Singing is an embodied activity. The interrelatedness of the body and the mind, or the bodymind connection (Thurman & Welch, 2000), is undeniable in and through singing, and is irrespective of the aim of singing. Singing engagement is potentially beneficial for “all ages, from childhood into adolescence, through into retirement age and beyond” (Welch, 2012, p.2). When discussing the actual types of potential benefits derived from singing, Welch (2012) identifies five main areas of “reported benefits” (p. 1) – physical, psychological, musical, social and educational. According to Welch, the potential benefits (pp. 1-2) include neurological functioning (physical), intra- and inter- personal communication (psychological), the development of musicality (musical), inclusiveness and community integration (social), and a range of additional understandings and skill development (educational). Welch continues:
Overall… these combined benefits suggest that singing is one of the most positive forms of human activity, supporting physical, mental and social health, as well as individual development in the same areas. (Welch, 2012, p. 2)
While the embodiment of singing involves intrapersonal communication, the act of singing typically involves interpersonal communication. As such, there are many styles of singing and contexts in which singing occurs. There are also many contexts in which singing may be studied, learned and researched. Voice science and related research provides fact-based understandings of the voice particularly in relation to “anatomy, physiology and acoustics of voice” (Callaghan, 2010, p.13); voice science may therefore frame and/or enable research of the singing voice (e.g., Collyer, Kenny, & Archer, 2009; Callaghan, 2000).
Singing is “ubiquitous in human society, and it is unique among music performance as being the only form to combine music with language” (Fine & Ginsborg, 2007, p. 253). Accounting for the uniqueness and embodiment of singing, the teaching of singing requires consideration of a range of complex, performative and communicative elements:
Singing teachers have always been concerned with voice, music and language, and how to convey to students a knowledge of these elements in a way that allows them to be learnt as an embodied, holistic performance skill. (Callaghan, 2010, p. 13)
Why is singing important?
- Singing is accessible.
- Singing can be studied and learned.
- Singing occurs in a diverse range of world musics and in Western music styles including classical through to contemporary.
- There are performance opportunities for singers and audiences in a range of contexts.
- Singing may be beneficial.
- Singing may feature in music therapy (e.g., Clements-Cortés, 2017).
- Singing may be inclusive and participatory; it may be an individual activity.
- Singing may be valued socially and culturally; singing is communication.
- Singing communicates experience and emotion.
- Singing may be celebratory; it may be commemorative.
- Singing experiences are usually highly memorable; they may provide a sense of belonging and provide opportunities for social interaction.
- Singing has the potential to build social awareness and be a voice for change and advocacy through song (e.g. Dunaway & Beer, 2010, pp. 189-198).
- Singing has the potential to cross social and cultural boundaries (e.g. Bithell, 2014, p.165) and as such, has the potential to be used for cross-cultural teaching purposes.
- Singing may offer a non-confrontational way of working through issues and disabilities (e.g., Davidson & Fedele, 2011; Tamplin, Baker, Jones, Way, & Lee, 2013).
- Singing forms a significant research focus and offers a developing research nexus.
- The human singing voice is highly accessible as a musical instrument.
- As singing is accessible, it may be practiced, learned and performed in informal and formal contexts.
- Singing is typically highly valued by singers and teachers of singing.
- Singing lessons can occur in individual and group contexts.
- The teaching of singing, vocal pedagogy, is a profession (Callaghan, 2010; Harrison, 2010).
- Learning singing can occur through communal (e.g., Cooper, 2014), sociocultural (e.g., Latukefu, 2010) and spiritual (e.g., Robinson, 2010; Thornton, 2015) opportunities and contexts.
- Singing has potential benefits related to health and well-being (e.g., Mellor, 2013).
- Developing one’s own voice and singing capabilities may therefore be beneficial, even therapeutic or “cathartic” (Welch, 2012, p.2).
- Singing teaching, based in voice science, is grounded in anatomical, physiological and acoustic understandings (Callaghan, 2010, p. 13).
- The Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing Ltd (ANATS) is the peak organisation for professional development in vocal pedagogy in Australia and, as such, provides a variety of quality national, state and territory, face-to-face and online professional development opportunities and resources.
- The status and “quality” of singing in some areas remains a concern as identified by Harrison (2008).
- The concerning issue of singing quality is particularly evident in relation to school education where there appears to be a history of inequitable access to trained singing teachers and/or to quality singing activities (e.g., Hughes, 2007; Hughes & Callaghan, 2010; Wicks, 2013, p. 11-12).
- Due to the potential lack of appropriate and specific vocal music curricula, there may be an imbalance in the awareness of musical styles.
- For young students, in particular, this imbalance may result in non-exposure to a diverse range of musical styles and genres, and their associated musical elements; this may be further impacted by the trends of and preferences for singing in popular culture.
- Unguided use of and access to recorded singers and resources in informal learning may lead to inappropriate vocal mimicking and/or to potential vocal care or vocal health issues.
- Musical pursuits, including singing, may be gendered (Harrison, 2007).
- Singing teaching in Australia is not a regulated profession. As such, there is potentially a marked difference between singing teaching methods, vocal modelling and fact based understandings of the singing voice.
- Singing teaching methods that are not based in voice science or fact have the potential to lead to poor or inappropriate outcomes.
- There are limited opportunities to obtain a qualification in vocal pedagogy in Australia.
- With the exception of the opportunities provided by ANATS and other associations/organisations such as the Australian National Choral Association (ANCA) and the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME), there are also few additional opportunities for professional development in vocal pedagogy in Australia.
- There is a need for a range of research to be undertaken as “we remain relatively uninformed about the origins of singing and the ways in which environment, culture and society interact to influence vocal production and interpretation” (Harrison & O’Bryan, 2014, p. 411).
- There are not enough opportunities, nor available funding, to undertake research in a variety of contexts and/or musical styles.
- Little is known about a listener’s sensory process of singing in ways that “conceptualise, recognise and verbalise sound” (Mitchell, 2014 p. 198).
- There appears to be a broad lack of understanding about vocal health and related vocal care. This is particularly evident in relation to school education (e.g., Hughes, 2007, p. 174; Wicks, 2013, p. 100, 104).
- For singers, vocal health and other health issues may be brought about by industry expectations (Hughes, Evans, Morrow, & Keith, 2016, pp. 90-93), such as touring demands (e.g., Bartlett, 2011, pp. 168-169), vocal fatigue (e.g., Bartlett, 2011, pp.136-138), performance schedules (Hughes et al., 2016, p. 92) and inadequate amplification (Hughes, 2010, p. 523; Bartlett, 2011, pp. 152-153, 157).
- Singers, like all workers in the entertainment industry, are potentially vulnerable. Singers may therefore face “a work environment that is unhealthy, often divisive, competitive, and lacking social support. There are strong indicators [that] creative workers have a disproportionate rate of mental health issues” (van den Eynde, Fisher, & Sonn, 2014, p. xi).
- Singing performances and professional development opportunities provide the potential to engage with communities more broadly.
- Online platforms also have the potential to strengthen teaching communities and regional engagement in vocal pedagogy.
- Advocacy for singing and voice education has been ongoing (e.g., Harrison, 2008; Hughes, Callaghan, & Power, 2009; Hughes & Callaghan, 2010), but there continue to be opportunities to advocate for singing and the potential benefits of singing (see the conclusions to this analysis).
- The popularity of outlets such as reality talent television shows (despite potential associated weaknesses – e.g., Hughes, 2017) enables a wide exposure of singing where singing is highlighted as a musical instrument.
- Exposure of singing in such contexts may also help to alleviate gendered singing participation of young singers.
- Technological developments increase opportunities for vocal exploration and exposure.
- Perfected recordings (Hughes, 2015) and exposure to high profile “star singers” (Bartlett, 2010, p. 230) mean that some singing activities may be regarded or perceived as being as “inferior”.
- The potential lack of equitable access to quality singing in Australian schools means that some children may never have opportunities to learn to sing nor experience regular singing activities.
- Tertiary music programmes that are impacted by budgetary cuts and delivery rationalisation may lead to a reduction in tertiary singing education and related opportunities; such cuts and rationalisation may also lead to a reduction or casualisation of academic positions in tertiary music education.
- The lack of relevant teacher training opportunities (for classroom generalists and in vocal pedagogy) renders it difficult to address the inequity of singing opportunities in school music education and potentially limits the learning experiences of singing students more broadly.
- Contradictory methods and ideas pertaining to singing and singing teaching that are based on conjecture have the potential to limit the advances made in voice science and fact-based pedagogy.
- Policy makers are often unaware of the potential benefits of singing; singing in various curricular contexts may be limited, overlooked and/or not prioritised.
- As a result, singing and singing teaching face a deficiency in specific funding opportunities and related outcomes.
As the peak organisation for singing teachers in Australia, ANATS membership encompasses studio, choir, tertiary, classroom and school-based peripatetic teachers, and other voice professionals such as speech therapists. ANATS (2013, p.2) constitutionally undertakes:
- To encourage the highest standards in the art of singing and the teaching of singing;
- To promote voice education and research at all levels;
- To provide opportunities for members to meet regularly at national, state, territory or regional levels;
- To provide regular communication to Members;
- To maintain a register of Members nationwide.
In keeping with the objectives of ANATS, professional development through face-to-face workshops, seminars, and national conferences continues; webinars also provide the potential for professional development and to engage on a national and international level. ANATS continues to be a foundation member of the International Congress of Voice Teachers.
In keeping with our objectives, ANATS can assist in supporting some of the strengths and addressing some of the weaknesses outlined in this analysis. For example, in relation to the inconsistencies in singing in Australian schools, ANATS will continue to advocate for change. The limitations in pre-service and in-service creative arts teacher training, including music, means that training “does not [always] provide adequate preparation or support for generalist teachers to meet the expectations of arts education curriculum” (Klopper & Power, 2010, p. 305); the implementation of a national curriculum may not necessarily result in equitable experiences in relation to either teachers trained in singing or in access to quality singing activities in all states and territories. To address the broader concerns of music education in Australian schools, ANATS, as part of a collective advocacy initiative instigated by ASME in 2016, advocated for:
- A national program of singing in music education in schools;
- Adequate training of classroom teachers so that there can be confident vocal modelling;
- Government funding for organisations such as ANATS to provide in-service teacher training;
- Music education to be incorporated wherever possible in curriculum areas.
ANATS furthered this advocacy by providing commentary on the NSW K-6 Creative Arts Draft Directions for Syllabus Development in August, 2017. In this commentary, the findings of research specifically undertaken by the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) on the Sing Up program in UK schools (2007-2011) (Sing Up, 2017) were highlighted. In addition to singing development, these findings identified that “advances in musical learning and development appeared to go hand in hand with affective developments, such as improved confidence, self-esteem, enjoyment of singing and greater social cohesion; and, there was evidence of enhanced cross-curricular learning, including greater recall of facts, deeper engagement with the curriculum, and improved language and mathematics skills” (CUREE, 2011, p.4). The ANATS commentary on the NSW K-6 Creative Arts Draft Directions for Syllabus Development also recommended that, wherever possible, schools be encouraged to include singing in their whole school activities such as during school assemblies. ANATS will continue to advocate for singing in Australian education and schools.
There are two significant threats in relation to a lack of teacher training that ANATS, through the provision of professional development opportunities, may address. The first threat relates to the pre-service (and in-service) training of teachers in school education as current teacher training does not seem to provide adequate instruction in singing or in the modelling of singing for children and adolescents. Indeed, Hocking (2009) identified that “on average, 16.99 hours are spent on the compulsory study of music and music teaching in teacher training programs” (p. 100). Given this alarming statistic, it would seem timely, if not overdue, to undertake further national research to determine the current allocation of pre-service music training of primary teachers (including singing) and its potential impact on the “music education lecturer in universities” (Hocking, 2009, p. 6).
Attendees at the 2015 ANATS National Conference, Singing Futures (24-27 September, 2015, Hobart, Tasmania), expressed concern over the state and general lack of inclusion of singing in school education. When specifically discussing the future of singing and singing teaching in Australia, members of ANATS strongly reiterated that concern and advocated for change. Inequitable access to trained singing teachers and to quality singing activities, together with a lack of pre-service vocal training (Wicks, 2013, pp. 103-104; 109), brings into question the ways in which singing is “valued”, or if indeed it still is, in school education. Unless teachers are trained and build confidence in singing, and more broadly in vocal health and the developmental stages of young voices, then access to singing will most likely fall to those teachers who have a personal interest in singing or to those schools fortunate to have vocally trained teachers on staff.
The second significant threat relates to the marked lack of opportunities for vocal pedagogy training in Australia. As a result, there are potentially numerous singing teachers who have no pedagogical training per se, no knowledge of voice science and those who do not avail themselves of the professional development opportunities that ANATS, for example, offers. A lack of formal pedagogical training and qualifications therefore means that it will remain difficult for the singing teaching profession to develop and implement Australian industry based, professional standards.
The threat posed by the deficiency in singing related funding opportunities and outcomes is formidable. To date, singing related professional development is typically self-funded. However, professional development opportunities to target particular groups such as classroom teachers could be government-funded initiatives. Funding for targeted singing research and the benefits of singing in Australia also seems overdue and warranted. Indeed, Gick (2011) calls for “systematic interdisciplinary research that includes qualitative and quantitative studies … to confirm preliminary findings of health and well-being benefits of singing” (p. 203). With funding opportunities in the Arts being limited, specific grants to explore the benefits of singing and to further voice understandings seems overdue, as does investigation of sector health and well-being; further funding opportunities to support vocal performers and performances, and the creation of new Australian vocal works, songwriters and composers, is warranted.
The Arts Nation: An Overview of Australian Arts (Australia Council for the Arts, 2015) implies that “engagement with the arts correlates with higher life satisfaction” (p. 11). As research identifies that singing has the potential to benefit heath and well-being, together with research that identifies that “creating” (including singing) is undertaken by over a third of Australians (Australia Council for the Arts, 2015, p. 11), singing and singing teaching should be highly valued by governments (state and federal). However, both government and education policy makers have failed so far to implement strategies and policies based on research findings that identify the potential benefits of singing or the relevance of vocal pedagogy based in voice science. They have also failed to recognise the potential significance of the individual, educational, communal and sociocultural benefits that learning singing affords.
To conclude, several of the concerns raised in this sector analysis echo those raised by Harrison (2008). It will be interesting to see how further analyses view these concerns and whether or not they are addressed in future policy and funding initiatives.
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Diane Hughes, in consultation with the 2017 National Council of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing Ltd (ANATS (September 2017 – December 2017)); reviewed by Belinda Lemon-McMahon, Helen Mitchell and Julia Nafisi. This updates the 2008 SWOT analysis by Scott Harrison, Rowena Cowley, Kathleen Connell and Inge Southcott
DATE: 15 December 2017
A/Prof Diane Hughes is a researcher and lecturer in Vocal Studies and Music at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her research areas include the singing voice, vocal health for singers, vocal pedagogy, sound, recording practices, songwriting, the music industries, and popular music and song. She is co-author of The New Music Industries: Disruption and Discovery (Hughes, Evans, Morrow & Keith, 2016, Palgrave Macmillan). She is an advocate for music education and for voice studies in school education. See https://researchers.mq.edu.au/en/persons/diane-hughes
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