This week’s guest is Shannon Coates.

This is part II of my interview with Dr Shannon Coates, who is an educator, international presenter on Voice Pedagogy, creator of the The Vocal Instrument 101 Online Course and in more recent times creator of the VoicePed UnDegree. In this episode, we continue with Shannon’s candid interview as she delves deeper into some of her teaching philosophies, and her beliefs regarding the current state of academic systems that are presently not delivering the training required to equip CCM singers for a professional career. Some of the topics Shannon shares her views on include, how we as voice teachers must ensure that what we think and what we do aligns with our core values, and that it is essential that we check in with our biases in order to create inclusive voice studios. Furthermore, Shannon explains that there is more than one way to achieve results, and as voice teachers, we must be open to the possibilities of what a voice can do and how the voice can work efficiently to create the tonal outcomes required by the singer. We must not get stuck in a binary system where something is either right or a wrong because the voice is a complex system which is different from person to person. Shannon’s mission is to continue to make vocal pedagogy practical, applicable and accessible, for everyone, especially for those outside of academia. There is so much more in this is a brilliant interview with Dr Shannon Coates.

Online Course:

In this episode

03:24 – Personal experience with being silenced

07:49 – Discussion Post

10:13 – Dr. Shannon’s Pet project

13:42 – Teaching different techniques

15:08 – Understanding the possibilities of what the Voice can do

18:44 – Treating Voice as a complex instrument

21:04 – Understanding Formants in voice

26:32 – Things missing in terms of Singer’s Higher Education Training

31:09 – The Academic system’s promise

33:34 – Is CCM teachable in the academic system?

35:52 – Finding your authentic sound

40:38 – The Voiceped Undegree program

42:41 – What’s next for Dr. Shannon?

46:42 – Thoughts on Methodologies

51:52 – One piece of advice for the singing voice community


Dr Marisa Lee Naismith is excited to announce the release of her new book “Singing Contemporary Commercial Music Styles: A Pedagogical Framework” published by Compton Publications UK. Marisa offers this book as a starting point and as CCM markets continue to evolve, she encourages that we, as a voice community, continue to evolve, debate and communally add to this framework.



Visit the A Voice and Beyond Youtube channel to watch back the video replay of this guest interview or to see my welcome video.

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  00:05

It’s Marisa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include health care practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialized fields to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for A Voice And Beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  01:15

This week, we share part two of a two part interview with Dr. Shannon Coates. An educator, international presenter on voice pedagogy, creator of the vocal instrument 101 online course, and in more recent times creator of The Voiceped Undegree. In this episode, we continue with Shannon’s candid interview where she delves deeper into some of her teaching philosophies and her beliefs on the current state of academic systems that are presently not delivering the training required to equip CCM singers for a professional career. Some of the topics Shannon shares her views on include how we as voice teachers must ensure that what we think and what we do aligns with our core values, and that it is essential that we check in with our biases in order to create inclusive voice studios. Furthermore, she explains that there is more than one way to achieve results. And as voice teachers, we must be open to the possibilities of what a voice can do and how the voice can work efficiently to create the tonal outcomes required by the singer. We must not get stuck in a binary system where something is either right or wrong because the voice is a complex system, which is different from person to person. Shannon’s mission is to continue to make vocal pedagogy practical, applicable and accessible for everyone, especially for those outside of academia. There is so much more in this brilliant interview with Dr. Shannon Coates. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  03:24

You put yourself out there, you’re on social media. You now teach CCM after you’ve obviously crossed to the dark side, you’ve gone from high art to low art. Dare you, have you had anyone tried to silence you? or tell you what you’re doing is unacceptable?

Dr Shannon Coates  03:50

I don’t know that anyone who I respect has ever.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  04:00

Oh, I like that. I like how you framed that anyone I respect. Okay, there’s a lot of inverted commas in this conversation. Even watch this on YouTube, because there’s a lot of this going on. Sorry, I interrupted you.

Dr Shannon Coates  04:21

Oh, no, it’s fine. I do often put up you know, I often will put up on my social media platforms. Something a little bit controversial or something that I think is gonna you know, get people talking a little bit and thinking.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  04:40

And thinking, that’s what I feel that you do. When you post something. You post it to get people thinking. That’s where I think it’s coming from

Dr Shannon Coates  04:51

Exactly, exactly. And get us examining our own biases and examining our—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  04:56

Yes. Hallelujah.

Dr Shannon Coates  04:58

How where are those things who’s living in us? And then how is that affecting your teaching? And how is that then? You know, we so often I mean, I, I come from a, an evangelical Christian, which tends to say that, you know, we’re all sinners and the hardest, desperately wicked who can know, and and so, you know, we need we need Christ in order to, you know, integrate and all that. And I don’t not believe that but one thing that I have come to as an adult is that yes, not all desperately wicked. And that and that people are trying and that people are, are fundamentally good. And people are fundamentally, you know, trying their best in their situations, right. So that is something that I have come to as an adult, which I think is actually the logical outcome of what I was actually taught when I was going when I was in church. And as a Christian, I think that the logical outcome of if you think about those things, I think the logical outcome will actually be that you start to say, well, but people are actually trying their best here. Anyway, so that, oh, gosh, yes. So when I’m making those controversial posts, and when I’m sort of trying to get people to think I’m hoping that people are going to think about the ways that they teach, yes, do not actually line up with their, their, you know, their belief system? Or what fundamentally believe about, yes, tell them about who they work with. Yes. So because I think that happens all the time, right, where we teach what the way that we were taught. And so we, you know, we have these judgments, we have these biases, we have these things inside of ourselves that if we don’t examine them, they then actually come out and and say things to students that we actually don’t actually believe that we don’t, that are not actually in line with our values. So I think that’s the main reason that I put those kinds of posts out there is yes, yes. Think about that. Do you actually believe that?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  07:06

And I like the spirit in which you do that. We have to check in with ourselves, don’t we?

Dr Shannon Coates  07:13

Yeah, I mean, we all—well, and also, we don’t know what we don’t know yet. And that, you know, have our biases, and we all have, we all have internalized stuff. So we just see, you know, we just don’t know what we don’t know yet. So and I think, well, yeah,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  07:35

That’s okay. That’s like—

Dr Shannon Coates  07:38

Like I think that’s a part of what those kind of discussion post, I think do with—and, you know, I do live office hours every week as well, where I, where I, you know, I just go live and talk about stuff, similar to, you know, sort of like a very casual podcast, but yeah, and usually what I’m doing in the Live Office Hours, has a lot less to do with technique and exercises, and like, how we should be, you know, doing this or whatever is a lot. I mean, every once in a while, uh, you know, talk about belting or mix or something like that. But usually, it has everything to do with pedagogy, like, how are we teaching? What are we teaching? Why are we teaching? How the how are we working with specific kinds of students? How, you know, how are we eliciting feedback? How are we drawing attention? What is our language? What was our communication? So? And that all you did, it almost inevitably comes back to? Let’s examine what we thought. And let’s figure out if what we you know, what we’re doing and what we think aligns with actually does align with our values. If we say that we’re, if we say that we’re in an inclusive voice studio. Okay, let’s look at our excuse me, let’s look at our her attendance policies and see whether those actually align with—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  09:04

Yes. Our value.

Dr Shannon Coates  09:06

You know whether I’m an inclusive voice studio or not, let’s see. So, we kind of get caught up in the way that my teacher did it. And also we get caught up in in well—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  09:20

Yeah, but sometimes we can get caught up in what we deem to be privilege. Yeah, sometimes I think people have a sense of privilege. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Because of their socio economic background, because of their training, the church of classical training,

Dr Shannon Coates  09:43

And classical elitism, and—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  09:46

Yeah, you know, because of gender bias there are so many things we have, we really have to be careful and you do in your posts. You cover so many different topics and mean that one week there’ll be one on breathing. The next week there’ll be something on resonance or something on belt, or whatever it is you cover the whole gamut. Is there one thing that you’re most passionate about? And you would, if you could create a pet project on that one thing that has to do with technique? What would that be?

Dr Shannon Coates  10:25

Oh, with technique? That’s the thing.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  10:27

Yes. So we’ve covered all the studio policy stuff. What do you feel most strongly about when it comes to a technical aspect?

Dr Shannon Coates  10:38

I’m not sure that this is going to answer the question that you’re asking.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  10:42

Okay. But that’s okay. But let’s—

Dr Shannon Coates  10:44

Yeah, go throw it out there anyway. You can tell me to clarify, but does it?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  10:48


Dr Shannon Coates  10:49

I think the thing that I feel most strongly about when it comes when we’re talking about technique, and when it comes to teaching technique and understanding technique is that we tend to lock ourselves into a binary or a right or wrong way, we tend to lock ourselves into binary in terms of like, Am I in chest voice or head voice? Am I doing this? Right? Right? We tend to kind of get ourselves locked into these binaries, we want to do things, right. We want our students to sing well. And we think sometimes that there’s a right and a wrong way. And so now we so we lock ourselves into these binaries around right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. Chest Voice headbutt, like, we lock ourselves into these binaries. When there isn’t, you know, more and more, I just think there are fewer and fewer things that bite we’re binary applies. more strict binary applies, like fewer and fewer things in my life as I get older. And so technique and understanding technique, the thing that I worked very hard to take out, the thing that I’m working always to kind of combat, if you will, is this idea of right and wrong, good and bad, healthy, unhealthy, like this whole idea and to take the binary out of it and to instead replace with the efficient, inefficient, is it sustainable or not sustainable, and giving students choices around techniques? So what is your desired total outcome? And let’s face your desired tonal outcome on what you want to say, not on what I think it should sound like, let’s let’s figure out what you want to say. And let’s figure out what you have to say, let’s figure out how you want what you want to communicate and how does that sound in your voice capital V. What is your capital V voice? Right? Let’s figure that out together. And then let’s figure out what’s efficient or less efficient, let’s figure out what’s sustainable or less sustainable. Let’s figure out what is gonna work on a micro not gonna work on a minute, let’s figure out what like and let’s just let’s just figure that out. So then the student has choices, right? Rather than, Oh, I can’t do that it’s bad. Or I can’t do that I have to do this because it’s good. Students, singers can then say, I know that this sound isn’t sustainable over you know, like an entire set, or maybe three sets. I know it’s not sustainable over three sets. So I’m going to judiciously use this sound in like these three spots where it’s absolutely communicating what I needed to communicate in the rest of the time, I’m going to do this one that isn’t that is more sustainable, and still communicating what I wanted to communicate or whatever. So students have or singers, the teams we work with have choices rather than trying to figure out what the right way and the wrong way is. So when we’re teaching technique, then, I mean, I even have some I even have, like, a little bit of a philosophical issue with like technique, right? Because it has so much connotation of like, right and wrong, right? And like, it really has that kind of like, connotation not that I don’t I mean, I use it, and it’s, it’s fine. But I do also, not necessarily because I think we shouldn’t be using it, but because singers come in and say like, I want to learn good technique. Okay, let’s unpack. Yes, you had to have good technique, right? Like, where does that come from? Why are we thinking that you have to have quote, good technique.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  14:21

And why is your technique bad?

Dr Shannon Coates  14:24

And why is your current technique bad with big quotes around it? Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So when we’re talking about technical skills, like I want to, I tried to talk about so much more about with singers anyway, so much more about, you know, what do you want to say? What is how your voice respond? How does your body respond to what you want to say until the emotion that you’re bringing or what you’re trying to communicate or who you’re communicating to? And that if we come back to teachers then what I’m always trying to work into when I’m training teachers are trained to work with me because I teach anatomy and physiology like I teach that I teach. That’s part of what I teach for sure, and what I work with teachers on. But what I’m always trying to come back to in that training specifically is, I want you as the voice teacher to understand what the possibilities are, in terms of the physiology of the voice, possibilities that the voice can do. How does the voice work together efficiently to create specific tonal outcomes? How it like what what can we find, rather than so like, here’s a whole bunch of roadmaps, you just decide where you want to go, there isn’t there isn’t one way to get there. Right. So like, here’s all the different possibility is, and then you and your student get to decide where you want to go. Like you don’t have to. There’s not one map right there. Yes, one right or wrong way? Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. And as I’m teaching and working with voice teachers, inevitably, teachers say things like, Oh, this is so validating. So there’s information that they the anatomy and physiology doesn’t become a like, stick over their heads where they’re like, Oh, I didn’t know that I’m such a bad teacher, it becomes this is so validating to understand that the reason I was using this exercise, or the reason I was working in this way was because that’s how the voice works. Oh, okay. So it becomes it’s validating process to learn anatomy and physiology to understand all of the options within the voice, right? Since validating rather than like, painful. Yes. And regrets. Because I didn’t know this sooner. Yes, it becomes a thing like, oh, I actually, I love that I know this information. And this is going to inform my teaching, because I’m going to have more options. But I wasn’t doing a bad thing before.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  16:52

Yes, yeah. I think there’s a couple of takeaways from what you’ve just said. Firstly, is that when it comes to teaching, a student centric approach has to be applied. In all cases, one size does not fit all. And there are many ways to skin a cat. That’s what I’ve just taken away from. And yes, and I think we do beat ourselves up. And I think, over our teaching sometimes, because there are some people when they say, or they’re endorsing a training approach, or they believe something is the way that it is. They say it with such arrogance. And this so they have such a presence about them when they say it, that they tend to make you feel a little intimidated, and they have you second guessing yourself. You’re mad. I’ve learned now, it’s taken me a lot of years, but I’ve gotten to a place now where I go, Well, you know what that might work for you. But it’s not going to work for everybody. And it’s like putting people on an eating plan. We’re all different. We all have different bodies. We all have different body shapes, different metabolisms, different cultures, we’re all different. And you might be able to eat gluten free, and it works really well for you. But I like you may have bread, but I can’t eat carbs, or, you know, we just, it’s every one is different. The instrument, the anatomy is the same. But even then it’s not the same, because it’s all different shapes and sizes. And we don’t really Yeah, yeah, we—

Dr Shannon Coates  18:44

And the way we coordinate is that is different, though, you know, I mean, I love I love our colleagues in with research and you know, the colleagues who are doing Voice Science and under and really understanding how the voice works to create sounds. And at the same time, I think the disservice or or the thing that kind of trickles down sometimes from Voice Science is that there is a right and a wrong way right? trickles down. Oh, this is how the vocal folds do blah, blah, blah. But it’s not just the vocal folds. This is a complex instrument it doesn’t it’s not just what you know, this one thing that you study does, it’s not just that it Yes, so much more as a complex instrument is completely different from person to person, even though the fundamental Anatomy and Physiology is the same from person to person, but the way we use it the muscle structure, the muscle tone that like the effort. Yes, it is very different. Yes, yes. I also think there’s a you know, there’s a philosophical kind of underpinning to Western framing in in Jen roll our western education systems in general, but also specifically to western classical training, where there is this kind of right and wrong way there is this one size fits all way. And there is this, you know, this very prescriptive kind of way. Yeah, I mean, I have used and discarded textbooks through the years, based on that prescription and to based on that, like, gear is good posture, or here’s the best breathing well, good posture, we’re all compensating for something different in our bodies and our emotions, like we’re all—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  20:35

Emotions, too. That’s another one inverted comments, voice science spectrograms don’t show what’s going on with the student emotionally. And I think that was one thing that you were alluding to is that we are human. And with that comes that there’s an emotional and psychological aspect to us that a piece of equipment doesn’t show and learning about how something functions doesn’t show either.

Dr Shannon Coates  21:04

Yeah, I mean, one example of this is like the recent craze around Formants, right? Around understanding Formants and like if you can, if you know how to apply Formants blablabla. So Formants very interesting and can be very useful. If you understand the way Formants work, it can be very useful to like incorporate into your teaching, and blablabla, that’s all terrific, except that if you’re a voice teacher, who works with singers to work with them to blend registers, and if your singers are, sound like they have a similar sound from the bottom of their voice to the top of their voice, if that’s what they want, you’re working with formance right now you actually understand Formants. Because intuitively, you may be able to explain them or understand how they actually apply. And that’s fine. I, I do try to explain. But sometimes it doesn’t, it is complicated, and whatever, it’s fine. And that is what it is, but like we get so caught up in this, you know, this concept of it’s gotta be right. And if I don’t know, Berman’s, and if I don’t understand Formants, then maybe I’m not a good teacher.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  22:10

Yes. I didn’t understand Formants. And I still don’t completely understand performance. And I think I’m a good teacher. I think it’s having a balanced approach, isn’t it? Yeah, having that knowledge of voice science, but also knowing how to apply it to a human being. Yeah. And knowing that it’s not going to cover all bases, that we need to sometimes look at the psyche as well. And but that’s not our job to, but we just need to be aware that there’s something more going on with this person. And that’s the problem.

Dr Shannon Coates  22:50

Yeah, it’s not our job to diagnose. It’s not our job to treat. It’s not our job, but it is our job to you know, treat people like human beings. Yeah, we’re doing your best.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  23:00

Yes, exactly. Exactly, exactly. If we feel that we want to slap every student that comes into the studio, we’ve got a problem. As I say, Houston, we have a problem. What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given all the worst piece of information that was shared with you do you think?

Dr Shannon Coates  23:24

Oh, I really don’t know. What’s yours? What do you think?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  23:29

Probably what I heard in a couple of weeks ago, which I don’t, I don’t want to share. I thought that was pretty poor advice. And that, okay, actually, I will share it, that when you look at a singer that they set should sound how they look. Okay, so it started out if you have a young person, they should sound like a young person, according to the age of that person. And then we escalated to, we have a transgender singer, and they present as a female, then they should sound like a female. And I’m going to leave in there. That’s interesting. And I immediately thought, well, they may not want to sound like a female. First up, we don’t know their journey. We don’t know what part of their transitioning there at. Well, in so many. There’s so many things that I went, wow. That was a wow.

Dr Shannon Coates  24:41

The only I think that I can get behind a little bit about one is that I think we often do children a disservice if we are trying to get them to sound like an adult opera singer, a well trained opera singer for example. Just and that is not that is not because they shouldn’t. But because there is a physiological requirement in an adult opera singing voice for a larger vocal tract or a more well coordinated I mean, there are aspects of vocal folds that have not developed yet and children that we Yeah, either. Yeah. So there are things that need to happen in the body in order it needs to be a mature body in order to create those sounds. Yes. And so that that would be the only caveat there with that. But like everything else is you know, I mean, there are there are women baritones in opera singing world right now there are, and I can’t remember her name now. But she doesn’t want to change her voice. She doesn’t. Yes. So female quote, unquote, she wants Yeah, sounds the way she wants to sound she Exactly, exactly very successfully as a baritone. Why would she? And so she said, you know, yeah, her pronouns. Are she her? So yeah, yeah. I mean, that takes the agency away, right. And so I can see where the intention is good, where you’re sitting where you’re getting to people, right? And but the impact of that is not good. Because yes, often you set yourself up as the you set yourself up as the gatekeeper as the arbiter of what someone should sound like. I got big quotes on the shirt again, but—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  26:32

Yes, yes, exactly. You’re you’re starting to impose and as teachers we should never impose. It’s not about us. Once again, it’s not about us. It’s about our student and their needs, and listening to them and what their needs are and what they’re asking of us, and how can we make this work for them in a sustainable manner? is what I think, what do you think is missing at present in terms of higher education training for singers or not? Or do you think that we’re doing well?

Dr Shannon Coates  27:13

and I both have advanced degrees. So obviously, at some point, we bought into the system, right?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  27:19

No, I have never bought into the system. I’ve been fortunate. Okay, but I’ve been subjected to the system.

Dr Shannon Coates  27:29

Oh, I see what you mean. Yeah.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  27:31

Okay. So, I’m yeah, I have never had, I had never had a classical singing lesson. Until last year when I participated in someone’s Ph. D. And they were wanting CCM singers to have classical voice lessons. We’ve got hooked up to the spectrogram. Before and after, and to see if there were any changes in pitch range volume. Tambor, you know, all those things? And my argument was, I hadn’t had voice lessons for a long, long time. And it was pretty intense. And I said, Well, how can you prove to me that if I didn’t go to a ccm teacher, that you wouldn’t have had the same results? Exactly. That was my whole thing as when I was interviewed afterwards. I said, you can’t you can’t tell me that happens because of the classical lessons. It was because I had some training. So if those weren’t useful when I was, yeah, when I was at the Conservatorium studying formally, I did have CCM lessons, because we have Dr. Irene Bartlett, who’s now an associate professor. So I had training with her when I first went into academia in 2008, after having a big pop and rock, Korea, and most of the cohort were classical. I was definitely in the minority. I was frowned upon. So when I say I didn’t buy into it, I was subjected to it. And yes, I was looked down upon by students who had no hope in hell of ever making a cent from the the industry. And I’d already had a massive career where I paid off the home I owned my own car, put my daughter through private school education. And they were like, YouTube my vent, you need to see the face. But yes, so I was I never bought into it, but I was subjected to it Shannon so that’s yeah.

Dr Shannon Coates  29:39

I totally hear where you’re coming from. I am I’ve not necessarily I think I misspoke there but I what I mean is that we’ve been in the institution all employee we valued the institution enough, I go and get the degree, right? So— 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:58

Oh, yes absolutely. And I’m very grateful for that. And my absolutely adore my classical colleagues, you know, I have nothing against anybody in the classical world, honestly, it’s not like that all I’m doing is trying to wave the flag and say, Hey, we’re legitimate to. That’s all I’m trying to do is I’m just trying to advocate for an industry that I’ve done so well in that I’ve had a successful career. And I’m still in the same industry after, I won’t say, because then I give away my age. And I’m always 21. We’re always we’re all 21 on this show. But I’ve been in this industry for over 45 years, same industry. So that’s, I’m just going, You know what, we can make money and we can do well, and we can actually be healthy and efficient and sustainable singers doing what we do. And dare I say, doing? Making those terrible four letter word sounds called belt?

Dr Shannon Coates  31:09

I know, I know. Yeah. I mean, I think, I am not sure that the, let’s say deficits that I think are in the academic system, or the things that are not useful for voice teachers, for example, in this system, I’m not sure that those things are fixable. I don’t know that they’re fixable. I think that the I mean, as the reason I’m doing the voiceped undegree, right? Like, I don’t think that I think if you here’s my issue, my issue is this, that the academic system promises something that can’t deliver, and it makes you pay a lot for it. Yes. Right. So yes, you pay a lot, especially in the states management system is so broken. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  32:01

Yeah, yeah.

Dr Shannon Coates  32:05

There, but it really is broken.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  32:07

No, it is, it is.

Dr Shannon Coates  32:09

So much money, and the promises, the promises that are made. Even, I mean, no, I think some of the program at Shenandoah, I think does and deliver on its promise to a certain extent.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  32:26

Yeah, yes.

Dr Shannon Coates  32:27

Getting the training that you need to go into professional career in music theater. Great. And that promise that therefore, maybe, but like, what’s that, like? Maybe 1% of the institutions that and I’m talking like world over 1%, maybe at the institutions where we’re going in hoping to have a career in some kind of performance based career? You know, you just that promise is no, I mean, you’re lying through your teeth. Yes, hundreds of 1000s of people are paying hundreds of 1000s of millions of dollars to be promised that they’re going to have a career in classical singing, which is like 1% of all of the music’s out there. Yes, it’s yes, sorry. That is insanity. It is Saturday, what are we promising people? It is infuriating. And like from a from a voice pad standpoint, you know, we’re going into our degrees. And also let me say that I don’t think I don’t think that academic programs will ever be able to teach CCM I think of musical theater as being separate from CCM. So—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  33:45

Yes, I do too. 100% agree.

Dr Shannon Coates  33:50

Yeah, so, I don’t think that popular musics will ever be well taught in an academic program. I don’t think jazz is well taught in academic programs. And the reason I think that is because I mean jazz, maybe a little bit better, but popular musics. The way we acquire and learn to sing popular music is not by learning the technique first. And academic systems are set up to teach you technique first. So that is because I’ve got a thing that you need to know. And so now I’m going to test you on it and here are the parameters of your testing. So like, you have to sound like x y Zed, you have to make these specific sounds well, and okay, but that’s not the real world of popular music. Yes. That’s not how popular music artists come forward. I mean, that is not how that works. We popular music singers, singer songwriters, like bands. I’ve got something to say. And now I’m going to figure out how I say it right. So like, I’ve got something to say. So I mean, maybe we can do some courses on songwriting. I mean that man Yeah, and yeah, we can do some courses on, on, you know, sound setup and like optimal mic use, like I mean we can we can do those kinds of courses for sure. But like teaching singers how to do popular music is not about teaching you how to sing. It’s about what do you want to say? And now you become a coach, not a you’re not a teacher. Yes. You become a consultant, not a teacher. Yes. So I don’t think that the academic system is ever really going to be set up well, for with, like with with its need for assessments and grading and for you know, and for the professor who knows the information and the student who doesn’t yet like that system is not set up to train on to music singers or contemporary singers. So—

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  35:52

Well, I just heard that. Yeah, well, I just want to share something here, because I actually teach at a Conservatorium, and I teach popular music singers in that Conservatorium, and I 100% resonate with what you’re saying, my job is to teach sustainability. And I work with singer songwriters. And it is all about finding their most authentic sound in the style, that they see that their career paths going along the music that they are writing, and to teach them to be honest and genuine onstage, and teach them how to open up and share their message and their stories. So audiences resonate with them.

Dr Shannon Coates  36:44

I think that that is a testament to you have an individual teacher in the system, right? I think so.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  36:52

My performance background, and live performance background, yeah, 100% influences the way that I teach those singers, because I know how audiences work. I know the music industry, but had I’ve done just a paid course, I would not teach the way that I teach and those students, and the people that I work for are extremely grateful that I can deliver that.

Dr Shannon Coates  37:18

Yeah, I mean, I think too within western classical thinking there are individual teachers within the system who are doing incredible work and who are you know, like, I absolutely think that I think the system itself is not set up to Yes. Create, like, it’s the system itself, right. Like, I think there are wonderful teachers and in the system, we’re working in the system, right? Absolutely. But the system itself is so faulty. I just don’t know that the system itself?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  37:49

Yes, I cannot. Yeah, you know, yeah, I understand.

Dr Shannon Coates  37:54

Yeah. And so I think from a voiceped point of view, so if we’re going into a system, we’re going into academia to learn, you know, how to teach. And because we want to increase our teaching skills, you know, a little bit like what we talked about earlier, I think one of the things that is missing is this personal understanding of what independent voice teachers need, yes, but also the ability to, to really kind of ask those questions and take apart the biases, I think what happens instead is we get into a voiceped program, and we’re taught, head down, and we’re taught or, you know, top down, and we’re taught grading and assessment. So the teacher decides what’s most important for you to know. And so then the teacher grades you on whether or not you have learned that information? Yes, absolutely. That is, I mean, that’s the academic states, right? So, absolutely, yeah. And then we go into our independent studios, and we think, okay, so I know what the student needs. And so now I’m going to make, you know, I’m going to make goals based on what I think they need to learn, okay, or so that’s what we get from the system, right? That’s what we get from that kind of training. And we don’t necessarily, I mean, all of the other stuff aside, where we might not be getting information about how to teach like, six year olds, or we might not be getting information about, you know, how to teach whatever, we don’t get that fundamental philosophical understanding of how we’re teaching, right? We don’t get that we instead get that top down understanding of teaching and training. And so then we go into independent studios, and we teach just like we were taught in our in the academic world, even though we may understand voice pedagogy better, right? We may understand all those things better, I think to the other thing that is missing in many of our voice ped. And I think this is something that is missing, for our industry as a whole is just like this idea of a practicum of where we have mentored teaching, you know, and it’s all good if obviously, we’re teaching and there are lots of folks who would love there voice lessons and who are getting great voice lessons, that’s all good. And at the same time, what I would love to see is more mentor teaching where we’re, we’re talking about, Hey, why are you getting that language? Let’s see if there’s some other language we can use there. You know, how are you giving feedback here? Let’s figure out other ways to draw attention to this like, so we’re talking about sort of, like how to teach the the actual how, you know, having all of that information is not going to do much good if you can’t actually, or if you don’t understand how we learn.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  40:35

And how, yeah, how do we apply it?

Dr Shannon Coates  40:38

How do we apply it? Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s easy. So like, again, that’s part of what we’re doing in the voiceped undegrees, you know, the lectures are all pre-recorded. So you can watch the lectures anytime you want. And honestly, you can get all this information on the internet. It’s not like I’m teaching something that’s like, completely, like brand new that I came up with. This is all anatomy and physiology is all over the place, right? You can get it anywhere. Yes, yes. I mean, it is partially the way that I packaged it, of course, but then we’re having you know, we’re having live discussion time around that information, where we’re asking questions, we’re doing practical application. And then we’re teaching each other and working with each other, and working with students so that we have the practical application of this information. And then I mean, that’s the anatomy and physiology side. And then we’re also doing like the how to teach side we’re talking about is that how do we learn? How, how did humans learn? We’re talking about, you know, inclusive voice studios, how do we create more inclusive voices. And that’s all then part of the practical application. The other thing we’re doing is, you know, we’re gonna do co created assessment protocols. So let’s decide together what is important for you to learn. Let’s decide together what of this information you want to be assessed on your learning of it. And let’s figure out together how you want to be assessed. Do you want to be assessed to like, let’s, let’s put the grading rubric Together? Together? Let’s do it together? Yes, yes. Let’s figure this all out together. So that I’m not like saying, here’s what you need to know. And so here’s what I–

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  42:11

No binaries, no binary system in your program. You’re actually encouraging people to think for themselves.

Dr Shannon Coates  42:21

Yeah, and to also understand themselves in terms of who they are as learners as well, right? And what kind of how they process and how they want to learn and how they want to respond to assessments. You know, do you want to, I don’t want to do a one on one interview to like, answer this discussion question. Do you wanna–how do you want to like–

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  42:40

Yes, yes. Because we all learn differently too. That’s the thing. We don’t all learn the same way. And you are a lifelong learner. I know that–Yes. And you have that curiosity, just as I do. I just–I am a highly curious person, as well. What’s the next thing you would like to learn about what do you think is missing in your learning right now?

Dr Shannon Coates  43:08

The–Oh God, I always have about a million in one books on the go. I never finished books. Very rarely finish them. I’m always like, okay–

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  43:18

It’s get what you want, added them next.

Dr Shannon Coates  43:21

And I’m always listening to 1001 podcasts. And you know, like, it’s always always that, and I love to learn by I love lecture style learning. I personally love being in a classroom. And especially that’s like a discussion. Like, I love that. So if I could, I could do that over a book. And I’ll do that any day. But currently, I’m looking at really specifically, you know, what, I just finished rereading, actually, Lynn holdings book about the, what’s it called musicians brain, the music, and what’s it called? The musicians mind. I just finished reading that one and took a lot of interesting stuff out of there that again, wasn’t it was more of a validation of things then, right? Like, it was more of a like, oh, yeah, that makes sense. Okay. I call it this through observation, because that’s what I call I call it, it’s nice to know that there’s a real, the actual scientific word for that. That process actually has a thing. So that’s interesting to me is that that learning process, I think the main thing for me right now, in terms of what I want to be more clear about, and what I want to be able to deliver it in a clearer way is I’m not a huge fan of these words that this sort of teaching best practices. I’m not like a huge fan of best practices, but that is where we–

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  44:48

But, we get the idea.

Dr Shannon Coates  44:49

Yeah, so, I’m doing a presentation at NAT Chicago with two colleagues, two colleagues, represented in Canada Day two, what do you know? We’ll be in Canada.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  45:00

Canada, part of the Commonwealth.

Dr Shannon Coates  45:05

So, and we’re presenting on the teaching best practices and applying them to the independent voice studio. So things that you would learn and that you would have to think about if you were doing an education degrees. So if you were learning to be a classroom educator, for example, in Canada anyway, if you were doing, you know, your your teaching degree, there are things that you need to understand that you need to learn about in terms of assessments in terms of, you know, teacher bowls, in terms of developing student led learning, yes, you know, universal design, like all of those things that we never hear about in independent studios. And so I that is part of what I think that is, the next thing that’s on my plate, for sure is preparing for that. But that’s also like a deep abiding interest, something that I’m very much happen, sort of learning about as we go along. And then always, always, always, at the top of my priority list is always inclusive voice studios, and that’s through a neurodivergent, or neurodiversity affirming lens for me, for the most part, but yes, always, always, always. Yes, yes. Oh, does inclusivity work into our voice studios?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  46:20

And that is something that I would like to talk to you about. But we are running out of time. And I need to have you back for that one. Because it’s something that I’m I’m I really, really want to talk to you about is that very topic. But for the moment, just a couple of last questions. So you have this structured learning, then you have an I think kind of the other side of structured learning is methodologies, or methodologies. What do you think about methodologies? Every time I ask you something, you’re laughing, it’s like, oh, this is naughty.

Dr Shannon Coates  47:04

Oh you’re like, Okay, let’s do it. I knew, I mean, again, I think the issue with models and methodologies is always that we could just fall into this binary again, right, that this is, and this is, this is always the issue with a model as well, where we say, this is the way something works while he Yeah, in your little tiny scientific, like, experiment that has no human element. Sure. And then here’s also your, you know, methodology. So the methodology, I love that we are, I love that we’re quantifying things right? Like humans, we like to quantify it, we want to quantify it, we want to like we want to put a label on it, figure that thing out and I want to like put it in a box and so you know, we understand it. And that is fantastic and also dangerous because then we end up with a right or a wrong so like if you’re doing it this way that is wrong. I think what I what I love about methodologies is that there is usually a principle a principle or guiding factor behind that methodology. Why did we develop that methodology? Right? Like why are we talking about universal learning? Why are we talking about student led learning? Why are we talking about like, why are we talking about these these concepts? Because there’s a you know, there’s something behind it that we want so I think if we can keep that thing behind it in mind and let that be the guiding light as we go through rather than taking on the methodology as like the one true way.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  48:33

Yes, yes. Yes, yes. Because sometimes that goes back to being a one size fits all that we one you do this way too you do that. And then you have a lot of people that sell these programs for a lot of money. And there are some on YouTube and when you start to research them they’re really scary these people really don’t know what they’re doing and they’re on these big stages making a lot of money and they’re almost have like all their disciples it’s get sorry I make you laugh a lot, don’t I? 

Dr Shannon Coates  49:15

No, I love it, no.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  49:20

I don’t want to get–sorry, I don’t want to get you in trouble. These are my opinions. These are–this is a disclaimer back in inverted commas, for Shannon Coates. She did not say this. I said it so if you’re going to stick a pin in a voodoo doll, make sure it’s mine and not Shannon’s.

Dr Shannon Coates  49:44

But I think that speaks to a little bit too about I mean, I get I get furious, furious and so angry when I when folks who have a platform and who are puzzled. visioning themselves as an expert in teaching or voice pedagogy or a specific part of teaching. So when folks who are positioning themselves in that way, have a one true method or have the one true way, or who are interested or have the secret like, Oh, that makes me that is infuriating to your average independent voice teacher, if you’ve got a one true way, I just feel like you just haven’t figured it out yet. And that’s okay. That’s fine. You’re not saying that you’re the you know, you’re not you’re not trying to like pass your one true way on to like other limits. Right? As soon as you start to like, yeah, prize, you’re wandering away and put yourself in like the Voiceped, like chair. That makes me very, very angry. Yes, I hear what you’re saying, makes me very angry.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  50:53

And we don’t want to get you angry. Watch out. Watch out when Shannon’s angry. She’ll be all over Instagram with her anger. No, never. I don’t–I don’t ever see that side of you to be honest. I don’t ever see angry Shannon on Insta.

Dr Shannon Coates  51:13

A couple of friends that I ran up to. But other than that, yeah.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  51:17

That’s alright. You can rant me because I’m, I’m happy to rant. I rant publicly and it’s fine. You know, and whatever I say I say with love. That’s all I suppose. We just, I just want people to be amazing. Whatever they do, and comes from the right place, and just have everyone just keep their eyes and ears open and their hearts open to other opportunities and other ways. That’s all it is really, it’s not a bad thing. So if you had to offer this as your final question, Shannon, you had to offer one piece of advice to our singing voice community, what would that be?

Dr Shannon Coates  52:04

Oh, gosh. Well, I think what we’ve been saying all along, stay open, stay curious. Keep examining your biases and see where your information is coming from the weather. The person who you’re–you know, the people or the programs that you’re looking for are building things for you for independent voice teachers.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  52:27

Beautiful. Now, Shannon, we’re going to share all your links in the show notes. So, your voice–What was it, Voice Unped? Your unped?

Dr Shannon Coates  52:38

The Voiceped Undegree.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  52:40

Oh, the Undegree.

Dr Shannon Coates  52:42


Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  52:43

That’s the degree you’d have when you don’t do a degree but it’s still an undergree? Yeah, I think I like that. I like that. Yeah, no, that’s really cool. And I encourage people to have a look at that. Definitely. And so we’ll share all your links in the show notes. And I appreciate you. We’ve spent quite a bit of time together this morning. And it’s time for me to go and have a coffee and it’s time for you to start chilling out because it’s evening in in Canada. But thank you so much. Oh my gosh, you’ve been so generous and such a great sport. And we’ve actually perfected our inverted commas during this. Love your work. Yes, and we’re going to have you on the show again really soon. Because I do want to talk to you about neuro divergency. 

Dr Shannon Coates  53:41

Yeah, it’s a yeah. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  53:43

It’s something I’m really, really want to know about. Because I’m not the only teacher. I’m sure that we’re dealing with these students in our teaching studios, more than ever, I believe, and we need to be informed. Thank you go and enjoy your evening. I’m going to enjoy my cup of coffee and I look forward to talking to you really soon. Thank you, Shannon. Bye. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  54:14

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of A Voice and Beyond. I hope you enjoyed it as now is an important time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow so you can show up feeling empowered and ready to live your best life. If you know someone who will also be inspired by this episode, please be sure to copy and paste the link and share it with them. Or share it on social media and use the hashtag #AVoiceAndBeyond. I promise you I am committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversation nation’s just like this one every week. And if you would like to help me, please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple Podcast right now. I would also love to know what it is that you most enjoyed about this episode and what was your biggest takeaway. Please take care and I look forward to your company next time on the next episode of A Voice and Beyond.

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