The Singer’s Library : Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy

The Singer’s Library : Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy

This article is part of the July 2022 issue of Classical Singer magazine. Click HERE to read all of the articles from this issue or visit the Classical Singer Library.

Advances in the field of acoustic voice pedagogy have spurred a second edition of one of its most popular texts.

After 42 years, Kenneth W. Bozeman has retired from his teaching position at Lawrence University in Wisconsin and now holds the rank of professor emeritus. Unsurprisingly for those who know him, he remains incredibly active in the field. He continues to present at national and international voice conferences, he cowrites position papers as a member of the American Academy of Teachers of Singing, and he has recently published a second edition of his second book, Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy 2: Motivating Acoustic Efficiency (Inside View Press). 

In the interview below, Bozeman discusses the development of acoustic voice pedagogy, the kinesthetic sensations that guide singers to greater efficiency, and the symbiotic relationship between voice science and studio-gained experience. 


Your first book, Practical Vocal Acoustics, came out in 2013, and the first edition of Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy (KVP) was published four years later in 2017. Only four years after that, the second edition was released—due, in part, to what you call “a number of important developments in and refinements to acoustic vocal pedagogy.” Is this how quickly we should expect substantial developments to occur in acoustic vocal pedagogy, or are we living in a particularly unusual age of discovery in the field? 

Some of that simply reflects my own learning curve! My commitment to being a lifelong learner implicitly acknowledges that there will always be more to learn. That said, there will likely continue to be new developments in our understanding of acoustics, some of which will have pedagogic significance. Besides that natural progression of knowledge, since studio work is adapted to each new student we face, novel ways of describing the motivating intentions they need to achieve the acoustic targets we now understand to be necessary will continue to occur. 


In the same vein, since KVP2 was published a year and a half ago, have you already come across additional information or gained deeper understanding on the subject than what is presented in even this newest edition? If so, can you give an example? 

As teachers attentively interact with students, new ways of describing intentional motivations arise. I have confessed more than once recently, “I’ve never said that before” (sometimes with a cautious, qualifying “don’t quote me on this, but…”) when suggesting a new way to explore a coordination. This sorting process is both necessary and good, and it can stimulate fun, new, effective strategies or recast previous ones in helpful ways. I also acknowledge the notion that “there is nothing new under the sun”—that what just occurred to me has probably been thought or said before in other studios by other teachers.  

With those qualifications in mind, here’s an example: we know from voice science that for an “even scale,” the spectral slope of our voices must gradually migrate from shallow to steep with pitch ascent, ideally as smoothly as possible, with no sudden, binary shift as occurs in yodeling or in a voice break. The shallow spectral slope of lower pitches and open timbre has a lot of strong, high-frequency content, is brassier with strong, buzzy auditory roughness, and seems more exposed and oral in somatosense. The steep spectral slope of high range and whoop timbre is dominated by the fundamental frequency, with minimal high-spectral content. It therefore is smooth, pure in pitch, round, warmer, and internalized and is both grounded in the body and above the palate in somatosense rather than being predominantly oral. 

We are more programmed to conceive of our voice from its speech level sound and sensation and/or from yelling, both of which have a shallow spectral slope and mouthy feel. Young singers tend to chase that speech level sound and sensation up the range, interfering with efficient laryngeal adjustment. Ironically, having the singer think some degree of “duller,” internalized yet frontal, and above the palate when ascending, can very effectively assist this necessary migration—this steeper spectral slope—without resulting in a tone that is actually dull. 

Kenneth W. Bozeman

I never imagined that I would ask a singer to think “duller,” but as a corrective for habitual laryngeal elevation and yell response, or as an aide to finding the path into close timbre or even whoop, it has been surprisingly helpful. Conversely, trying to keep the sound and sensation too oral and buzzy, and too much the same with ascent even though we do desire a sense of continuity of timbre, leads to sharp pressure increases, the yell response, and a lack of continuity.


In your 2017 interview for this column, you explain that many sensations of good singing are common enough to be useful, even if they are not necessarily universal. In the new book, you use different terms to refer to what people may feel when singing: kinesthesia, acoustic sensations, and pallesthesia. Are these terms essentially interchangeable, or are there significant differences? 

They describe various aspects of somatosense—how the body senses sound. Kinesthesia is more about location of sensation. I refer to some sensations as acoustic as a way of differentiating them from muscular sensations. For example, vibrato is best if not sensed as a muscular sensation (a waggling), rather conceived of as an acoustic sensation. Pallesthesia is sensation of vibration. These and other sensations overlap, to be sure. 

More generally to a possible question behind your question, the desire to have objective language to model and explain vocal function is laudable and good. However, to insist on objective language to motivate singing is futile and counterproductive. While sensations will express with some variety between individuals, there is considerable common overlap. 

This is obvious from the somatosensorial descriptions of successful historic pedagogy: terms such as voce di petto (chest voice), voce di testa (head voice), voce aperta (open timbre), voce chiusa (close timbre), cuperto (covering), etc., all of which describe sensations. Rightly understood and used, these have great value to the novice. They are more helpful than asking the singer to use more thyroarytenoid muscle or to sing in mode one, or other descriptions devoid of any somatosensorial content. Singing is, after all, an utterly subjective experience. In fact, all physical human experience is subjective, being mediated through perception. 

Brian Manternach

As long as we understand the difference between the physics and biomechanics of function and their auditory and somatosensorial correlates, pedagogy can dance productively between them. Singers motivate voicing mainly with the latter—auditory and somatosensory targets, though even more so via expressional intention or affect.


Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy is full of what you describe as “heuristic (effective, good enough) solutions” that were developed in the studio and are based on “intelligent, attentive experimentation and exploration” over time. The information is, therefore, science-informed even if it has not been “fully vetted in the science lab.” Can you give an example of what you mean by this? 

The migrations of sensation across range do not yield so easily to measurement, and yet descriptions of their migratory paths are very helpful to the novice singer exploring vocal responses not previously experienced. We may not know why certain sensations accompany better function, but excellent singers experience relatively common, reliable sensations. 

For example, when crossing from open timbre to closed timbre, when the second harmonic of a sung tone surpasses the first resonance of the vowel being sung, the acoustic sensation of the sound shifts from being fairly exposed and oral to being more internalized, vertical, and collected—both above the palate and settled below the mouth—and more concentrated (closed) rather than larger or hollower in the oro-pharynx, and the composite vowel timbre shifts to include more of its complementary vowel tone color.

Certain inflective expressions can help to elicit these somatosensory and auditory transitions. We can say that such a response is related to the notion of resonator convergence or beneficial narrowing that have been vetted as improving nonlinear, inertive feedback effects. But neither the language used to motivate those responses nor the descriptions of their sensations come from the science lab—they come from historic pedagogy and the creative, intuitive interactions of a teacher’s own practice-based experience and attentive response to the student. 

Effective pedagogy predates voice science and will always need to venture beyond vetted studies. Voice science is making really valuable contributions to pedagogy and is a welcome companion, but it does not replace practitioner experience. It’s a partnership, not a hierarchy.


You state that, in your pedagogic journey, you are indebted to historic pedagogy, especially the Italian bel canto traditions. This might seem surprising to those who think of acoustic vocal pedagogy to be the most modern (even cutting-edge) branch of pedagogy. Can you explain the connection you believe exists between the old and the new? 

Many of the functional efficiencies and pedagogic strategies that I and others have observed are merely updated understandings of successful historic classical pedagogy. I believe acoustic pedagogy has defined and clarified the following things, but did not create them: voce aperta, voce chiusa, cuperto, voce piena di testa, etc. We now understand “what’s under the hood” in greater detail, but these things were being noticed and taught—mostly with 

subjective, perceptual terminology—by previous successful practitioners. 

We are not really inventing a better way to sing so much as clarifying what our predecessors were already doing well. We have improved in the area of realizing and acknowledging that a very wide range of sounds are valid expressions and can be healthily made and artistically used in a wide variety of genres, especially with amplification. But I do not imagine that we sing better than some of the best singers from the past. I would be quite happy to replicate some of the amazing functional singing that has graced human culture, even while including and celebrating new and creative forms of human artistry. 


A review of the first edition of Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy was printed in the November 2017 edition of Classical Singer and is available in the article archives at

Brian Manternach

Brian Manternach, DM (he/him), is an associate professor at the University of Utah Department of Theatre and a research associate at the Utah Center for Vocology, where he is on the faculty of the Summer Vocology Institute. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Singing, and his research, reviews, articles, and essays have appeared in numerous voice-related publications. /