Health Promotions in Schools of Music

2004 Conference | Sponsors | University of North Texas | Performing Arts Medical Association

Music Education Liaison

Hearing Health

Vocal Health
PreConference Report 1
Preconference Report 2
Postconference Report


Mental Health
Teacher Stresses


VOCAL HEALTH REPORT - Pre-Conference Report -
Part 2

Suggestions for the Development of a Voice Knowledge Base for Music Educators:

  1. Encourage knowledge of vocal development:   Research exists in the voice and other sciences that provides considerable knowledge about how voices physiologically develop from infancy through old age; however, much of this research has not been applied to vocal and general music curricula.  Teachers who work with the youngest voices need a thorough knowledge base of both physiological and functional vocal development and the applications of that knowledge for efficient speaking and singing abilities.
  1. Encourage the development of healthy vocal skills in speech:  All teachers, not only music educators, should be provided with a knowledge base regarding vocal health (see www.voiceacademy.org prepared by the National Center for Voice and Speech).  Such information should be designed to prevent voice disorders due to overuse and inefficient usage.  Basic information on efficient respiration, phonation, articulation, and resonance should be included. Problem areas should be addressed as well. For example, information may be important on a variety of topics including: hydration, both inefficient and optimally efficient coordination of voices when speaking and singing (e.g., speaking near the lower end of capable pitch range is one sign of unnecessary laryngeal effort), effects of medication, vocal use in noise, optimal state of the whole body for efficient neuromusculoskeletal coordinations (including speaking and singing), pollutants, stress and vocal effects of teaching schedules and loads, and other factors. 
  1. Encourage the development of healthy vocal skills in singing for teachers and their students.  Teachers need to have a good understanding and demonstrated application of appropriate singing behavior.  Implications for teachers who are vocal models for children and adolescents should be explored. For example, consideration should be given to the effects of singing with a light voice which is free of vibrato as a vocal model.  Such modeling may be vocally fatiguing and harmful for the teacher if produced with unnecessary high tension in the muscles of the larynx.  This and a number of other problematic vocal productions (especially for general and choral music teachers who have little or no voice training) need to be addressed.
  1. Encourage sufficient voice education for preservice teaching candidates who will work with voices in music, speech, forensics, cheering, or other areas of vocal production.   Teaching candidates need to learn fundamental voice use and voice conditioning skills before they can work effectively with children and adolescents over the course of a school year.  Class voice instruction or private singing lessons might not be sufficient to address the needs of individual teaching candidates.  Appropriate class and one-to-one instruction that is targeted to the voice skill and voice health needs of educators might be necessary to insure that the teaching candidates would learn: (1) how to use their voices with optimum efficiency when speaking and/or singing, (2) how to prevent voice disorders, (3) how to assess any voice problems that might arise, (4) how to use non-medical self-treatment techniques to deal with them, (5) when medical-therapeutic help is needed, and (6) how to obtain that help. The goal of such instruction would not be to develop singing repertoire but to develop vocally effective and healthy music educators.
  1. Encourage the development of healthy vocal skills in singing for children and adolescents.  Teaching candidates should be able to distinguish between healthy singing and unhealthy singing.  This ability is especially needed when teaching early adolescent males and females whose voices are changing.  These voice changes often begin in the later elementary school years and extend into the early high school years.  Candidates should be able to assist children and adolescents who have been labeled by some as (1) “non-singers” (have not yet learned to sing with relative pitch accuracy) or (2) “speech-range singers” (have not yet learned to sing with appropriate skill in their upper pitch range, and some also use overly-effortful pressed phonation when speaking or singing).  Teaching candidates should understand that such behaviors are normal stages in the early development of singing ability, and with appropriately guided vocal play and exploration, will move through all such stages to become at least reasonably skilled singers.  Practical experience in using the science-based stages of male and female adolescent voice transformation are crucial components in the education of all music teachers who will or may teach singing in general or choral music settings.
  1. Provide standard or best practices for perceiving common vocal inefficiencies that candidate music teachers will find in their classrooms and choruses, and how to help students replace them with vocal efficiencies.   Again, class voice and one-to-one instruction taught by a singing teacher rarely if ever address this vital need.  In addition, music teacher candidates should be encouraged to collaborate with speech teachers and speech pathologists in their schools.  Speech pathologists have a different training background and at times may be more accurate in evaluating problematic vocal and articulatory functions than a music teacher, and then guiding students and parents toward a resolution.  Candidates should be given suggestions for educating or collaborating with their general classroom teaching colleagues as well.  Music teacher candidates should be able to provide general classroom teachers with accurate information on healthy vocal production for speech and singing.
  1. Revisit and assess current strategies used to teach singing.  The macro- and micro-architectural features of vocal anatomy are progressively formed during the prenatal, childhood, adolescent, and early adult periods.  Accordingly, children and adolescents do not yet have the array of vocal capabilities that they will have when they reach full vocal maturity.  Music educators may need to revisit some strategies used in teaching singing, and develop an array of health-based strategies that work in tandem with growing anatomy.  Strategies that need revisiting may include but are not limited to:

    a. Appropriate strategies for teaching voice skills with children and adolescents whose voices are physically maturing.  For example:  (1) all laryngeal structures are growing in size, especially during puberty, and the brain must adapt the voice-operating neural networks to these dimensional changes, and (2) the cover tissues of the vocal folds (lamina propria) are substantially, but not completely, developed by age 10 years, and are not fully developed until after puberty (Hirano, 1981, 1983; Kahane, 1983).  As a result, expecting all children and changing voice adolescents to always sing exact pitches is likely to be inappropriate.

    b. The vocal coordinations that are used to sing a variety of musical styles from a variety of cultures needs to be examined in the light of: (1) physical and acoustic efficiency, (2) conditioning of larynx muscles, their connective tissues, and the vocal fold cover tissues, and (3) the overall health of the larynx.  For example, the presence of vibrato and the voice quality known as “belting” in children and changing-voice adolescents needs careful examination so that, if they are present, they are not harbingers of disordered voices.  The choice of appropriate voice skill teaching, voice conditioning, and singing repertoire may be critical in considering this area of music education.

    c. Re-assessing vocal pitch range parameters.  Some music education researchers have documented that most children first sing with pitch accuracy in their lower pitch range (e.g., A3 to F4).  Initially, this finding was interpreted by some to mean that this was the only pitch range in which younger children were capable of singing (PreK through the first few grades).  With subsequent growth, the capability to sing gradually higher and higher pitches were thought to emerge.  The highest pitch range was often about F5 or G5, and were achieved only in the later prepubertal ages.  Music series books, then, published songs accordingly.  These past findings and interpretations may not be totally accurate, as more current research evidence shows that there is great variability in the pitch range capabilities of children.  The question is how best to convert children’s vocal capabilities into vocally efficient expressive abilities, in spite of the variety of vocal models that they experience (including their parents’ voice use and the entertainment media).
  1. Reassess the value and validity of research that has shaped how we teach singing, and promote research that takes into consideration the physical parameters of human voices.  Consider whether singing research in music education, especially with young children and adolescents, has been conducted using protocols and professionals who have a solid knowledge base in voice anatomy, function, development, and research methods.  Re-evaluating the validity of past research within current knowledge bases may be more important than engaging in “new research”.  Music educators may need to develop a body of replication research to ascertain best practices and validated results.
  1. Encourage all teachers, music and classroom, to realize that human voices are for a lifetime, and we want to make sure our children leave music education programs having converted their innate capability for singing into a lifelong self-expressive ability.

Postscript: Submitted by John Nix

"Music has the potential to be taught, performedand experienced as a listenerin a way which is healthy.  Music has the potential to provide psychological, physiological and spiritual benefits toeducators,performers and listeners. However, in many ways our current system of education (which includes current students, performers and future music teachers) has failed to realize this potential. Our challenge is to make this potential a reality."