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Episode 56 – Voice Science Works | How Much Science Do We Need To Know?

Voice Science Works

David Harris and Laurel Irene are the brains behind the amazing resource that is Voice Science Works. They take contemporary research on the voice and translate it into directly applicable information so that you, the voice user, can immediately apply it in your practice. Their website is free, accessible and friendly to all voice users who wish to deepen their understanding and empower their learning process! In our latest episode we explore the question of voice science; do you really need to know it to be a good singer or teacher?

Tune into the podcast audio by using the player at the top of the page and enjoy the notes below.

How did Voice Science Works come about?

“We actually met at Ingo Titze’s Summer Vocology Institute in 2014”. Both David and Laurel had studied voice science a little, but not to the depths of the course with Ingo. This was much more involved! That summer of science led to a love of vocal acoustics and each other *aaaaaaaaaaaah*.

That love naturally gave way to a desire to share voice science in a way that was distilled and simpler, which started with incorporating little science-y chunks into David’s choir rehearsals in Boston. Those little exercise chunks seemed to work and so the idea that this information could be shared on a bigger scale led to the creation of the Voice Science Works website. The goal for that website; science that is free, fun and colourful!

David doing his thing

Choral conductors

One part of the Voice Science Works mission is working with choirs and choral conductors to help them use science to get the best of the group. David has seen many choral conductors and notices they are a little stressed! That might come from the need to get a sound, or the insecurity of feeling like they couldn’t get the choir to sound the way they needed/wanted. After all, you can’t jump in someones throat and make their vocal folds vibrate!

Science = chill

On the other hand, a little scientific education allows choirs to learn about their voices in a factual AND practical way. They seem to learn about themselves quicker and better. David found that his stress levels as a choral conductor reduced significantly when he was able to facilitate the choirs learning of singing as a whole group, through David and Laurel’s scientific concepts. As a result, he could work towards the best, healthiest sound possible without shouldering the full responsibility of trying to ‘make’ them deliver frantically during conduction.

This applies to private voice teachers too!

“We *shouldn’t* race to the answer before allowing them to explore them the question”

In order for the group to learn well, you have to set up the session with clear goals and the understanding of WHAT they are exploring and WHY. Then you become a guide or facilitator for discovery, rather than just dishing out the exercises or the answers.

Science seems like it’s good for teachers, but is there a direct benefit to a singer knowing more about science?

“I connect the teacher letting the singer do more to the singer letting the audience do more”

Laurel contrasts that to a singer getting on stage and trying to make the audience like the performance. You can’t do that! Instead, the performer is there doing their thing and they are inviting you to come and participate in it. The teacher/student relationship can be just the same. In essence, you offer what you can and allow the singer space and time to come in to the process. If they want to, that is!

For singers, it’s not about knowing science. It’s about using little pieces of scientific knowledge to be able to ask questions and be curious, but in measured way. That will lead to the process of self-discovery.


Voice Science Works

Formants in visual representation!

When we introduce formants, we demonstrate it as blowing across bottle full of water. We can perceive a pitch from that. We can transfer that image to bottles of air to the spaces in our throat and mouth. Those spaces can hold pitch, you just have to set them in vibration. Just flick your cheek to hear it! The fancy word for that is ‘formant’, but David won’t mention that word again until they mention it first. That hopefully facilitates the student in going away and researching curiously on that new concept.


“The same works with the cricothyroid muscle. We call it the stretchy muscle.”

That’s the muscle that stretches the vocal folds and is crucial in understanding singing science and anatomy. But cricothyroid is just a word they’re going to trip over in the beginning, so why use it? Even without that word, and without using the word thyroarytenoid (which is the muscle that thickens the folds), we can create a solid image of that function. Then we can create exercises around stretch and thicken that singers and teachers can use effectively whilst they’re getting their head around the terminology.

How deep should a singer need to go into this subject?

As deep as is helpful.  It floats around the concept of ‘know that’ information, or ‘know how’ information. For the ‘know that’ place, go as deep as you want! The Voice Science Works workshops are full of this information so we can all get curious.


Laurel on the larynx

On the flip side, if you go into the ‘know how’ approach with too much of the ‘know that’ energy, you may well gum yourself up. That’s often the case for being a stupid singer, for example “don’t tell them anything or they’ll get worse!”. Well, that’s only if you haven’t done your research on how people learn! A truly smart singer will know that the mindset would need to change, in order to be effectively ‘know how’. That would involve using less judgemental self-talk like “no, that was bad” or “wrong” and avoid being analytical and overly logical. Instead, use the logical part of your personality to create a goal for your training, but then adopt a more physical or emotional approach to carry out the goal orientated tasks. That can help a singer get back to the pure act of singing whilst maintaining some useful learning structure.

In short, there is no limit to what you can learn. Just the awareness of being able to switch mindsets to facilitate the best possible learning process!

Even though there are no limits to learning, when do you determine when a singer is ready for scientific terminology without it affecting learning?

A highly recommended author for this podcast is Dr. Norman Doidge, especially his books The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brains Way Of Healing (links to Amazon). His work can help coaches and singers to understand how to view the learning process, much like a map. Educating singers on some scientific concepts is a way of broadening the map to see the many different options for the route. If we are aware of the various options then we are much more likely to afford ourselves some patience when learning a skill. We are also much more likely to try again without judgement because we are just navigating our way through the different routes on our map.

The knock on effect from a less judgmental environment is that we are much more likely to let knew ideas come in, and embrace some novelty.

What are you favourite exercises for singers and coaches for exploring the world of vocal acoustics and the various software programs that you use?

Voce Vista

There’s an amazingly functional spectrogram called Voce Vista, which is our main tool for this. As well as analysing voices, it can adjust vocal tone and harmonic balance to create an individual listening experience for each singer where THEIR voice becomes the model for what their might want to do. That is, of course, instead of modelling the teacher and/or another similar singer when trying to achieve a specific sound.

How we get a singer to be able to change their vocal settings in a lasting way is through several principles. For example, if someone is looking for a more exciting and bright tone, we might identify that they need more boost in the ‘twang’ region of voice. Typically, that ‘twang’ is seen between around 2000Hz to 2500Hz, so if we boost that frequency in the singers recording, they’ll hear themselves with more of that effect. If they spend a bit more time listening to that through headphones and singing along, they’ll begin to adjust their tone to match the spectrogram playback. After taking the headphones off and spending a moment remembering the sound, they’ll be able to produce it alone. Do it everyday and it will become lasting. It’s really something. Tune in the the podcast (top of the page) for some awesome examples of the spectrogram and the vocal exercises used!

Go and check out this fantastic resource!

We hope you enjoyed this interview with David and Laurel as much as we did. There is a world of information, research and incredibly useful tools available through their website. You can also find them posting on their Facebook page.

Of course if you’re struggling with voice science, or just want to start a convo, feel free to fire questions via the comments below and we’ll field them out for you.

Anyway, Merry Christmas! Thank you to everyone who has supported the website this year. We value you 🙂

See you in 2019!

Naked Web Monkey

The Naked Vocalist website guru. Years of experience in fixing websites, uploading stuff and belting out high C's. All whilst swinging from a tree.

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