Saturday, February 25, 2012


I was a vocal performance major in college and now I teach piano part-time.  Oddly, I do not post much about music.  I think it is because I see how much I do not know, yet I'm supposed to know this field.  I'd hate to steer someone wrong.  I normally post about things I am trying to learn.  I don't know why I feel less like a learner in music, but I do.  Ugh, the expert hat.  I despise it.

Also, I LOVE music and I cannot explain it.  I mean, I cannot explain music.  Oh, but I love it so much.  How can I talk about it?  There must be a way.

I teach a sol-fa class in our CM co-op.  I thought since I don't write much about music, I would post a couple of lessons I taught on vocal production.  The following info was taught in two parts.  I used The Sciences (physics portion) and Secrets of the Universe as well as my own vocal background to make the lesson plan.

These are narration questions.  I wanted to see how much the kids already knew.  After they explained what they knew (I was impressed), I cleared up misconceptions and filled gaps using the notes in italics.  After discussion, we did warm-ups and tried to feel our bodies working to produce music.

What is the difference between noise and music? 

If the vibrations of a voice, a violin or piano string--anything--come at even intervals, then they make a musical note. If they come irregularly, the sound is usually a mere noise. Music is pleasant to hear, and noise is not.  Each string vibrates regularly just so many times in a second, no more and no less. The middle C on a piano is a wire just long enough to vibrate 261 times every second, and all of its vibrations are alike.

How do we get high sounds and low sounds? 

The shorter a string is the quicker it vibrates, and you will notice that the highest notes of your piano come from the shortest strings. It is the same with drums; the small drums give the highest notes, the large drums the lowest.

How do our bodies make sound come out of the mouth?

We actually have a musical instrument in our bodies.  Inside our throats we have a frame called the larynx.  (Picture of throat anatomy.)  Sometimes it is called the voice box.  It houses the vocal folds.  (Picture of vocal folds.)  The vocal fold part looks sort of like a harp, with the folds being the strings in the middle.  The vocal folds get thicker or thinner to help us sing different pitches.  When we sing, we breathe out air through the vocal folds which makes them vibrate.  The folds move apart to let us breathe, and move closer together when we speak or sing.  Singing is forming the vocal folds-- "strings"-- into the right thickness and position so that the vibrations sound the correct pitch.

How do we make the vocal folds vibrate?

Below the rib cage we each have a muscle called the diaphragm.  (Picture of diaphragm muscle.)  When we move this muscle down, it removes pressure from our lungs, and they fill with air.  This should happen automatically.  When we sing, sometimes we think we need to force air into the lungs, but we do not.  Because nature abhors a vacuum, we really just need to open our mouths, open our lungs by lowering the diaphragm muscle, and the air will rush in.  Standing straight and tall while doing this also helps.  The shoulders should be relaxed.  They are on vacation do not need to help. :)  

Once we get a breath in this way, we let the air seep through the vocal folds, making the 'strings' of our 'harp' vibrate evenly.  We control how much air we let out with the diaphragm, which moves up and puts pressure on the lungs, causing air to flow out.  Because we are standing straight and tall, the lungs have plenty of room for air. We control how quickly or slowly the diaphragm moves up and releases the air through the vocal folds and out the mouth.  The air flows out of the lungs and into the throat, through the vocal folds (causing vibrations) and out the mouth.  Singing!

There is a bit more to it, of course, such as using the cavities in the head and the shape of the mouth, tongue, etc., to form proper tone and vowels/consonants.  But I haven't gotten that far with this class.


Tammy said...

Katie--don't sell yourself short! You are brilliant in music and this very succinct post proves that you are also a superb teacher with your clear conveyance of thoughts and endearing way of expression. I know your students have made you beam with their growth b/c I know some of them :)

I enjoyed glancing over "The Sciences" and it made me pine for the days we once enjoyed before technology so invaded our lifestyles. Ah, to recall the days free from our current encumbrances to just enjoy time spent out of doors, learning and playing both at the same time as well as renewing mind and spirit. How much healthier in every way we'd all be to live like that again. Thanks for the reminder! Love your posts!

Katie said...

Tammy, thank you for your sweet comment! I'm glad you enjoyed looking through The Sciences. I wish I knew enough about science to take that book, retain its spirit, and update the science.