinary. Yet, the continuity of these historical teaching methods has led to a complex web of terms and techniques handed down through generations. For example, terms like 'Chest Voice', 'Thyroarytenoid Dominant Vocal Production', 'Thick Folds', 'Mode 1', 'Heavy Mechanism', and 'Voce di petto' all attempt to describe aspects of the same vocal function, yet with nuances that even seasoned singers may struggle to differentiate. The term 'Chest Voice' refers to the sensation of resonance in the chest encountered by many singers when producing lower frequencies, which is a result of thyroarytenoid dominant vocal fold action. On the other hand, 'Thyroarytenoid Dominant Vocal Production' specifically denotes the engagement of the thyroarytenoid muscles within the vocal folds, emphasizing function over sensation. These distinctions are subtle, yet significant.

The question then arises: Which terms should be considered correct or preferable? While there may be personal preferences among teachers and vocalists, the efficacy of a term is truly measured by its capacity to facilitate learning. Context is key. Most singers are aware that their voice doesn't emanate from their chest or head, yet traditional instructions such as "Sing from the diaphragm!" persist. The diaphragm, though the primary muscle of inspiration, is generally passive during the act of phonation — a fact that contradicts the beliefs held by many singers due to the persistence of tradition.

The solution to this terminological puzzle begins with education. Ideally, vocal performance and music education students would engage more extensively with voice science and vocal pedagogy throughout their studies, particularly at the undergraduate level. Yet, it remains uncommon for such programs to extend beyond a single semester dedicated to voice pedagogy.

In response to this educational gap, initiatives like VoSci's 'Singer’s Term of the Day' have been developed with the aim of establishing a comprehensive lexicon for vocal terminology. This daily endeavor serves as a bridge for singers and teachers, expanding their knowledge about the intricate physiology of the voice. It's an ambitious journey to catalog every term related to vocal anatomy, technique, voice science, acoustics, and even the applicable physics, but it's a journey that enriches our understanding incrementally each day.

Through this process, we aim not only to educate but also to unify the language we use to describe the mechanics and experiences of singing. By doing so, we can dispel myths, clarify misconceptions, and build a collective understanding that resonates across disciplines. While it may take time to compose succinct definitions for every piece of vocal terminology, the daily commitment to learning and sharing these terms can significantly enhance our appreciation and technical knowledge of the human voice.

Ultimately, the goal is to foster a community that is as linguistically unified as it is diverse in practice and expression. By embracing both the science and the tradition of singing, we can pave the way for a more informed and interconnected vocal community. Each term learned and each concept clarified brings us closer to a shared language that celebrates the voice in all its complexity and beauty.

Josh Manuel

Josh Manuel, a voice instructor and founder of VoiceScience, is dedicated to empowering singers by providing evidence-based techniques and knowledge for enhanced performance and vocal health. His expertise and passion in the field of vocal science have made him a trusted resource for singers seeking to improve their skills and achieve their full potential.

Our goal at VoSci is to provide the most accurate and up to date information available on the internet for singers and teachers. While we strive for perfection, there is a lot of misinformation available and new information that becomes available every day. If you find information on this page or any page on VoSci that you believe is out of date please let us know using our contact form so we can look into it.