How many times have you heard it during a Windward Choral Society “wacky warm-up” session…after Susie has us do something truly bizarre and/or silly, she smiles and insists there’s a “pedagogical” reason. Given that five-syllable words make my head hurt, I’ve let it slide. But not now.  Time to find out what in the name of Victor Borge* she’s talking about. The first thing I found was in good old Webster’s dictionary:

ped·a·go·gy (ˈpedəˌɡäjē)

Noun, the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.

That’s it? I’m flapping my arms and making motorboat noises with my lips and the big word that says it’s okay just means “teaching”? She’s in for it now.

But wait, since we’re singing, what about singing and pedagogy. Found it in a monstrous research paper. “Vocal pedagogy covers a broad range of aspects of singing, ranging from the physiological process of vocal production to the artistic aspects of interpretation of songs from different genres or historical eras. It is the study of the art and science of voice instruction, used in the teaching of singing, and assists in defining what singing is, how singing works, and how proper singing technique is accomplished.”

All right, I guess she’s safe.

This time.

So here’s the scoop. First, there are acres of information on this subject with huge scientific jargon bundles and some really disturbing diagrams of what the inside of my head looks like. I’m skipping that stuff and getting to the version that’s in English. (This is all pulled from the VoiceCare Network and seriously simplified. The whole book is entitled “Bodymind & voice: Foundations of voice education” and is d-d-d-d-dull.)

It all boils down to these familiar key elements:

  1. Respiration – controlling the breath with your diaphragm and perfect posture.
  2. Phonation – that’s when the vocal chords vibrate in your larynx. There’s a whole lot going on with interarytenoid muscles, arytenoid cartilages and vallecular something-or-other, but I promised not to use words like that. It’s better for all of us if I stick with that strategy.
  3. Resonation – this is when the sound bounces around inside you and starts to sound like singing might happen. There’s all sorts of space in there to work with; your chest, your throat, your sinuses, your nose, the inside of your mouth, gobs of it. All this rattling about creates your unique voice.
  4. Articulation – this is where words form. All the hardware is available for it: your lips and your tongue (which actually has a bunch of different spots that do stuff). Using these working parts together well is “active” articulation and I’m sure you’ve seen how Susie describes different techniques to make yourself understood when you sing. There’s also “passive” articulation but the description of it doesn’t really say much, at least to me. Check it out, it’s a mouthful:

    “Unlike active articulation, passive articulation is a continuum without many clear-cut boundaries. The places linguolabial and interdental, interdental and dental, dental and alveolar, alveolar and palatal, palatal and velar, velar and uvular merge into one another, and a consonant may be pronounced somewhere between the named places.”


  5. Interpretation – this is the mystical part that turns noise into music. What YOU do with your voice under the guidance of the Director. She can point and wave and all that other stuff that Directors do, but at the end of the day, you have the keys to the bus.

So there you have it, the big word explained. As is so often true, what “pedadogical” REALLY means is that Susie knows what she’s doing and you should listen and try to do what she’s pedagogging at you.

* Type his name into YouTube and go exploring. A unique blend of spectacular pianist and old school vaudeville style showman. Great fun.