The June/July 2023 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Vocal Technique and the Choral Warmup: First Steps” by Sean McCarther. Following is a portion from the article.
Over the past few years, I have served as the applied voice instructor to several graduate choral conducting majors. Hoping to bridge the gap between their voice lessons and their choir rehearsals, I often ask them what warm-ups they use with their choirs. They frequently offer exercises and cues such as “lip trills,” “dropping the jaw,” and “bringing the sound forward.” However, when asked why they use those specific exercises, their answers rarely extend beyond “that’s what my choir director always did.” While there is certainly merit in building upon the wisdom of our mentors, we must also evaluate the purpose of those tried-and-true methods to make sure they truly serve our present needs.
A key component of my current pedagogical approach to voice teaching is the understanding that any cue, image, metaphor, or exercise will cause a functional change, whether that change is intended or not. Moreover, because of the complicated and interrelated nature of the vocal mechanism, a single cue will often cause cascading effects in multiple systems—again, whether intended or not. It is imperative that teachers provide students with exercises that are both intentional and specific regarding their functional effect. Lip trills, dropping one’s jaw, and bringing the sound forward are wonderful exercises, if applied intentionally to elicit a specific functional behavior.
Unfortunately, knowing which function to address first can be challenging. Listening to a complex sound, diagnosing its functional cause, and prescribing exercises that will influence positive change in that voice is imprecise at best, and downright exasperating at worst. Over the past few years, I have developed a basic diagnostic process that has often helped me determine where to begin.
The five steps are:
1) Listen passively and assess the sound
2) Use diagnostic exercises to explore symptoms
3) Diagnose functionality
4) Prescribe specific and targeted vocal exercises
Though no process is infallible, these five steps have helped me organize my thoughts on voice instruction and my teaching in the studio. I offer them here as a method for organizing voice instruction in the choral environment. This article will explore several key ideas from the fields of motor learning and expertise acquisition that have direct impact on effecting functional change in singers. We will then expand upon each of the
five steps in this diagnostic process.
Read the full article in the June/July 2023 issue of Choral Journal. acda.org/choraljournal