Voicelikeness as Discursive Strategy: An Instrumental Masterclass Case Study

Kristine Healy, Graham Gibbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


To play a musical instrument in the way that one would sing is a goal that has been shared and documented by performers of Western classical music for several centuries. It is still common to hear performers in the 21st century encouraging each other to aspire to performance ideals that are linked to aspects of vocality. Taking voicelikeness not as an identifiable property of sound but rather as a social construction, this study investigates what an instrumental musician can do when they invoke the notion of voicelikeness, using discourse analysis to probe data from a single case study of a flute masterclass. We contend that, while the “truth” about any one instrumentalist’s claim to vocality may be impossible to verify, observing the ways in which such a claim is built up, shared, and defended can reveal the musical values that are being shaped and disseminated by musicians in a given set of circumstances. Applying a discourse approach to the analysis of an actual social encounter exposes how an instrumental musician can draw upon existing ideas about the voice to construct ideal musical practice. We conclude that stories of voicelikeness in discourse amongst instrumental musicians are not only about making a sound that is in some way vocal, they can also be used to transmit the norms of classical music performance from expert performer to developing performer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-143
Number of pages21
JournalMusicae Scientiae
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


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