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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