Forward to the Past

These days there is increased awareness about how the body functions in both sports and dance. Many approaches to both work with body mechanics in order to increase efficiency and lessen the possibility of injury. There are also sports psychologists who work to make the mental attitude of those who compete at the highest levels ready for the stress of the battle and the aftermath of failure. There are people in dance that help professional dancers ease out of dance and into other careers.

So, do we do this any of these things with singers? As Ralph Cramden used to say, “Hardee har har.”

Singing is mostly still in the 19th century, hardly acknowledging the 21st, mostly stuck in mystery-land where teachers are arguing about belly in or belly out breath support or back muscles or expanded ribs, and lots of various “resonance strategies” be they in the forehead, eyebrows, hard palate, nasal passages, or some other spot in the head (never anywhere else). The idea that the voice (or the muscles involved in making sound) can be trained to do several different kinds of sounds on purpose, or that those tasks involve different responses in the mechanism is still, believe it or not, heresy in some places. This is analogous to the idea that runners should run in patent leather shoes or that swimmers should be competing with bloomers on, meaning it makes no sense but people do think it helps in spite of that.

How would it be if we did high speed photography of world class singers who have had careers for 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years, in any style, just to study the outside of their bodies while they sing? Maybe we would see similarities, in terms of styles, or voice types, or genders? How would it be if we asked a few people to have short video X-rays of their upper torso while singing, to see what is moving inside? How about having professional singers of all ages and backgrounds make recordings of the same two or three short songs, in several specific keys, just to compare whatever could be compared in a computer analysis? Why are we not looking at really efficient vocalists to see what we can learn from them about how they sing?


Most of the money available for research is aimed at vocal fold health. It goes to the university medical schools where the MDs study unhealthy throats. The money for acoustic research on healthy singers is next to nil, but what little there is also goes to schools that have research labs. In those cases, you get research done on college students or maybe college faculty, not on high level, long-term-career professional singers. There is money for speech pathology research because they do that work on unhealthy speakers, and for research on children with speaking issues. Is there money for research on a large group of professional singers who have been highly successful singing in any style for a long time? You can hear Ralph again with his mocking laugher……”Hardee har har”.

So, is it any wonder that we stay stuck in the 19th century? Is it any wonder that when we talk about singing voice function most singers and teachers of singing are in a kind of “huh” mentality?

Will it change? We can hope so, but I have no great idea of how unless some really wealthy singer decides to create a big lab and give it lots of money for the research I’m talking about. Hardee Har Har.

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3 thoughts on “Forward to the Past”

  1. Re. your fourth paragraph, there’s YouTube, which is turning into a huge and invaluable database of material, both visual and aural, and which is continually being added to. I feel sure that comparative studies and analyses are already being made. That’s a good start!

  2. YouTube is not science, nor research-based anything. I am talking about in a lab, with scientists, not a video library of random information. YouTube is a great reference for a lot of things, but not scientific information.

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