The Routledge Companion to Interdisciplinary Studies in Singing, Volume II: Education
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The Routledge Companion to Interdisciplinary Studies in Singing, Volume II: Education

Helga R. Gudmundsdottir, Carol Beynon, Karen Ludke, Annabel J. Cohen, Helga R. Gudmundsdottir, Carol Beynon, Karen Ludke, Annabel J. Cohen

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The Routledge Companion to Interdisciplinary Studies in Singing, Volume II: Education

Helga R. Gudmundsdottir, Carol Beynon, Karen Ludke, Annabel J. Cohen, Helga R. Gudmundsdottir, Carol Beynon, Karen Ludke, Annabel J. Cohen

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About This Book

The Routledge Companion to Interdisciplinary Studies in Singing, Volume II: Education examines the many methods and motivations for vocal pedagogy, promoting singing not just as an art form arising from the musical instrument found within every individual but also as a means of communication with social, psychological, and didactic functions. Presenting research from myriad fields of study beyond music—including psychology, education, sociology, computer science, linguistics, physiology, and neuroscience—the contributors address singing in three parts:

  • Learning to Sing Naturally
  • Formal Teaching of Singing
  • Using Singing to Teach

In 2009, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded a seven-year major collaborative research initiative known as Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing (AIRS). Together, global researchers from a broad range of disciplines addressed three challenging questions: How does singing develop in every human being? How should singing be taught and used to teach? How does singing impact wellbeing? Across three volumes, The Routledge Companion to Interdisciplinary Studies in Singing consolidates the findings ofeach of these three questions, defining the current state of theory and research in the field. Volume II: Education focuses on the second question and offers an invaluable resource for anyone who identifies as a singer, wishes to become a singer, works with singers, or is interested inthe application ofsinging for the purposes of education.

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Learning to Sing Naturally

Section Introduction

Helga Rut Gudmundsdottir
University of Iceland
Two four-year-old girls are playing house at their preschool. During the game, one of the girls starts singing an odd repetitive tune over and over. After a while, she suddenly stops the tune and answers an imaginary cell phone. Only at this point do the adults in the room realize that the girl had been singing an imitation of a ring tone. Music and melodies are all around us in our daily lives from birth to death; it’s part of all known cultures in the world. We know that children learn much more through observing, listening, and imitating than we may realize.
We cannot and should not plan everything a child learns through a formalized curriculum. Simply put, children absorb and learn so many things informally from exposure to and interacting with their environment. Through education we can foster and enhance children’s natural abilities for singing; however, it is important for music educators to be aware of the multiple experiences and learning that children have with music and singing outside of school, through interactions with parents, family, peers, community, media, and technology.

Learning to Sing Naturally

Singing is a skill that develops naturally in all humans, just as the skills of speech and walking, given the basic fulfillment of appropriate circumstances, physical capacity, and care. Just as various breeds of songbirds develop their singing skills, provided that they have exposure to a skilled adult tutor of their own species at the critical period in time for the singing skills to be mastered (Goldstein & Schwade, 2010), so too, will humans master the singing of their culture through appropriate exposure and practice.
As described in the opening chapter of this Volume, we refer to such learning as natural or informal. UNESCO defines informal learning as:
As this Volume examines the multiple paths and circumstances of learning to sing and using singing to learn, the first Part is devoted to the learning processes and contexts when this occurs in a less organized and deliberate manner as compared to formal learning. As discussed previously in the Volume introduction, it is impossible to draw a decisive line between natural or informal learning, and formal learning as these two learning modes are usually interacting in most learning experiences (Folkestad, 2006). Formal learning usually implies a hierarchical structure that defines the relationship between a teacher and a learner and thus establishes a degree of power within an educational setting or a learning situation (see e.g., Contu & Willmott, 2003). A typical expression of this would be the master-apprentice model that is common, for example, in the professional studio of voice instruction which is a topic of Part 2 in this Volume. Natural or informal learning can also occur within clear hierarchies and power structures, although much of informal learning will take place in situations where the learner seeks new skills from a source of choice or in a situation where learning is not anticipated, for example, when a child observes a singing game among peers on a playground and seeks to observe, absorb, and imitate until the skills have been mastered (Barrett, 2005; see also Chapter 5, this Section, by Perdue & Campbell). This process occurs frequently when children and adolescents observe popular music in the media and learn the performance styles they admire through repetition and imitation (e.g., Ilari, 2011; Ilari & Young, 2016; see Chapter 6, Ilari & Budasz).

Singing as Expression of Culture

Not only is music inherent in all of us, it is also an integral cultural component of every known society, and singing plays a significant role in each culture. Olive Sacks (2007) writes:
It is no surprise then that music, and especially singing, is an expression of culture and identity; it is used in varied life circumstances to describe and transform everyday play, to communicate, used in rituals, and as an emblem of identity, such as in national anthems.
Ilari, Chen-Haftek, and Crawford (2013) remind us that:
The following chapters of this Part lead us through numerous examples where the act of singing is an expression and affirmation of culture. Through singing, individuals and groups form their identities, values, and beliefs. Singing is presented as a natural mode of human expression and is also the vehicle for transmitting values and systems within groups. These groups form their own social communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) in and through singing. Within groups, individuals form and negotiate their own social roles and identities, for example, in terms of gender or social status through learning songs and games, or rituals while the interest of the group is social cohesion.

Communities of Practice

Etienne Wenger (1998) introduced the concept of communities of practice as a social learning system, and his work has been explored by numerous educational researchers in all forms of educational research as a useful metaphor for understanding the social aspects of learning. In an interview with Valerie Farnsworth and Irene Kleanthous, he notes the sense of wholeness in a group situation and defines communities of practice when people come together to share a concern or passion and have a desire to learn or engage more and interact (Farnsworth, Kleanthous, & Wenger-Trayner, 2016)1. He says that in order to be considered a community of practice, there are three requirements: (a) community where there is support and care for each other in which people share knowledge and skills while building social relationships; (b) practice where members practice and share together; and (c) a domain where there is a commitment to an area of common interest and sharing of tools, knowledge, and skills.
The communities of practice presented in this Part take many different forms. The practice of singing can be between parent and infant, within a nuclear family, on playgrounds, within closed geographical communities, religious entities, and last but not least, under the influence and through interaction with media and technology. Wenger-Trayner notes:
As such, in informal learning, the community – while perhaps normally assumed to be a larger group of people – can include any number in an active and dynamic situation, from two, such as in a (grand)parent-child dyad, or child-child dyad, or larger group.
In the context of the chapters in this Part of Volume 2, informal learning in singing embraces the community of practice concept because singing, as explained above, is a social endeavor that supports community, communication, and the development or maintenance of a sense of culture. It is dynamic and develops over time in the right space or context.
Embedded in the contexts of singing as an expression of culture and identity learned informally in diverse communities of practice, we explore the themes of informal learning as expressed by the authors in this Part, beginning with asking the question, how songs are transmitted from one to another?

Transmission of Songs

Singing traditions and associated songs are naturally transmitted through modeling and imitation, and these processes can be further explained by examination of cultural and social learning theories. Transmission from the skilled to the novice takes many forms, ranging from exact replications to variations and new creations. Examples of this can be found in young children who learn a standard song but change, for example, the lyrics to suit what they are doing in that moment. This phenomenon is evident in folklore transmission as well as the variability in singing games in playgrounds (see Marsh, 2008; Opie & Opie, 1985). Song and game transmission can thus be “static” or “renewed” whether the transmission is characterized by replication or creativity (see Chapter 6, by Perdue & Campbell).
For some purposes, exact replications of songs and song contents can become the main purpose of the transmission. This is for example found in the transmission of songs that are intended to teach certain skills within oral traditions (see Chapters 7, 9, and 10 by Mapana, Emberly & Tshitokisi, and Pooley respectively, all of which discuss singing in the lives of children in Africa). Songs become a central medium for handing down knowledge and experiences that are embedded in the songs and the lyrics. The usefulness of songs as vehicles of transmission makes them also suitable for affirming cultural values and belief systems (see Chapter 6, Ilari & Budasz, with examples for children in different settings in Brazil).

Motivation for Singing

Within all communities of practice of informal learning there are various motivations and reasons for a person to attain singing skills, and there seems to be a clear advantage of singing behaviors for the purpose of securing social cohesion. Within small groups or between two individuals, singing may take the form of an important mode of social interaction. For individuals, singing can become an asset and secure acceptance within a group. For this reason, knowing and mastering the accepted singing skills within each community of practice becomes important. This can be seen in family singing, between and among children playing in groups or in larger com...

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