I found myself curious how well AI would be able to cover the main ideas behind teaching a student to sing, so I asked it. For this article I am using the most well-known generative AI platform ChatGPT by OpenAi. To prompt the system, I set my expectations with the system using a few questions and answers before asking the AI to write an article on “How to teach singing”. From there I asked a series of follow up questions based on the answers provided. I compiled everything into a single document and asked the AI to rewrite the article to improve readability. The article below is part of the response as presented by ChatGPT 4.0 with some minor structural changes to improve readability further. Additionally I have added some commentary throughout, I hope you find this article both educational and entertaining.
Singing has been a fundamental part of human culture since ancient times, serving as a powerful and expressive means of communication. For vocal educators, guiding and shaping aspiring singers is a task that is as rewarding as it is challenging. This article offers a thorough guide to the various elements of teaching singing. It aims to provide educators with advanced teaching methods, practical techniques, and an enriched understanding of the nuances involved in teaching this art form.
Vocal Technique and Mechanics: Understanding and teaching the physiological mechanisms of singing, including breath control, vocal cord function, and resonance.
Repertoire Selection: Guiding students in choosing songs that suit their vocal range, style, and developmental stage.
Vocal Health and Hygiene: Emphasizing the importance of maintaining vocal health, including hydration, avoiding strain, and understanding the impact of lifestyle choices.
Emotional Expression and Performance: Teaching students to convey emotions effectively through their singing, and developing their performance skills.
Pedagogical Approaches: Exploring various teaching methods tailored to individual student needs, learning styles, and cultural backgrounds.
Musical Theory and Literacy: Integrating the fundamentals of musical theory, sight-singing, and ear training in vocal instruction.
Technology in Vocal Training: Utilizing modern tools and software for vocal analysis, practice, and enhancement.
Career Guidance and Professional Development: Providing insights into the music industry, audition techniques, and building a professional portfolio.
In each section of this guide, we will delve into these areas, offering detailed insights, practical exercises, and case studies. This article aims not just to inform but also to inspire, fostering a teaching environment that nurtures both the technical skill and the artistic spirit of the student singer. Let's embark on this enlightening journey together, enriching our understanding and refining our craft in the art of teaching singing.
** What a fantastic opening, the AI has introduced an excellent list of topics. I think the inclusion of technology and career guidance and professional development shows a really great understanding of the task’s teachers perform beyond teaching songs. I do have deduct points for the use of the antiquated term “vocal cords” which is pervasive throughout.
Vocal technique and mechanics form the cornerstone of effective singing. Mastering these aspects is crucial for both vocal longevity and performance quality. This section delves into the intricacies of these fundamental elements, offering insights and strategies for teaching them effectively.
Breathing is the fuel of singing. Proper breath control is essential for sustaining notes, controlling dynamics, and maintaining vocal health. Key concepts include:
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Teaching breath control is a fundamental aspect of vocal training, as it is crucial for sustaining notes, controlling dynamics, and maintaining vocal health. Here's a structured approach to teaching breath control to a singer:
** Missing information about thoracic, clavicular, and balanced breathing and their place in singing and artistry. I would have liked to see a more comprehensive discussion about their being more ways to breath.
Start with educating the singer about the anatomy involved in breathing, focusing on the diaphragm, lungs, and intercostal muscles. Explain how these muscles work together to control inhalation and exhalation.
Teach diaphragmatic breathing, which is essential for efficient and controlled singing. This involves:
-Breathing Exercise: Have the singer place one hand on their chest and the other on their abdomen. Instruct them to breathe in deeply and ensure that the hand on their abdomen rises more than the one on their chest. This indicates diaphragmatic breathing.
-Visualization: Encourage them to visualize their diaphragm lowering as they inhale and rising as they exhale.
** I don’t love the attention given to visualizing the diaphragm rising during exhalation, its technically not wrong but brings attention to the wrong muscles during exhalation. During a relaxed exhalation, breath is driven by a natural recoil of the displaced bones and muscles.
Explain and practice breath support, which is maintaining controlled exhalation to provide a steady stream of air for singing.
** I wish there was a definition of breath support such as: Breath support, sometimes called anchoring, the unnatural act of resisting the recoil effect by engaging muscles like the external intercostals, latissimus dorsi, and pectoralis major to maintain the expansion of the chest and rib cage. The abdominal muscles are not major muscles in breath support.
-Hissing Exercise: Have them hiss out a breath slowly and steadily, focusing on maintaining consistent pressure and volume. This teaches control over exhalation.
-Staccato Breathing: Quick, short breaths can help strengthen the diaphragm and increase control over breath support.
** Additional diaphragm strength is not likely needed unless the singer has a medical condition that caused weakness in the diaphragm. The singer is alive and the diaphragm likely is working perfectly. If there is any issue with the strength of the diaphragm the student should consult with a doctor.
Good posture aids effective breathing. Teach proper singing posture:
-Standing Position: Shoulders relaxed and down, back straight but not stiff, feet shoulder-width apart.
**Many singers find a staggered stance with one foot slightly forward is more stable. In my own teaching I have found that this helps keep students from swaying mindlessly as frequently, success will vary significantly by student.
-Seated Position: Feet flat on the ground, back straight, and abdominal area free of constriction.
**Generally, this section on posture and alignment is fine for a singer that can stay standing still or is in a choir rehearsal. It lacks and advice for singers that are required to move, dance, or sing from odd positions or laying down. I find this is a place with a lot of bias in favor of large (over tanking) diaphragmatic breaths. Most singing does not require significant volumes of air and will not be significantly impacted by less than ideal posture. Where issues can arise is in odd neck angles that will affect the vocal tract.
Incorporate breathing exercises into regular practice. These could include:
-Sustained Phonation: Sustaining a vowel sound (like "ah" or "ee") for as long as possible on a comfortable pitch, focusing on steady breath support.
-Controlled Breathing: Inhaling for a set count (e.g., 4 beats), holding for a set count, and then exhaling for a longer count (e.g., 8 beats).
**If you are singing in a classical style absolutely. For the majority of singing, it probably won’t help you. The average non-singer can already sustain phonation for around 15-18 seconds on a single breath, there is not a regular need to phonate longer.
Once the basics are established, apply these techniques to singing:
-Phrase Breathing: Work on breathing at natural breaks in phrases.
** Yes, absolutely. Breaths where they would naturally fall textually as well as musically.
-Dynamic Control: Use breath control to practice singing at different dynamics, from pianissimo to fortissimo.
** Missing a key piece of information, dynamic control comes from regulating subglottal air pressure which can be from changes in the mass, tension, length of the vocal folds, and volume of air being exhaled. Breath control expresses that dynamics are created by volume of air which tends to lead towards over-blowing and over-adduction.
Encourage regular practice of these techniques and provide continuous feedback. Recording sessions can help the singer self-assess and improve.
** A thousand times yes to recordings. To ensure students are listening to their lessons and practice, try assigning the question “What did you do well?”.
Incorporate relaxation and mindfulness techniques to reduce tension, which can hinder effective breathing.
Breath control is a skill that requires consistent practice and awareness. As a teacher, your role is to guide the singer through these exercises, providing feedback and adjustments to ensure they are breathing efficiently and effectively for singing. Over time, these techniques will become second nature, greatly enhancing the singer's vocal performance and health.
Teaching vocal cord function involves a combination of theoretical education and practical exercises. The goal is to help singers understand how their vocal cords work and how to use them efficiently and healthily. Here’s a step-by-step approach:
** There is that term again, vocal cords. ‘Vocal cords’ was the go to term for a long time, the problem with this is that it creates the idea that there are two bands like guitar strings and that air can pass on both sides of them. ‘Vocal folds’ help singers understand that they are folds tissue that air passes between and are connected on the outside.
Begin with a basic explanation of vocal anatomy, focusing on the larynx (voice box) and vocal cords (vocal folds).
Anatomy Overview: Explain the location and structure of the larynx and vocal cords.
Function Explanation: Describe how the vocal cords open for breathing and close for phonation (sound production).
Help the singer develop an awareness of their vocal cords and how they feel during use.
Gentle Cough: A gentle cough can help them feel their vocal cords coming together.
** There is technically nothing wrong with this suggestion. Pausing after inhalation will provide the singer with a similar sensation that will be more applicable to a glottal onset that coughing.
Humming: Humming gently can also create an awareness of vocal cord vibration.
Teach techniques for healthy vocal cord vibration.
Easy Onset: Practice starting sounds with a soft and gentle approach, avoiding harsh or abrupt onsets.
Balanced Phonation: Work on producing a clear, balanced tone that is neither breathy nor pressed.
** This section on healthy phonation is problematic. The rise of gentle onsets came about around the turn of the 20th century along with the myth repeated glottal onsets is dangerous. English (and most other languages) require the use of a variety of onsets to create different phonemes. ‘Hat’ and ‘at’ are only separated by their onset. Additionally, expressive singing requires the ability to create a balanced tone quality but also breathy and pressed colors on demand. A significant amount of current CCM music relies on a breathy production. As teachers we should be training singers how to access as many different vocal colors as possible.
Coordinate breath support with vocal cord function.
Sustained Vowels: Practice sustaining vowels with steady airflow, focusing on a smooth, consistent sound.
Five-Tone Scale: Sing a simple five-tone scale on a vowel, paying attention to evenness and quality of tone.
** Add practice for the opposite as well, drastic register breaks are a fundamental skill and a part of pre-20th century bel canto technique.
Specific exercises can improve vocal cord closure and control.
Glides and Slides: Gliding smoothly up and down in pitch helps with control and flexibility.
Staccato Notes: Singing short, detached notes helps improve vocal cord closure and agility.
** Careful with this one. Does the singer actually need more adduction? One of the places this gets brought up most frequently is with middle school and high school aged female singers because of the breathy tone quality that affects this group of singers. An incomplete closure of the glottis is a normal part of vocal development and will resolve itself within a few years. Training these singers to adduct further can create issues of over adduction that remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Teach how to sing without straining the vocal cords.
Recognizing Tension: Educate on recognizing signs of tension or strain in the voice.
** Tension is required to phonate in any style. Be on the lookout for tension that is impeding the ability to move naturally, causes unintended effects on the tone color, prevents the singer from singing higher or lower, or is causing fatigue.
Relaxation Techniques: Implement relaxation techniques, including jaw and neck relaxation exercises.
Discuss the importance of vocal health for optimal vocal cord function.
Hydration: Emphasize the importance of staying hydrated for vocal health.
Voice Rest: Teach the importance of vocal rest to prevent overuse and strain.
Consistent practice and feedback are essential for developing healthy vocal cord function.
Monitoring Progress: Regularly monitor and provide feedback on the singer's technique and progress.
Recording Sessions: Record and review sessions to help the singer self-assess and improve.
Teaching vocal cord function is about balancing theoretical knowledge with practical application. By helping singers understand their vocal anatomy and how to use their vocal cords efficiently, you can guide them towards a healthy, sustainable, and expressive singing technique. Regular practice, awareness, and a focus on vocal health are key to mastering this aspect of singing.
Understanding and mastering vocal resonance is essential for singers to develop a full, rich, and projected sound. Resonance occurs when the sound produced by the vocal cords is enhanced by the cavities in the throat, mouth, and nasal passages. Here are some effective exercises to help singers understand and improve their resonance:
** The first three exercises are examples of SOVTe’s or semi-occluded vocal tract exercises. SOVTe’s can be really useful for a lot of singers and have had a place in singing pedagogy for a very long time. While they have been in use for a long time there is a lot of conflicting research about their effects. The only consistently reported effects are a temporary lowering of the larynx and widening of the vocal tract. This change in geometry is beneficial in classical technique but may make it harder to sing many CCM styles.
Humming is a great way to feel and understand resonance.
** Humming is an excellent tool but a quick note: not all singers experience or identify the vibratory sensations associated with resonance. This can be a great tool or completely ineffective. It is also important to note that for most singers the sensation goes away completely above the treble clef, focusing too much on this sensation can cause issues as the pitch ascends.
Basic Humming: Start with simple humming on a comfortable pitch and volume. Focus on feeling the vibrations in the face, particularly around the nose and lips.
Humming Scales: Progress to humming scales, feeling the resonance shift and change with different pitches.
Lip trills help in maintaining steady breath support and experiencing resonance.
Lip Trill Scales: Perform scales using lip trills, focusing on keeping the trill consistent and smooth.
Lip Trill on Vowels: Transition from a lip trill into a vowel sound, noticing how the resonance feels different.
The 'ng' sound (as in the end of the word "sing") engages nasal resonance.
Sustained 'Ng': Hold the 'ng' sound steadily, feeling for vibrations in the nasal cavity.
'Ng' to Vowel: Sing a note on 'ng' and then open to a vowel, maintaining the sense of resonance.
This exercise helps in exploring the full range of vocal resonance.
Vocal Sirens: Use a smooth, gliding sound from the lowest to the highest note you can comfortably sing, feeling how the resonance shifts in your vocal tract.
This exercise helps in achieving forward placement of resonance, often described as 'singing in the mask'.
'Mee-Mah-Moh' Exercise: Sing these syllables in succession, focusing on projecting the sound forward towards the lips and nose.
Vowel modification at different pitches can enhance resonance.
Vowel Play: Experiment with modifying vowels at different pitches to find the most resonant sound. For instance, modifying "ah" to "aw" on higher notes.
Use a mirror to ensure proper mouth and jaw position, which can affect resonance.
Visual Feedback: Sing in front of a mirror, watching for any unnecessary tension or movement in the jaw and face.
** May cause the student to introduce tension as focus moves to specific features like the jaw, lips, or tongue.
Recording singing and listening back can provide insight into resonance and tone quality.
Self-Assessment: Record exercises and listen for the richness and fullness of the sound.
These exercises should be practiced regularly to develop a strong sense of resonance. Each singer's resonance will be unique due to their anatomy, so it's important to explore and find what works best for each individual. As a teacher, providing feedback and guiding the singer to adjust and experiment with different techniques is key to helping them develop their resonant voice.
Feedback and Adjustment: Using tools like mirrors, recordings, and vocal analyzers to provide feedback and guide adjustments.
Encouraging Consistent Practice: Emphasizing the importance of regular practice to develop muscle memory and vocal stamina.
Mastering vocal technique and mechanics is a journey that requires patience, knowledge, and consistent practice. As teachers, our role is to guide our students through this journey, helping them understand their instrument and use it safely and effectively. By focusing on breath control, vocal cord function, and resonance, we lay a strong foundation for our students to build upon as they progress in their singing careers.
Selecting appropriate repertoire is a crucial aspect of vocal training. The right songs can enhance a student's strengths, address areas for improvement, and keep them motivated. Here are some tips for guiding students in choosing songs that suit their vocal range, style, and developmental stage:
Start by determining the student's vocal range and type (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, etc.).
Range Testing: Use scales or simple exercises to find their comfortable and extended vocal range.
Voice Type Identification: Identify their voice type, which can help in selecting suitable repertoire.
** There has been an increase lately in pedagogues recommending avoiding assigning voice types to adolescent singers. Voice types end up creating a chicken and egg scenario where a singer is told they are an alto so all they sing is alto music and they develop a technique that prevents them from singing higher pitches. Unfortunately, the only reason they were assigned as altos in the first place was because they can sing some lower pitches and have decent musicianship allowing them to sing harmony and not because their voice developed as an alto. This occurs in all voice types especially for singers in school and church choirs.
Choose songs appropriate for their current skill level and potential for growth.
For Beginners: Start with simpler songs that focus on basic techniques like pitch, rhythm, and breath control.
For Intermediate and Advanced: Gradually introduce more challenging pieces that require advanced techniques and emotional expression.
Expose students to a variety of musical genres to broaden their skills and interests.
Familiar Genres: Start with genres they are familiar with and enjoy.
New Genres: Gradually introduce new genres to challenge them and expand their versatility.
Choose pieces that align with their technical goals and expressive capabilities.
Technical Aspects: Select songs that address specific technical aspects you are working on, such as breath control, agility, or dynamics.
Expressive Singing: Choose songs that allow them to explore and develop emotional expression and performance skills.
Encourage students to sing songs that resonate with them personally.
Lyrics and Themes: Select songs with lyrics or themes that the student can connect with emotionally.
Cultural and Personal Relevance: Consider songs that reflect their cultural background or personal experiences.
Consider practical aspects like accompaniment availability and performance opportunities.
Accompaniment: Ensure the availability of suitable accompaniment tracks or pianists.
Performance Opportunities: Choose repertoire that can be performed at upcoming recitals or competitions, if applicable.
Periodically review and update their repertoire to reflect their growth and changing interests.
Repertoire Review Sessions: Regularly assess their current repertoire and make adjustments as needed.
Expanding Repertoire: Continuously add new pieces to keep them challenged and engaged.
Involve students in the selection process to increase their engagement and motivation.
Student Suggestions: Ask for their input and consider their song choices.
Exploring Together: Spend time listening to different pieces together and discussing their suitability.
Effective repertoire selection is a dynamic process that involves understanding the student's vocal abilities, interests, and developmental needs. By carefully selecting pieces that challenge and inspire, you can significantly contribute to their growth as a singer and their enjoyment of the learning process.
Vocal health and hygiene are paramount in a singer's career. A healthy voice is not only about sound production; it's about maintaining the overall well-being of the vocal apparatus. This section focuses on the key aspects of vocal health, offering strategies to teach singers how to care for their voices effectively.
Proper hydration and a balanced diet play a significant role in vocal health.
Hydration: Emphasizing the importance of regular water intake to keep the vocal cords lubricated.
Dietary Considerations: Discussing foods and beverages that can positively or negatively affect vocal health, such as avoiding overly spicy or acidic foods that can cause reflux.
Rest and mindful usage are critical in preventing vocal strain and injury.
Importance of Vocal Rest: Teaching the value of vocal rest, especially after extended periods of singing or when experiencing fatigue or illness.
Techniques to Avoid Strain: Strategies for singing without straining, including proper technique and recognizing signs of vocal fatigue.
Lifestyle choices can significantly impact vocal health.
Avoiding Harmful Habits: Highlighting the impact of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and other detrimental habits on vocal health.
Stress Management: Addressing the impact of stress on the voice and incorporating stress-reduction techniques into practice.
The environment a singer is in can affect their vocal health.
Humidity and Air Quality: Discussing the importance of maintaining optimal humidity levels and avoiding pollutants or allergens.
Proper Warm-Up Routines: Educating on the necessity of a good warm-up routine to prepare the voice for singing.
** I’ve written frequently on this topic and probably will for the rest of my career. A vocal check in is a great idea, trying to warm up your vocal folds is an exercise in futility.
Incorporating real-world examples and exercises helps in understanding and maintaining vocal health.
Hydration and Diet Logs: Encouraging students to keep logs to track their hydration and dietary habits.
Case Studies: Analyzing how professional singers manage their vocal health and the consequences of neglect.
Adopting effective teaching strategies for vocal health can make a significant difference.
Regular Check-Ins: Encouraging regular discussions about vocal health during lessons.
Creating Awareness: Using tools and resources to educate about the anatomy and physiology of the voice.
Collaboration with Professionals: Recommending consultations with vocal health professionals, such as speech-language pathologists or otolaryngologists, when necessary.
** Absolutely, but don’t consider this to be only for when there is an issue. Heavy voice users should establish a relationship with a laryngologist while they are healthy. Ideally, a videostroboscopy should be performed to establish a baseline for the singers instrument while it is healthy.
Maintaining vocal health is an ongoing process that requires awareness, discipline, and proactive measures. As educators, we play a crucial role in instilling these values in our students. By emphasizing the importance of hydration, diet, rest, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors, we can help our students preserve their most precious instrument—their voice. This foundation not only enhances their current performance but also ensures the longevity of their singing careers.
** The only additional concept I think it missing is, what example are we setting as teachers? Do you have a water with you when you are teaching? Or is it a coffee? Or cola?
Going into this experiment I wasn't sure what to expect from AI. Teaching singing is a complicated multifaceted endeavor and no two students are ever the same. In the end I am both impressed and horrified by the content that was produced, there is a clear and persistent bias towards classical technique that is apparent in the information provided, and is a representation of the bias towards classical technique that exists in the existing pedagogical writings. At the same time the eight topics that were suggested by the AI to comprehensively cover teaching singing were exceptional. I have included only the first three of eight sections in this article but you can read the entire article here. While I am confident that AI is a long way away from being able to comprehensively teach singers it is important that we are aware of the content that singers will be consuming as AI creates more and more of the content they consume daily.
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.