Monthly Archives: April 2015

Let’s Start Here

 

I am substitute teaching voice lessons for a teacher friend of mine while she is out of town for a few weeks. Last week I met with 6 students in a 4-hour block of time. Because I am going to be working with these students for three weeks, I made sure to take the first lesson to get some information from the them as I would if there were going to be my permanent students. What is your history of music and singing? What brings you to voice lessons? What have you been working on with your teacher? I made sure to take time to test their range, as I do my own students, to get a real idea of what they sound like and what their starting capabilities are. Then we dove in.

Subbing for another teacher is hard. You don’t know exactly what they are working on or in what order they tend to approach information. You don’t know what things the student is used to and comfortable with. You have to test the waters a bit and reach out to the student for more information. How does your teacher do this? Does your teacher talk to you about this? My friend was kind enough to provide me with a little information on each student: when they started working with her, what they have been working on, strengths and weaknesses of the student.

Starting with a new student is exciting and challenging. As a teacher we are constantly demanded to adjust our teaching-style to fit our students. In a group setting, the challenge is to find a way to match multiple people’s learning styles- creating a style that fits the needs of different learners. As a private instructor it is much more specific. You find what makes this one student tick. Are they a visual learner? Do they learn best by listening to examples? Do they need concrete information that they can analyze? You have to work hard to keep this one person’s attention and encourage and inspire them to want to keep working. You have to keep your energy up and make them get excited to keep going. It is extremely rewarding… and exhausting.

Outside of learning style you also have to gauge the behavioral and emotional aspects of a student. This doesn’t just mean “Can the 7-year-old stand still and focus for 30-minutes?”, but adults too… are they easily distracted? Easily frustrated? Do they feel nervous and anxious? Is their voice a hot-button issue for them?

I have a few students whose vocal work is not necessarily related to wanting to be a good singer, but rather it is emotional, therapeutic work. At some point in their lives they lost their voices emotionally. Someone or something made them feel voiceless and they couldn’t sing as a result to these internal struggles. Our voices are personal. They are our own individual instrument that we carry around inside ourselves. We have to nurture it and take care of it. When someone or something brings us down emotionally, it directly effects our voice, both literally and figuratively.  If someone is stressed, sad or tired… their voice acts as the medium for their issues.

It is my job as a teacher to help sort it all out- to bring back a voice. Sometimes lessons can involve a lot of talking… emotional devotion… taking time to work on the deeper issues that are effecting someone physically. There are points where no work can be done with a voice until some of the internal matter has started to clear away. It is my job to help them make time for this work.

Being a teacher is awesome. The challenges that I am faced with come with great reward. I work hard to actively change people’s lives in small ways every day. Some days I see the big break-throughs while other days hold tiny triumphs. Either way I get to directly connect with another human being in an effort to succeed… whatever the end goal is.

 

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To Teach Is To Be Taught

When I first started teaching I made every attempt I could to arrive at least 20 minutes prior to teaching… ideally a half hour before. I arrived at the school and found what I called my “happy place”. This was my quiet time before the start of lessons for the day where I could set my things down, collect my thoughts and wait for my students to start arriving. I made lesson plans for each student prior to coming, so I would pull them out and get ready to set those into motion.

My, oh my, things have changed. I still arrive early, but the process is no longer the same meditative one as before. I make sure to have at least 10 minutes prior to lesson start times to set my things down before the circus begins. I turn on what I have now termed “teacher mode”. I have a routine down now that doesn’t need the same gear-up time as before. I can literally set my things down, hop behind the piano and turn the switch on. It’s nice to have the few students where my teacher mode and personal mode are very closely linked, but there is still a switch when work begins.

There are no more lesson plans to follow. I learned very quickly that as long as I have a general framework for teaching a student over the long term, the best teaching comes from working on what organically arises in each lesson. In my mind, each student has a map of where he or she is going and how to get there, and each lesson you begin to clear part of the path. It’s my job to open the students up and see where they are today and begin from there, always working towards the end destination.

I don’t know about other voice teachers, but often I assume my students will not practice from lesson to lesson. Call me a pessimist but I insist I am a realist. Children are too busy these days, constantly being carted from one activity to the next, and adults have life to take care of. I assume practicing is last priority for many of my students, but their lessons are built in, weekly check-up. They come to me, and even if they haven’t practiced all week, this is the devoted time they have set aside to building their instruments. It really only takes about 10-minutes of thoughtful practicing every day, but life is busy, and for many people singing is a hobby not a priority.

So imagine my surprise lately when tons of my students have come in singing better than they did last week! I can tell in an instant who has practiced and who hasn’t. To teach is to continuously be willing to learn, and these “practicers” make my job more interesting. They are setting the bar higher, pushing me further to work harder and faster as a teacher. I have many beginning students- many working on the exact same things- and it is when the “practicers” come in that I get to be most innovative and experimental with my teaching.

I often refer to my “bag of tricks” as a teacher- this general pool of images and information to give to my students… warm ups, tools, exercises… tricks! This bag is getting more and more full, and I can pull from it in each lesson. It’s when something new comes up, that I sit back and say “Ok, this is isn’t working. Let me step away from this for today and come back next week with a new idea”. Then I go home and research or ask other teachers what sort of things they do to work on this area of technique. I am continuously adding to my bag of tricks. I am continuously learning!

They say that being a teacher is to inspire others to want to learn, but honestly (although that is really great and all) I feel like being a teacher has just continued to inspire ME to learn more. To be better. To work harder. I find inspiration in students of all levels and ages. I love the variety. I love the challenge of working on the same basic technique with completely different students, all with different abilities and levels of understanding. So far what I imagined teaching to be has been surpassed by miles. I am SO looking forward to what comes next!

If you are a teacher or student or lover of education, please comment below on what you love about it! What do you love about teaching… about learning… or about watching it happen for others?

Thank you for reading my blog post!

Check out Mockingbird Studio of Voice and Chanson Voice and Music Academy.

Follow @MockingbirdSOV on Twitter.

Please LIKE my Facebook Page.