My goal as a voice teacher is to help students discover and use their natural voice to express themselves through song.
I hope to foster in my students a lifelong approach to singing that is rooted in curiosity and open-mindedness.
In singing, the body is our instrument. Let’s compare a beginning cello student to a beginning voice student. A chief difference is the cellist’s instrument will remain the same each day, while the singer’s instrument will change. Body change is particularly exaggerated in young singers because the body and voice change drastically in adolescence and in the 20’s. This is often the root of frustration for many singers: trying to learn about an instrument that is malleable and ever shifting. I find that young singers often try to build technique by clinging to absolutes: “This is what inhaling feels like…” “This is what my F sounds like…” I try to encourage my students to be less rigid, and ask “what does it feel like when I inhale right now?” If students have a flexible approach to the sensation of singing, over time they will have a more specific understanding of their body. From that foundation, they can make more refined adjustments to their singing.
Ways I teach:
Establishing rapport with a new student:
When working with a new student, my first goal is to have the student be comfortable singing in lessons. This cannot be rushed. Some students come into a first lesson ready to sing without trepidation, but it is pretty rare. I find that most students take time to feel comfortable singing and vocalizing. Some tactics I use to help new students get comfortable is by experimenting with “making sound in the room” (sirens, lip trills, sustained constants) rather than singing. As they vocalize, I encourage students to sound ridiculous or even ugly. Often, once a student is relieved of the burden of “sounding pretty” they begin to make free sound with less tension! I want my students to feel that they can come into a voice lesson and sing the way they sing that day. They do not need to try to impress me or prove themselves. From there, we can work towards their goals rather than the student trying to cover up their natural sound.
Feeling comfortable and safe in the voice studio allows students to take on an active role in their educational experience. I encourage my students to advocate for themselves and check in with them frequently throughout the lesson. There is an understanding that we will work on what I (as the teacher) want to work on, but also what they (the student) what to work on as well.
Determining what to work on vocally in a lesson:
Once a basic level of trust is established between the student and myself, we can move on to addressing vocal technique. Singing is a coordination of breath, resonance, dynamic posture, and emotional intention. I list these elements in no particular order because I do not believe there is a hierarchy or order that these topics should be “learned.” Each student has their own approach to singing with unnecessary habits and tensions; when deciding which technical aspect to address in a lesson I observe and listen to the student sing. I then use the guiding question: what is the smallest change the student can make that will have the biggest impact on vocal their singing? The goal is always for the student to find increasing ease in singing. It’s tempting for beginning singers to want to view elements of technique as a check list: “check, I figured out my breath, now onto the high notes!” However, as singers, we will always be striving to find an easier, more organic coordination of these elements. I talk about breath in lessons with beginning students and lessons with advanced students. I don’t think there will be a point where a singer “doesn’t have to think about their breath anymore.” However, our understanding and awareness of the physical sensation of these components becomes more precise and fluid over time.
Tailoring communication to each student:
After I have determined what technical aspect I want to focus on in a lesson, I tailor the ways in which I communicate a concept based on the students learning style. To illustrate how I adapt my teaching to the student’s learning style, I compare how I taught the same concept to two different students.
Goal: finding a staccato onset—achieving buoyancy in the ribs
young tenor, kinesthetic learner
used a pilates ball, to help him feel the way his ribs moved in his back.
Pilates ball placed in epigastric region. On inhale feel expansion of ribs three dimensionally. As the student began staccato onset vocalise, I had him massage epigastric region with pilates ball in small circles. This region should stay flexible, not tense and become hard. By not over tensing, he was able to feel his ribs move more freely
soprano, visual learner
determined a visual “cue” that helped her naturally find width and buoyancy in the rib cage.
I told her that as she sang the staccato onset vocalise to imagine how Kirby (from Nintendo) is animated.
I said “your body will feel like Kirby.” This visual prompt width and buoyancy in the rib cage.
There are many ways to communicate a concept. Trends in how a student was previously successful in incorporating a concept help inform how I might explain a new idea. But not always, teaching involves experimentation for both the teacher and the student. If a student is failing to understand a concept, it is my responsibility as the teacher to come up with a new way of explaining.