Singing voice perception and pedagogy

About Ian Howell


Dr. Ian Howell is a member of the voice faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he also directs the graduate voice pedagogy program and coaches students in Baroque voice repertory.



Dr. Howell's work explores the special psychoacoustics of the singing voice, with an eye toward practical applications for singers and voice teachers. Human senses interpret reality according to a dependable set of rules. These same senses also perceive greater detail once we internalize more precise labels and conceptual models. Dr. Howell’s work produces new aural/visual models that better characterize the perceptual qualities of sung vowels and voice registration. He unpacks and identifies the perceptually coherent components of a vowel, showing how absolute, objective labels apply to the relative scale of tonal brightness.

Dr. Howell has presented original research at the Pan American Vocology Association's Symposium (2015, 2016), The National Association of Teachers of Singing's National Convention (2016), Harvard's ArtTechPsyche III (2017), and The Society for Music Perception and Cognition (upcoming summer of 2017). He is a guest faculty member at the Vocal Pedagogy Professional Workshop at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee (2017), and Kenneth Bozeman's Acoustic Vocal Pedagogy Seminar (2017). 

This video is of Dr. Ian Howell's presentation at the 2017 Society for Music Perception and Cognition Conference in San Diego. This material is a combination of his model for understanding the special psychoacoustics of the singing voice, as found in his VOICEPrints article, "Necessary roughness in the voice pedagogy classroom: The special psychoacoustics of the singing voice," (, and research in collaboration with Rebecca Worthington , GD, MM.

This short presentation given at the Pan American Vocology Association's 2016 Symposium explores the concept of "local spectral coherence." This phenomenon helps to explain how specific portions of the spectral envelope of a vowel transmit specific aspects of tone color.


As a classical countertenor, Ian Howell has sung on most major international concert stages as both a soloist and a member of the Grammy Award winning ensemble Chanticleer. He appears on recordings on the Warner Brothers, Rhino, Gothic, Yale, American Bach Soloists, and Naxos record labels and has published multiple live concert performances on YouTube. Ian Howell hold the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from NEC, the Master of Music degree from Yale University, and the Bachelor of Music degree from Capital University.

Ian Howell's debut solo recording with the American Bach Soloists, featuring music by Scarlatti, Bach, and Handel.

Movement ten from Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's (1710-1736) "Stabat Mater" Performed here withChatham Baroque. 

A playlist of videos from Ian Howell's performing career.

Academic Career in Brief

Academic Positions

Studio voice faculty
New England Conservatory

Vocal Pedagogy Director
New England Conservatory

Staff Voice Teacher
Rutgers Camden

Staff Voice Teacher
Swarthmore College

Staff Voice Teacher
Yale College


D.M.A. 2016
Voice performance with additional studies in pedagogy
New England Conservatory

Intern 2013
National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern Program

M.Mus. 2006
Voice performance and sacred music
Yale University

B.M. 1998
Percussion performance
Capital University

Research Interests

Psychoacoustics of the singing voice

Voice acoustics

Tone color and timbre

Feminist voice pedagogy

Perceptual models and labels

The singer's formant

High frequency energy in the singing voice

Courses Taught

VC568 Writing about singing

VC581 Oratorio vocal repertoire: Monteverdi to Haydn

VC567 Voice science: Advanced perception and analysis

MHST535 Writing about music: Research methods

VC566 Advanced vocal pedagogy: Teaching singing

VC565 Intro to vocal pedagogy: Structure, function, and process