Nats Review

Excerpts from “Okey Dokey Karaoke: An Overview of Practice Technology for the Singer” by Richard Davis.

This article was printed in the November/December 1999 edition of the Journal of Singing, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 3–9. Journal of Singing is the official journal of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Reproduced with permission.

Learning how to sing has always been the result of individual lessons and practice time with a coach or accompanist; however, this paradigm is changing. Voice class is now a popular option for private and university voice instruction, because the class generates more money or credit hours per the instructor’s time than private lessons. Many students in these classes have very little musical background but a great will to sing. That will is often blunted when they discover that they cannot integrate their vocal line with the accompaniment, and that an accompanist is not available to help them. Many private voice students face the same problem. It would be wonderful if all voice students began their musical lives with piano study, but fewer parents are sending their children to piano lessons. The result is that fewer and fewer singers play well enough to help themselves in the practice room. At the same time, coaches and accompanists are becoming more expensive, worse and scarce. It is for these reasons that singers and teachers rely more on practice aids to make lesson time productive.

Pocket Coach is designed by the famed  coach and accompanist Dietrich Erbelding. After completing a doctorate at Heidelberg University, he followed careers as coach and conductor in European opera houses, eventually becoming chorus director at the San Francisco Opera. He has followed other career pursuits as a professor, concert pianist, and sound technician. His wide and high quality background made his development of the Pocket Coach a natural evolution of interests. His latest development, the Virtual Orchestra, is likely to find acceptance as a standard in performing companies with few resources.

Pocket Coach is a series of coaching sessions. The sessions are available on cassette or CD and with or without music books. The contents of the coaching session vary with the kind of music being studied and the recording medium. The sessions may include the following activities.

1.  Recitation of text by a native speaker all the way through.

2.  Repetition of the text in short phrases followed by a space for the student to repeat – like a language tape.

3. The diction phase features the reading of the text with the melody played on an instrument. This practice assures that the student will supply his or her own vocal style to the singing, but can hear how stress, diphthongs, and vowel timbre affect the elongated text.

4. The melody/piano accompaniment activity presents the melody played on the flute on a separate channel from the accompaniment. Just as in karaoke, the melody channel can be deleted by rolling the balance control away from the channel.

5. The melody/orchestra accompaniment is the same as the melody/ piano accompaniment except that orchestra is the accompaniment.

6. Word-for-word translations are supplied in booklets or printed underneath the original foreign texts in music books.

The coaching sessions are of very high quality and are thorough in their method. The orchestra accompaniments are synthesized, but are very compelling because of the careful attention given to dynamics, attack, phrasing, and tempi.

Pocket Coach would be easy to integrate into the flow of most voice lessons because the catalog contains much of the standard repertoire. Beginning with the early Italian songs and moving through lieder and melodies, the catalog includes songs in Czech and Spanish as well as a very good representation of Mozart arias and operatic anthologies. The catalog includes complete opera roles and tapes for choristers of master works, as well. The catalog would fall easily into the learning sequence of the studio. Another educational advantage of the system is the step-by-step learning regimen the sessions reinforce.

Everyone will agree that having a good coach is a vital asset to a singer. However, when the role is long and the time with the coach short, Pocket Coach is a desirable practice alternative.

Link to the National Association of Teachers of Singing Web site: