Online-Gesangsunterricht und COVID-19


English summary: In April/May of 2020, Kristen Murdaugh, Josipa Bainac Hausknecht, and Christian T. Herbst distributed an online survey to vocal pedagogues world-wide to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the voice teaching world. Surveyed topics included but were not limited to teacher and student satisfaction, utilized technology, duration of utilization, and perspectives on virtual assess-ability of 15 criteria of the singing voice. The results show that though voice teachers may have converted their in-person teaching to virtual with little time to prepare, nevertheless voice teaching continued, and with an advancement of technical knowledge and materials, it may thrive. Please see below for further information, and access the manuscript (to be published in the Journal of Voice) here.

Deutsche Kurzfassung: Eine Fragebogenstudie unserer Forschergruppe, die im April/Mai 2020 weltweit durchgeführt wurde, zeigt auf, dass die wegen COVID-19 erforderliche Umstellung von "herkömmlichem" personlichem Gesangsunterricht auf Online-Unterricht zunächst nur bedingt zur Zufriedenheit der GesangslehrerInnen ausgefallen ist. Herkömmliche Videokonferenz-Lösungen boten zu diesem Zeitpunkt keine ausreichende erforderliche akustische Übertragungs-Qualität für den Online-Gesangsunterricht. Ein PDF der Studie, welche demnächst im Journal of Voice erscheinen wird, befindet sich hier.


Voice Pedagogues Face a Global Pandemic: Victories and Losses

An international stock-taking of what happened in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis

by Kristen Murdaugh

The social distancing measures implemented world-wide in the wake of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis have globally forced voice pedagogues to alter their teaching habits, likely shifting from customary in-person teaching to virtual teaching. An online survey distributed world-wide in April/May 2020 investigated how singing voice pedagogues were impacted by the then emerging crisis, documenting how they modified their teaching habits during the COVID-19-related lockdowns, as well as how content they were with the newly arising teaching situations and utilized technologies for virtual teaching. One particular section of questions targeted the individual attributes of the singing voice, and how well these could – in the opinion of the voice teachers – be assessed and evaluated through virtual teaching using video-conferencing tools like Zoom or Skype.

The collected responses from 387 survey participants suggest that, overall, voice teachers were only moderately satisfied with having to teach virtually and even less satisfied with the use of technology to replace conventional in-person teaching. This, along with the teachers’ assessments that their students were also only moderately satisfied with learning virtually, indicate that in April/May 2020, virtual voice teaching was not a sufficient replacement for in-person teaching. Nevertheless, teachers recognized the importance of online meetings (video and audio) in their virtual teaching and overall favored Zoom as the preferred online meeting platform.

In defining the assess-ability of 15 voice evaluation terms in virtual teaching, the survey participants’ answers greatly differed but overall indicated that the singing voice can be assessed relatively well through features which provide both acoustic and visual clues. Most notably, the terms Dynamics, Resonance, and Tone received the worst ratings, suggesting that overall, the survey participants faced the greatest difficulties when assessing features which are solely based on acoustic input and not reliant on visual information. This may be explained by limitations imposed by “out of the box” technology for online communication, which is typically optimized for speech instead of singing. This calls for better information on technological solutions for virtual voice teaching.

Similar to the survey data, final survey comments differed greatly. Many comments touched on the inability for technology to fully capture the singing experience, but also noted technology's ability to aid singers in developing their stage presence and online performance skills. Others remarked on the teacher and student need for better technology and more technological knowledge, particularly in regard to latency and data security. Several participants even commented on the joy of the challenge – learning to rely on more than visual cues for teaching, and instead honing the ear for acoustic variations. Overall, participants expressed gratitude that teaching may continue, but voiced discontent with the technology used to do so and the fatigue that using it may cause.

With all of this in mind, it can be summarized that voice pedagogues have succeeded in continuing to teach amidst a global pandemic, which is certainly a victory. Even with relatively low satisfaction levels with virtual teaching and the available technologies for doing so, pedagogues have ventured out of their comfort zones and are continuing to teach in whatever ways they can, whether that be via online meetings (video and audio) on a variety of platforms or phone calls. Unfortunately, pedagogues are unable to successfully assess purely acoustic features of the singing voice through virtual teaching. However, this loss, combined with the loss of real time, in-person music collaboration and an unknown end to the pandemic, has tasked voice scientists and technology specialists with a goal of researching and creating solutions which may make assessing acoustic features of the singing voice and low latency, real time virtual music collaboration possible. This challenge is currently met by various groups world-wide. Here in Vienna for instance, the mdw's Audio-Video-Zentrum (AVZ) provides details on Zoom's new HiFi music mode for greatly enhanced audio quality of streamed singing lessons. Furthermore, the AVZ is a collaborating partner in the LoLa project, a low latency, high quality audio/video transmission system for network musical performances and interaction.

This study was instigated through an initiative and a pilot study conducted at the Antonio Salieri Institute in the context of the institute's catalogue of terms for the objective assessment of singing and the singing voice in student entry exams. The study proper was conducted by Mag. Kristen Murdaugh, Mag. Josipa Bainac-Hausknecht, and Dr. Christian T. Herbst, through a partnership with the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien and the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg, and funding by a grant from Land Salzburg.

The full manuscript, currently in press, will be published in the Journal of Voice.