Singing and the body: Body-focused and concept-focused vocal instruction

Beatrice Szczepek Reed*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The body is the singer's musical instrument, and therefore it is impossible to teach singing without the instructor involving their own and the learner's body in the process of instruction. The teacher's challenge is to communicate physical skills but also artistic, musical and vocal concepts. The body is centrally involved in the performance of both; however, an analysis of vocal instruction shows that teachers differentiate between learning goals, or 'learnables', which they treat as primarily embodied (body-focused instruction) and learnables they treat as primarily conceptualised (concept-focused instruction). When teaching learnables as embodied skills, instructors foreground the body. They do so by referring to the body explicitly and using their own body for demonstrations. They also depict internal physical processes, manipulate the student's body through touch, share the student's embodied stance, make use of physical objects as tools for practicing skills and orient to the student's body as visually assessable. In concept-focused instruction, teachers foreground mental engagement with concepts rather than the embodied aspects of their execution, even though embodied skills are required to perform the learnables in question. They do so by referencing concepts explicitly, demonstrating how the piece should be sung and physically depicting emotional states and musical concepts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200071
JournalLinguistics Vanguard
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • body knowledge
  • conversation analysis
  • depiction
  • music education
  • music learning


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