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Course Review: Progressive Vocal Development in the Voice Studio: An Evidence-Based Framework with Josh Glasner

Wednesday 30th August 2023

Baritone singer, researcher and Assistant Professor of Music at Clarke University Josh Glasner led a discussion around building an evidence-based framework for progressive vocal development, starting with encouraging participants to engage with the format and share their goals for the session.

The phrase ‘Evidence-Based Voice Pedagogy’ (as coined by Dr Kari Ragan) was explored. Its foundational principles derive from medicine and therapeutic practice and its three equally important ‘pillars’ are voice research, voice teacher expertise & experience and student goals & perspectives. This concept is an extension of evidence-based medicine and evidence-based practice. Following on from this, a diagram showed how voice research interlinks with not only voice science but also arts & humanities.

Josh asked participants “which ‘pedagogical door’ do you walk through most frequently?” and shared his own adapted pedagogical flowchart featuring the likes of posture, phonation and resonation. He encouraged participants to join a discussion as to whether any of the topics overlap and whether any different paths can achieve the same goal in the voice studio.

Next was an exploration of Motor Learning Theory (MLT), with its key tenet being ‘it is more effective to do than to know’ because what the teacher needs to know and what the student needs to know are often different. Rvachew et al’s five components (2018) of MLT were featured; these are practice intensity (number of trials), task complexity (length/range/difficulty of phrase/task), degree of stimulation (imitation), nature of feedback (knowledge of performance, knowledge of results), and frequency of feedback.

An example clip of a soprano singing ‘I Don’t Need a Roof’ from Big Fish was shared – this generated great discussion around the issues different people heard and which ‘pedagogical door’ they would walk through to solve them. This was followed by Case Study #1, featuring a 23-year-old tenor, which prompted everyone to give their thoughts on first and second steps in progressive vocal development. Using an evidence-based framework indicated the need to factor in not just literature but also real experience from the voice teacher and the perspective of the student. Case Study #2, featuring a 14-year-old soprano, also generated a valuable discussion.

Josh moved on to talk about selecting repertoire and how repertoire is often selected merely because the teacher sang it when they were training – this can lead to frustration if the skillset of the student doesn’t match the skillset of the task. Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias was introduced, and participants were shown sheets of music from the book and asked both what challenges and what benefits these excerpts would present to singers. An Israeli folk song was used as a further topic of discussion. The suggested conclusions for each example were backed up by relevant voice literature (evidence) to consider when assigning repertoire. Overall, factors to consider when selecting repertoire were defined as range/tessitura, melodic contour, rhythmic emphasis, vowels near registration events, and dramatic/textual concerns.

Towards the end of the session, Josh returned to the original clip of ‘I Don’t Need a Roof’ and asked participants to share which part of the song they would help the singer improve, identify which (one) functional skill would most help the singer achieve your goal, design an exercise to help the singer develop that skill and improve the phrase, and then develop two possible variations of the exercise to help the singer to progressively work towards singing the phrase in context.

The course concluded with a round-up of the key takeaways as far as ‘Evidence-Based Voice Pedagogy’ is concerned, followed by a Q&A session.

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