Should singers have to be scoped?

I have played for voice lessons for many years, many taught by wonderful voice teachers, and some by less wonderful voice teachers.

It is usually known in any institution who the good voice teachers are, but many freshmen get put with the less good teachers, and because freshmen are eager to learn and want to do well, they trust their teacher no matter their reputation.

It kills me when I play for freshmen who sound healthy at the beginning of the year and who slowly loose their voices in just a few months. I've noticed that by as early as February, there is a clear difference between the students of good voice teachers and the rest of them. And I always wonder what keeps the students of the less good teachers from noticing that they are not advancing as fast and as well as the other ones. I figure that if they realized that they were loosing their voices they would ask to change studio. I feel so powerless in those situations, because I can't say anything without being out of line.

 In talking about this issue on a hike today with my friend Laura Jo Trexler (who is a wonderful singer actor), she came up with the idea that there should be a mandatory scope exam of the vocal folds at the end of freshman year. It certainly would help shine light on the teachers that overall keep their students healthy, and the ones that overall don't (of course there is always the individual exception). 

The students would see if they have any injury, which one, get treatment for it and see a vocal health specialist. If realize that other students in their studios have issues as well while students from other studios don't, they can make the connection between their vocal health and their voice lessons faster than if they wait to audition for grad school to hear from other teachers that they need to start learning how to sing pretty much all over again.

Do you think that a mandatory scope would help students find and stay with good teachers? What other solutions are there to help young singers realize if their voice lessons are helping them or hurting them?



  1. Geraldine, you make some good comments, to which I would add the following...

    In an ideal world, students would get a "baseline" scope/strobe upon entrance to a degree in voice/theater. Many times, students are accepted with damage which becomes clear to the teacher within the first month of lessons. Also in an ideal world, students would not relinquish all power to the teacher, rather than learning their own instrument and self-examining... was that easier? Am I improving and how?

    About having scopes at the end of the year as a diagnostic tool for technical improvement, I am less certain. Many students with bad technique or no improvement after a year of study will still have perfectly healthy scopes. Lots of people sing inefficiently without getting nodes, in other words. Secondly, one also needs to realize that a lot of freshmen who do develop vocal issues like that do so as a result of lifestyle choices that come to a head freshmen year, living away from parents. Such as... staying up and talking all night long. Eating late and drinking often... reflux! And of course, smoking various substances which creates a slow deterioration of the vocal folds. In the last case, I tend to find the smoking will begin to reveal itself at the end of freshmen/sophomore year (students who did this already in high school do it more when living away from the parents).

    Ironically, students can improve technically (breath support, coordination, registration, etc) and yet having deteriorating vocal health due to the above. Sometimes these two will cancel each other out or make it difficult to assess actual technique vs. vocal health.

    Either way, it is the teacher's job to try to figure out what is going on, and the student's job to be proactive in their technique and care of self.

  2. Kerry,

    Thank you so much for your wonderfully detailed comment. I definitely agree with you that a scope before starting freshman year would be great. Who knows, maybe even as part of the application process?!
    I am very interested in what you say about students not relinquishing all power to the teacher. How should young singers go about doing that? Where is the line drawn between relinquishing power and not trusting a teacher enough to let them do their job?

    I suppose if a student asks question to the teacher about things that did and didn't work during practice, or about the use of the exercises being done in the lesson, as well as having conversation about the voice and voice lesson with fellow students, that might be a good place to start. And reading literature, whether interviews of professional singers or books on singing.


Related Posts with Thumbnails