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You have to be carefully taught

I had to take a vocal pedagogy class in graduate school. It was supposed to teach us how to teach a voice lesson. I confess I learned the exact opposite: I discovered what I never, ever wanted to do if I were ever to be a voice teacher, which ironically at the time (1996) I thought I would never be. (Hilarious, I know.)

The professor’s philosophy could not have been further from mine. She taught the following first lesson itinerary:

After listening to the student sing (vocalizes, a song or two), you wrote down, in their presence, all of their problems in a check list format.


And then you gave it to them.


This is was what you were to use for the rest of your lessons together, ticking off the boxes one by one.

Um, no.

This is absurd and horrible on so many levels.

First and foremost, you should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER burden the student with all the things they need to fix. This is too much for even the strongest among us to handle all at once. And it is just generally demoralizing. Of course they need to know some of the things that need working on, a broad overview of what you can help them achieve, but they also MUST hear the positives if they are to buy in. And there are always positives.

Second, a check list? Ridiculous. The voice is a holistic instrument, meaning, when you work on one problem in one area of the voice, other areas usually change too, generally for the better, like the rest of our body. For example, you cannot work on your upper body strength without seeing some change in your lower body, or your metabolism, or general well-being, etc… And vocal problems don’t go away as easily as other items on a normal check list, say like finishing an essay or painting the bathroom. It is not a one and done situation. You don’t attain a high C and then never have to work on it again. It can always grow in beauty, ease, and volume, etc… and depending on how it is approached or the vowel assigned to it in a song, may need some reworking.

Third, there is no way to ascertain ALL of a singer’s issues upon hearing them one time. You can uncover a fair amount at the first lesson, but other problems may be lurking, or might not manifest themselves yet.

And fourth, a check list cannot accommodate the real life twists and turns that a voice student encounters.  Working with someone on their voice means being flexible and rolling with the punches, so to speak. The voice is part of the body, as well as intimately tied to the psyche, and life has a way of throwing curve balls at both. Illness, exhaustion, partying, school demands, work demands, repertoire changes… Sometimes you have to put the carefully developed “plan” away and deal the hand that has been dealt.

Needless to say, those classes made my blood boil. But learning what you don’t want to do is ultimately just as valuable as learning what you do want to do. It forced me to define my own teaching philosophy: professionalism with kindness, a sense of humor, and always, always, always positivity. Anything can be solved with enough time, patience, care, attention, and intention.

I guess the class was worthwhile after all!


See also:

Becoming the singer you are meant to be

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