Monash University
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Gesture and body-movement as teaching and learning tools in Western classical singing

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posted on 2017-05-31, 06:08 authored by Nafisi, Julia Susanna Alexandra
This thesis investigates the use of gesture and body-movement as teaching and learning tools in Western classical singing. The introduction draws together a number of theoretical threads to argue why this study has been undertaken and what its objectives are. These threads are elaborated on in the literature review which covers the fields of Vocal Pedagogy, Learning, Gesture Studies, Choral Rehearsal, Music Education and Acting. The study uses two methodologies: survey and experiment. Using terminology devised by the author as Nafisi-system of singing movements, a survey amongst singing teachers in Australia and Germany establishes the prevalence and thus relevance of gestures as tools to enhance and/or illustrate explanation and/or demonstration in the communication of singing related concepts; similarly the survey confirms that voice teachers encourage singing students to use gesture and/or body-movement as tools to facilitate understanding and learning of physiological functions, thought concepts or musical ideas. The survey further yields a wealth of hitherto unknown information about many facets of voice teachers’ use of gesture and movement in their teaching, testifying both to the potential power and controversy inherent in this teaching tool. While the survey had collected teachers’ subjective assessments, the experiment sought to actually prove the effectiveness of gesture and body-movement. Following the argument that the quality of the vocal tone constituted the single most important factor in Western classical singing technique, it was propounded that a teaching intervention could only rightfully claim validity if its efficacy was evident in an improved quality of vocal tone and an experiment was designed to show just that. Within the limits of the experimental design, the results were unambiguous: Compared with a teaching intervention that emulated ‘traditional’ voice teaching without movement, the teaching interventions that incorporated gestures and/or body-movements were clearly superior in their efficacy in two out of four tested vocal tasks and equally as effective in the other two tested vocal tasks.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jane Southcott

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Monash University (Clayton)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education