The Secret to Teaching Voice Lessons

As I may have mentioned at some point, or perhaps I haven’t, I am a voice teacher in addition to being a singer.  In fact, I have a job teaching at a local college.  When I get mail from them, it says professor on it!  This is good news, except for the horrible fact that I have a hard time taking myself seriously.

I have taught voice lessons in the past, but never in such a formal and structured environment (and it’s really not all that formal and structured at all), and for a while I was freaking myself out about all of the ways that I would probably fall short in this new endeavor.  For instance, I can’t really play the piano.  I can play a part or two at a time, but if you need someone to accompany you while you sing, that person is not me  Or if it is, I feel very sorry for you.  And will the students take me seriously?  I mean, who am I to tell them what to do?!  Sometimes I have the same problem justifying orders given to my children.  “I wouldn’t listen to me either,” I think, as they run screaming in circles, throwing dangerous objects.

So I began teaching, and for the first few weeks I felt a little awkward inside.  These students seemed to respect me on some level, but if they only knew the real me on the inside, and could see through this veneer of knowledge and professionalism that I was trying to hide behind, they would be disappointed and upset.  At least that’s what my annoying brain was thinking.  But then, somehow I turned a corner and figured out the secret to teaching voice lessons.

What I came to realize is that I was trying to compare myself to all of my previous teachers, realizing that I could never measure up to them in my mind.  They knew so much more than I did.  They taught me everything I know.  Any student that came to me really ought to be taking lessons from them!  Why would you go to me when you could go to the people who taught me?!  It’s crazy!  And yet, thinking back on this, I discovered that I really did know a lot about singing.  I had had some great teachers, and each one had taught me something different.  Nobody in the world has probably studied with the exact same mix of people as I have, which means that I have a unique knowledge base from which to work.  Maybe there is a reason to study with me after all…

And of course I figured out some things that are universal to all teaching.  Speak with authority, but know that you are going to make mistakes and get things wrong.  Which is okay of course, but it means you need to listen to the students as much as they listen to you.  Voice lessons, unlike lecturing in a hall to a hundred people, are very collaborative.  What if my friend came to me and asked for my help or opinion on a certain song that they were trying to sing.  What would I say to them?  How would I help them?  Suddenly this scary thing became a fun exercise as I discovered how rewarding it is to see progress being made by somebody that came to you to learn.  Like I was saying last week about opera in general, focus on what you have to offer, not on what you don’t.

I now look forward very much to the lessons I teach.  My students are awesome, and they are as excited to be there learning as I am to be there teaching them.  And by teaching them I mean sharing what I know, and listening to what they know about their own voices.  Together, we can come up with a healthy sound that works for them, and that they can work to improve.  It’s wonderful actually.  And yes, I am going to keep practicing the piano, but, come to think of it, most of my teachers were kind of terrible on the piano too…

Posted in Music, Piano, Singing, Teaching, Tenor Tuesday, Voice Lessons.

One Comment

  1. keep going, Adam. I remember that one of my voice teachers suggested that it’s about finding the right way to help a student feel and hear what happens when breathe and vowels and placement, etc all come together for a beautiful sound, coming from a muscle we can’t feel. And, of course, each student may need a different metaphors to make meaning that s/he can use. I still sometimes revert to the warm up exercise that first enabled me to hear/feel forward placement of the voice. Best wishes, Ellen

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