[Research Voices: Genre]
By Iruoma Amaka Ugoo-Okonkwo
Voice as a musical instrument invariably refers to singing and this instrument of expression and interpretation is taught like any other musical instrument. The purpose of the research therefore was focused on the views of voice teachers with regard to their teaching techniques and the problems associated with the subject. The research was carried out in two Universities and one College of Education. To determine how the teaching of voice is handled in the schools, twenty voice teachers’ perception and method of teaching were noted and analysed from the structured questionnaire they responded to. Interview and direct observations were done to cross-check the responses and arrive at a conclusion on how voice is done in the schools. The investigation revealed the state of voice teaching in schools, the problems experienced by students during voice teaching and remedial measures to be taken.
Keywords: Voice technique teacher, voice coach, singing, vocal strain, vocal physiology
The issue of how the voice is nurtured into a resonant and beautiful one is of concern both to the possessor and the listener. As a delicate musical instrument, the human voice needs proper guidance, handling and the knowledge of the techniques of sound production. To accomplish this, a voice teacher has his/her student do exercises that isolate the different elements of his/her voice. In other words, “a voice teacher is involved in the training of voice in both solo singing and choral,- choir(s) in which songs are taught, learned and transmitted from generation to generation” (Mbanugo, 2003, p. 81). A student might not sound as wonderful singing the exercises as he/she may sound singing a song. That is because the exercises uncover the weaknesses that he/she disguises while singing songs. A teacher’s job is to find those weaknesses and strengthen them. This is crucial because the way a singer hears his/her own voice is quite different from the way the audience does. He/she may have an idea of the sound of his/her voice but the other person (the listener) hears and judges it differently. Hence, the voice teacher who is in a better position to give accurate judgement to the voice of a singer is therefore necessary for proper guidance. On a general note, Okafor (2003, p. viii) asserts that “teachers are great contributors to human development” while Osuala (1999, p. 98) stated that teachers are a prime factor in the quality of instruction.
In research on this topic, two categories of teachers have been identified: The voice technique teacher and the voice coach. A voice technique teacher (or a vocal technique teacher) is one who shows you how to sing, while a voice coach or vocal coach is one who shows you what to sing. Instruction in vocal physiology and technique are best carried out by a voice teacher. Lewis (1990, p. 1) writes:
Teachers can offer a variety of things; techniques and coaching, performance work, recording techniques and image consulting. A voice teacher is usually one who works on techniques i.e. the physical skill of using your instrument.
A voice technique teacher handles the technical aspect of singing, making the singer to sing flexibly and clearly in all parts of his/her range. He/she does not just play away on the keyboard, leaving the student to follow along. A vocal technique teacher does not use vague terms like “sing from your diaphragm”, “make your tone rounded”, “open your mouth wide”, et cetera. He/she does not attempt to make the student sound like he/she (the teacher) does, or how the teacher thinks the student should sound. He/she tries to develop the vocal freedom that will bring out the student’s special voice quality. A vocal technique teacher has a thorough knowledge of the voice. He/she need not be a proficient pianist, but should at least be able to play all the scales and the exercises he/she uses in the voice training. Teaching songs (which is more or less the work of a vocal coach) is not the same as teaching vocal technique. One is not a substitute for the other. Voice lessons should differ from coaching lessons. Coaching lessons teach the correct art of phrasing, correct diction, interpretation and style. The voice technique teacher helps the student to obtain the vocal dynamics, colours and style that the vocal coach wants. It is advisable to have one vocal instructor with one technique and not more than one instructor, to avoid combining opposing techniques.
Competent teachers who are skilled and knowledgeable enough to instruct learners effectively is a prerequisite to good instruction. This also affects voice teaching. The place of a voice teacher in vocal pedagogy cannot be contested. There is no substitute for the trained ear of a teacher. Larra Browning Henderson (a vocal teacher) pays this tribute to her voice teacher Maude Douglas in Henderson (1979, p. 9):
The professional successes that have been mine all came through concentrated study and guidance of my voice by my teacher, who used the most basic and instructive vocal technique, I believe, available to the student today.
In teaching voice, the teacher should create an atmosphere of friendliness during classes with the students. This is essential, as it affects the way the students receive instructions and directives. Onyiuke notes that:
Within the music class the teacher should make adequate effort to establish a favorable musical knowledge, understanding, and responsiveness. The teacher should provide both stimulating and challenging environment where the child [the learner] can explore to achieve his/her objectives (2003, p. 69).
Sarcasm and nasty criticism have to be avoided in teaching of voice and singing. Any criticism should be made with dignity and good humor. An atmosphere devoid of friendliness and kindness hampers the teaching of voice. A teacher should get to know the student as a person and put himself/herself in the student’s place with a view to understanding them. When a teacher establishes an interest in his/her students, it will make them come out of their shells and be themselves and also learn well. Cranmer (1974, p. 59) comments on voice teaching:
The teaching of singing is a most personal and individual job, and because the whole of singing is done by the singer himself each pupil becomes a separate problem.
A voice teacher should be able to keep what is unique about an individual voice and still give the student the tools he/she needs to make it better. A voice teacher should deal with his/her students as individuals with different backgrounds, experiences and disposition. Individualized instruction is also upheld in all aspects of education, which is all about teaching and learning. Supporting this, Ebenebe and Unachukwu (1995, p. 139) note that:
The problem of accommodating individual differences is so important that many educators have suggested that instructions be completely individualized so that students work independently at their own rates.
Lewis (1990, p. 1) in her article How to find the right voice teacher concurs with the idea that the teaching of voice is a personal business. She writes:
Singing is very personal. You have to trust the person who is going to help you develop your voice. You want a teacher who will encourage you to break new ground, strive toward your goals and develop your instrument as far as it will go. You also want a teacher who will appreciate your uniqueness.
Voice is one of aspect of applied music study in tertiary institutions. The teaching of voice in tertiary institutions could be seen as a stride towards producing people with great touch of professionalism in singing. However, the pertinent question is: Have the teachers of voice succeeded in producing professional or amateur singers? Regardless of what the voice students turn out to be at last – whether professionals or amateurs, a voice teacher in a tertiary institution should be able to bring up a voice that could be said to be good enough, a pleasing and beautiful instrument. In line with the above, the purpose of this research was focused on the functionality of voice teaching in tertiary institutions and remedial measures.
The present research study was carried out in three (3) higher institutions of learning in Nigeria. two (2) Universities and one (1) College of Education: Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN); Department of Music, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka; and Department of Music, Nwafor-Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe (NOCEN). The accessible population for the research was twenty (20) voice teachers in the Music Departments of the selected institutions. This study was limited to the prevalent voice teaching problems in the institutions researched according to the teachers’ perception. In order to investigate the purpose of this research, the following six research questions were posed:
Research Design: The study was designed to investigate teachers’ perception of voice teaching problems in tertiary institutions. It therefore employed a combination of questionnaires, interviews, and observation, as schematically represented in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1: A flow chart of the research design.
Instruments: The instruments for data collection were questionnaires, interviews, and observation. The first set of instruments consist of structured and unstructured questionnaires, both developed to obtain information in a way that did not entirely restrict the respondents to the questions. The Fixed-Response type of the questionnaire was structured with forced response options using the Likert-type scale (Nworgu, 1991, p. 104). The order of rankings for various categories were tabulated according to the following ranking scheme: Always (A) = 4 points; Sometimes (S) = 3 points; Rarely (R) = 2 points; and Never (N) =1 point. In addition, three open ended type of questions were formulated. The open-end questions were developed in such a way that the questions pertinent to the study could be addressed in a way that allowed the respondents to supply their responses in their own words and in the manner they deemed necessary. The second set of tools employed in the data collection consisted of closed and open interviews (Obumneke, 2000, p. 211). These interviews were held with the respondents through a direct, face-to-face interaction with the researcher. The interviews were conducted in the interviewee’s offices at the appointed times. Interviews were audio recorded. An interview schedule was used to guide the researcher on the questions to ask during the interview. The third type of tool was observation. The findings from this tool were compared with the other tools (questionnaire and interview) and it helped in validating some of the findings.
Data Collection: The questionnaires were administered by the researcher and once completed, were collected by the researcher as well. Twenty completed questionnaires were returned. The researcher conducted the interview session with the respondents. Voice classes were observed by the researcher in order to ascertain the actual teaching/learning methods employed by the teacher.
Data Analysis: Responses on each test item were analyzed according to frequencies and mean rankings. First, total responses in each category (frequency) of every test item were tabulated. Next, the number of points allocated to each category was multiplied by the frequency of each category. Finally, the sum of these scores was divided by the sum of the frequency for each category (Σ F).
Responses with a mean of 2.50 and above were considered to signify “agreement,” whereas those with a mean below 2.50 were considered to signify “disagreement.”
The data are presented in table form and are arranged according to the order in which the various research questions and test items for each research questions were answered by the respondents.
The finding for research question 1 shows that voice is a valued instrument of music. It is regarded and rated highly by both the teachers and the students.
|1||Voice can be viewed as a major and necessary instrument to be taught and learnt.||15||5||0||0||20||3.75||Agree|
Table 1 presents the responses on the position of voice as a valued instrument of musical expression. The item has a mean rating of 3.75. This indicated that the respondents agreed that voice among other instruments is placed highly and that it is a valued instrument of music. This finding was supported by (Machlis, 1963, p. 7) who stated that from time immemorial, singing has been the most widespread and spontaneous way of making music. When one talks of singing, one is inadvertently talking about voice as an instrument of music. Voice as a musical instrument given by nature to man existed before any man-made musical instrument; therefore no instrument can outlive or has outlived the human voice and its position as a valued musical instrument is prominent and cannot be substituted.
Research question 2 observed that inasmuch as majority of the voice students loved to study voice without being forced to, their attitude towards the subject was reported to be discouraging.
|2||My students take voice classes seriously.||0||20||0||0||20||3.00||Agree|
|3||My students are punctual to classes||0||10||8||2||20||2.40||Disagree|
|4||The students are eager about the voice lessons.||3||17||0||0||20||3.15||Agree|
|5||My students freely approach me with their voice problems.||9||8||3||0||20||3.30||Agree|
Table 2 revealed that the mean responses for the items 2, 3, 4 and 5 are 3.00, 2.40, 3.15 and 3.30, respectively. Test item 3 of the questionnaire in the table is below the mean cut-off point indicating that the respondents disagreed to it, whereas they agreed to the remaining three items. The result therefore shows that the students exhibited positive attitude towards the learning of voice except in the area of punctuality where they have negative attitude. Besides, during interview the teachers pointed out seriously the issue of mixed classes of serious and unserious-minded students, which affected punctuality to classes. Some of the students exhibited lackadaisical attitude towards learning. They regard voice as a cheap instrument of study so they took it for granted: more or less the professional guidance of the teachers was disregarded.
In answering research question 3, the voice teachers agreed to hold voice training classes for the students. There was also no clear-cut distinction between the time given for vocal exercises and the teaching of the voice pieces. The vocal exercises are very important to the students. It could help to find answer to the students’ pitch problem and even rhythmic problem. It was discovered that the students failed to adhere to the teachers’ instruction of having vocal exercise on their own outside of the class teaching. Jones (2000) speaks of his own approach to vocal training thus: ‘I focus my efforts with a beginning singer on the development of a solid technique. I do not rush this process. I take an athletic approach to teaching singing, by that, I mean, like any thorough coach. I spend much time and determination to train and develop the voice, built over time, this understanding of technique allows the singer the freedom to bring the music to life’.
|6||The students pitch well with the aid of the keyboard instrument.||12||8||0||0||20||3.60||Agree|
|7||There is no distinction between the time for teaching vocal exercise and teaching voice pieces.||11||9||0||0||20||3.55||Agree|
Table 3 helps to provide answers to research question 3. The results of data show that the mean score for items 6, and 7 are 3.60 and 3.55, respectively and were therefore agreed by the respondents.
Responding to research question 4, all the voice teachers agreed that they love teaching voice. They do not begrudge handling the subject. Since they are happy with the subject, their teaching was positively affected by it as the students agreed. The students generally agreed that their teachers enjoy teaching voice.
|8||I like teaching voice||12||8||0||0||20||3.60||Agree|
From the analysis of the data in table 4, the test item has mean responses of 3.60 which therefore means that the teachers have a right and positive attitude towards the teaching of voice.
With regards to research question 5, there was success recorded on the teaching methodology used by the teachers. The study found out that they used vocalize to train the voices. The vocalize they used were in form of scales, arpeggios and sequences done in several keys of suitable voice ranges. The teachers give assignments after some of the classes so as to compel the students to work on their own outside the lesson periods. The students concurred to the teachers’ assertion of their being encouraged to study voice and learn their voice pieces by heart so they can sing from memory. Generally, the students were left to learn their examination voice pieces themselves most of the time. In cases like this, the teachers only monitor the learning progress and make necessary corrections. Some teachers supervise or teach the students the voice pieces themselves.
There was room for piano/keyboard accompaniment for the classes. The teachers encourage the piano students to do the accompaniment in order to promote their (the piano students’) learning.
|9||I hold voice-training lessons for my students.||12||8||0||0||20||3.60||Agree|
|10||I do hold vocalize for my class.||14||6||0||0||20||3.70|
|11||I give my students assignments on voice.||9||11||0||0||20||3.45||Agree|
|12||I encourage my students to learn their songs by heart.||9||11||0||0||20||3.45||Agree|
|13||I handle interpretation as part of voice teaching.||10||10||0||0||20||3.50||Agree|
|14||I teach the students the examination voice pieces.||6||14||0||0||20||3.30||Agree|
|15||My students learn the examination voice pieces by themselves and then I supervise the learning.||0||12||1||7||20||2.35||Disagree|
|16||I teach the students to control their breath while singing.||10||10||0||0||20||3.50||Agree|
Table 5 shows that the eight test items have mean responses of 3.60, 3.70, 3.45, 3.45, 3.50, 3.30, 2.35 and 3.50. Test item 15 falls below the cut-off point and was therefore disagreed by the respondents. It revealed that the methods of the teacher’s voice teaching succeed to a reasonable extent.
In response to research question 6 few of the teachers agreed that they teach their students the vocal organs and mechanism of sound production. The teaching of the vocal organs and mechanism notwithstanding, some of the teachers assert that the knowledge of it or not does not attend or contribute much to solving the students vocal problems. Others sometimes give what could be called a superficial teaching of the vocal mechanism and apparatus. Yet there were others who never taught the students anything on the subject but only focus on the issue of the students learning to sing their vocal pieces.
|17||I give my students some lecture on the vocal apparatus.||0||7||10||3||20||2.20||Disagree|
The response of test item 17 falls below the cut-off point and have mean responses of 2.20. It therefore shows that the respondents disagree. Table 6 therefore reveals that a few of the teachers give lessons on the vocal apparatus while majority do not.
The following open ended questions were asked the respondents:
In response to the above questions, all the respondents admitted that the students experienced vocal strain at one time or the other. On how it is handled, the respondents submitted that instructions/advice were given to students. The summary of instructions/advice proffered by the respondents to their students were:
Further problems that teachers experienced with the students during voice classes as submitted by the respondents were summarized as follows:
Furthermore, other problems of voice teaching as stated by the respondents include:
The teaching and learning of voice should not be taken for granted. For a good sound production in singing, the voice should be nurtured against all odds into a beautiful resonant instrument. The findings from this study agreed that voice among other instruments is placed highly and that it is a valued instrument of music. Even though majority of the voice students loved to study voice without being forced to, their attitude towards the subject was reported to be discouraging as they exhibited lackadaisical attitude towards learning it.
There was also no clear-cut distinction between the time given for vocal exercises and the teaching of the voice pieces. It was discovered from the study that the students failed to adhere to the teachers’ instruction of having vocal exercise on their own outside of the class teaching. On the other hand, the voice teachers agreed that they love teaching voice. They do not begrudge handling the subject.
The study also found out that they used vocalize to train the voices. The vocalize they used were in form of scales, arpeggios and sequences done in several keys of suitable voice ranges. The teachers give assignments after some of the classes so as to compel the students to work on their own outside the lesson periods. On a general note, the students were left to learn their examination voice pieces themselves most of the time.
Finally, with regards to the extent of the vocal physiology and mechanism taught in the schools, while a few of the teachers agreed to teach their students the vocal organs and mechanism of sound production, others asserted that the knowledge of it or not does not attend or contribute much to solving the students vocal problems. Hence, there were others who never taught the students anything on the subject but only focus on the issue of the students learning to sing their vocal pieces.
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