• Joe Keegan

Teaching Singing: Knowledge & Skill

It’s been a good while since my last article here on The Singing Gym. Much of what you’ll find here on my website is centred around the hope that singers reading this material can acquire some form of knowledge about singing and their voice. In previous posts I’ve discussed the basic mechanics of the voice e.g. the function of the vocal folds, resonation and what exactly that is/means. etc. In my opinion, based on my experiences both as a vocal coach and as a singer myself, the more we know about the physiology, function and biomechanics of the voice the better we can learn to control this instrument.

That should go without saying but as vocal coaches our primary aim is to achieve results for the singer. This means communicating the complexities of the voice in such a way that technique

can be presented, understood and implemented quickly and efficiently. Efficiency is clearly a priority in a 30 minute singing lesson. So the singing gym’s primary function is to provide singers with more detail regarding some of the concepts or terms that may be brushed over in a singing lesson.

A developing vocalist progresses along two simultaneous pathways. Firstly and in someways primarily, the development of the skill. More precisely the skills required to be able to get the most out of your voice and what you want to do with it. Secondly, and in my option equally as importantly, the acquisition of knowledge. The deepening of your understanding of how the voice works. A vocal coach should be able to provide both of these outcomes.

Now, the acquisition of knowledge and the development of skills are vastly different learning experiences. Knowledge can be acquired and retained almost instantaneously. We all carry around facts that we picked up at school and have never needed since, maybe from TV or for some reason little pieces of information permanently imprinted our minds from casual conversation. If a complex idea relating to the mechanics of the voice is delivered to you in broken down comprehensible segments over a period of time you can build a formwork of knowledge and expertise surrounding the voice. One fact attaching to another until the whole picture becomes clear. We can develop more and more detail in specific areas of that image simply through by absorbing a sentence in conversation or from a book. The development of a skill is very different.

The key to acquiring the skill of singing is repetition. Singing is entirely sensational. By that I mean we must pay close attention to the sensations we feel when we sing. We make slight adjustments to that feeling and we achieve a better quality of singing than we had before. (I use the word better to mean closer to the singers desired end result with vocal health and sustainability as a consistent focus.)

Ok so we’ve made a fundamental difference to our sound and we’re a step closer to what you want to be able to do with your voice. This is great progress. What happens in the moments following this is THE MOST important part of your vocal development. Repetition is key. It is vital that we consolidate this technique through repetition in order to be able to replicate the same sound in the future. If you’re asking yourself why? Go and have a nosey at the articles about the vocal folds, resonation and air flow to build your knowledge of what we’re trying to balance when we sing.

Singing is an incredible feat of coordination. To create a sound with the voice there are many mechanisms that come together to deliver a desirable result. In order to develop consistency and proficiency in our singing ability we have to be hyper focused on the way the creation of sound feels. If we repeat this feeling enough we develop muscle memory and we can reliably repeat the relevant technique.

This is where the key difference between knowledge and skill lies. “the memory for facts, known as declarative memory, is thought to be a different system, controlled by different brain mechanisms, than the one used for memory of life events, known as episodic memory.” -

With a good standard of vocal coaching a singer can accelerate the rate of progress in their own vocal development by approaching their education in voice with some consideration for this difference in memory function. We're aiming to develop both the knowledge base and our understanding of the voice concurrently with the development of muscle memory and the acquisition of the skills to be able to sing well.

If you have any questions at all about the contents of this article please don't hesitate to get in touch via email:

Finally, if you wish to book vocal coaching with me privately you can book a lesson either in person or online at

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