From tongue tension and allergies to menopause and musical theatre training, the Voice Geek Conference in Colchester examined the latest in voice research. iSingmag’s founder LINE HILTON reports.
Geek Conference – two days of non-stop talk about all things voice-related –
was a brilliant opportunity for vocal nerds like me to catch up on all the
on by the good people at Voice Workshop, the
conference provided a platform for researchers to discuss the findings of their work. Here’s a rundown
of some of the interesting stuff that was presented.
US-based speech and language pathologist Kerrie B Obert thinks that tongue tension isn’t always the vocal villain that we assume it to be. And Obert knows her stuff: this is a woman who has conducted 15,000 to 20,000 laryngeal examinations.
that we don’t give as much credit as we should to tongue movement and control, and
the important part it plays in articulation and vocal quality.
She says that when we belt, something quite important happens at the base of the tongue – a slight contraction that creates a space. Here’s a YouTube clip from Tyler Ross that shows what she’s talking about.
Watch what happens when the singer performs a classical song; the base of the tongue is quite rounded. Compare this to the change when the singer shifts to a rockier sound.
theory is that if the tongue is overly relaxed, the singer will not be as able
to create a rocky, belty sound. Tongue tension that restricts movement – or
causes any form of pain – is bad, but energy in that area is important. If it’s
not impeding diction, we shouldn’t immediately dismiss tension or try to get to
rid of it.
Tip for teachers: Give students tongue exercises so
they can experiment with different sounds and learn how to use the tongue more
actively. Play around with pulling the tongue back and forward. Push the tongue
against the back of the bottom teeth when singing to maintain a more forward
How do you
know if a tongue is too tense? Rely on what you hear – avoid what Obert refers
to as the Kermit sound.
Function or fancy – the best way to
Dr Jenevora Williams talked about motor learning and the many neurological pathways available to help us teach students. Her conclusion? Connecting someone emotionally to the learning process improves the effectiveness of their learning.
The power of practice
Carolyn McGettigan’s research examined what happens in the brain when we sing,
by comparing the neural pathway changes of trained singers and amateurs. She
found that professional singers engage a different part of their brain when
they sing compared to amateurs. In other words, practice teaches us to use our
brains more efficiently. (So the old saying practice makes perfect wasn’t far
Other interesting topics discussed (and which I will explore in more depth in iSingmag in the near future, watch this space) included:
Singing and brain injury: Sophie Garner talked about her work using singing to help patients with brain injury improve their communication skills.
Vocal distortion: Nicole Gill investigated the extreme
vocal effects used in heavy metal and how these can be achieved safely and
The mature female voice: Rebecca Moseley-Morgan discussed
pedagogy for the mature female voice and detailed a model to improve function
and engagement for older female singers.
Singing with emotion: Juliet Russell talked about how to
use our consonants and vowels to help with diction and ultimately the emotional
delivery of a song in a choir setting.
Best practice in musical theatre
Owens researched musical theatre training and asked if it delivered what students
needed to succeed in the industry. Her research found singers wanted more
advice on safe practice, vocal style and troubleshooting.
The impact of vocal injury: Pippa Anderson looked at the impact
on singers of losing a critical gig due to vocal injury.
Social class and singing: Blair Kelly examined how social
class influenced students’ perceptions of their vocal abilities.
Allergies and the singer: Kate Cubley examined the impact of
allergies on singers and how to better manage them. She came up with this nifty
acronym: FLASHERS. Relax, you can keep your clothes on. FLASHERS stands for: Food,
Living Choices, Awareness, Steam, Hydrate, Exercise, Respiratory and Sleep.
Children and musical theatre: Amelia Carr looked at the impact of
MT culture on young performers and explored ways to enhance their performance
without causing anxiety.
Introducing vocal impro to students: Jazz virtuoso (and iSingmag
contributor) Antonio De Lillis explored how to introduce improvisation to
Treating injured singers: Sharon Mari (another iSingmag
contributor) looked at strategies for the treatment of injured singers from the
perspective of a vocal rehab coach.
Depression and the singer: Maia Hendrickxlooked at the link between mental health and voice quality.
like these are so important if we are to progress vocal pedagogy and the
experience of singing students.
lesson I came away with was this: we as singing teachers need to constantly ask
ourselves why we teach what we teach.
we teaching something because we know it’s true? Is there evidence to show it
works? Or are we repeating and reinforcing ideas because that’s what we were
taught or that was our own personal experience?
some of the research at the conference highlighted was that some things singers
are taught don’t really stack up to scientific scrutiny. It’s up to us to
challenge, explore and innovate.
iSing founder Line, is passionate about creating a place where singers can gain knowledge, skills, advice and support. Something she wishes she had when she first started. In her private practice she helps pro and semipro singers, artists and voice teachers with their voice, performance, mindset and teacher training. Her speciality areas include Performing Arts Medicine, anatomy, health, technique and mindset. She pulls on a wide range of qualifications, experiences and interests to assist her clients to build and develop the knowledge and skills they require for their craft. She is a member of the BVA, PAVA, PAMA, is an MU she.grows.X mentor and Education Section committee member and Advisor to Vocology In Practice, and a BAST singing teacher trainer.