Music Teacher's Helper Blog

From the very beginning of music lessons, the voice is our first go to, tool to learn about notes harmonies and scales. This is an essential part of reading music and training your musical ear. However, the voice as an instrument is also the cause of many insecurities, such as not liking how it sounds, not having a wide range or just not feeling comfortable with others listening. The first step in order to overcome this, is to understand why it’s so important to control this natural instrument, what is vocal range and learning how to find your own voice through trial and error.

Why Sing?

There are two answers to this question, with the first one being the obvious one, which is that you want to be a singer. However if you are interested in playing instruments and don’t want to focus too much on singing, it’s still an useful instrument to have when getting involved with music. First of all, it’s the instrument you’ll always carry with you, to master this natural instrument is to carry melodies with you at all times. Secondly, singing is often an integral part of music education. Teachers involve students very easily by making them sing certain melodies or read sheets, not only does this improve the dynamic of the class itself, but it helps to develop a musical ear, remember musical structure of music writing, and reading.

Vocal Range

The vocal range determines roughly your range as a singer based on your lower note and your higher note,according to The New Harvard Dictionary of Music these vocal ranges classifications are:

soprano: C4 to A5
mezzo-soprano: A3 to F#5
alto: G3 to E5 (and contralto as F3-D5)
tenor: roughly C3 to A4
baritone: A2 to F4
bass: F2 to E4

The soprano and tenor are considered to be high voice, baritone and mezzo-soprano mid voice and alto and bass low voice.

This of course is not permanent, the vocal range can expand with practice and time, it can also be smaller if for example the vocal chords suffer some kind of strain, damage or not enough practice.

In order to know your vocal range, it’s as easy as playing notes to see how far can you go, and then find where you stand, this can help you know where you feel comfortable singing and what you want to improve. It also helps to know your vocal range so that you can look for singers with a similar tone to practice.

Finding your Voice

It happens many times to students that they want their voice to sound in a particular way, and they get frustrated because the only thing they find is something different than what they want, and something different than their usual speaking voice. This is important due to the fact that our singing voice is different than the regular speaking voice, because of this, some effort has to be put in order to find this new singing voice, and this requires patience.

Knowing your vocal range and listening popular singers will definitely help, however the best way is always to practice and record yourself, you may not like what you hear, but like any other instrument, you need to tune your vocal chords, and learn how to use them.

Even if you’re not very interested in being a professional singer, there is a chance that, while trying and learning the basics, you find a comfortable way to sing and you may discover an unknown talent, so long as don’t strain your voice, experiment with different techniques and get to know your voice.

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It’s always healthy to feel like there is some competition in every discipline, this includes music. These “competitions” however, are not exclusively with another person, it also involves ourselves and surpassing our past selves.

This kind of motivation is sometimes thought to be unhealthy or unnecessary, but the truth is that it can be fuel for motivation. The thing is not to make it something bigger than it really is, what this means is that if there is someone that you feel is better at singing than you, you shouldn’t try to imitate him and win at his own game, but rather find the best that your voice can be, in order to feel like you can be as good as any other singer.

With students this can be a delicate situation sometimes, because there is always an unbalanced pool of students that teachers have to deal with. This of course doesn’t happen in online lessons, unless there is some sort of interaction between the students of one teacher which could be a good a idea.

Online lessons sometimes lack this competition between students due to the nature of the class dynamic, and in order to see if it can be possible, let’s see the flaws and benefits of these competitions, and how it could be integrated into online music lessons.

Class Room Competition

There is always that one student that is extremely talented and focused, and there is always that one student that gets frustrated because he’s not as good as the other students.  One is proud and the other frustrated. These are two profiles that often arise in a classroom, but this is not all bad, while it may cause some trouble, in the end it works as some kind of filter, where the frustrated one can go two ways, one is getting bored, slowly losing interest because it’s too difficult or not worth their frustration, or it can become an obstacle to overcome, in this case, a competition against the one with the amazing talent, and against himself in a way that pushes him to be better. However as teachers, it must be reminded to students that self satisfaction is the most important thing when it comes to competition, nothing good comes from being better than someone else as a goal, competition is the means to achieving a personal goal.

Competition in Online Lessons

The whole idea of the internet is to stay connected, to be connected with other people even though a physical connection cannot be possible, that’s why online music lessons shouldn’t be isolated one on one classes, at least not always. It’s a good idea to establish a connection between students and let them know that they can share their ideas, help each other out in a way a teacher can’t and make bonds that sometimes will end up in competitive attitudes. Another very clear way to make this competition spirit arise is to start music contests involving prizes and recognition for their work.

There are many ways to start a competition, the teacher’s job in this case is to make them remember that a competition is not a bad thing if it can be channeled into energy to learn new things and practice.

Whether it’s online or in a class room, interaction with several students in a teacher’s plan is important to develop a fuller learning environment in which students can surpass their own expectations and feel like they are closer to their goals as a musician.

 

 

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Whether you have your own teaching studio or work for an organization, there is a temptation to schedule lessons back to back. If you have a lot of students in a row, this can be a recipe for burnout.

I know, I’ve done it — figuring I can get through a lot of lessons on a single day with no breaks. Sometimes, it’s just hard to say no when there’s an opening for a lesson and somebody wants it.

But you do need to look after yourself, for the sake of not only your own mental and physical health, but also for the sake of your students.

I don’t need experts to tell me this, because I’ve found out the hard way, but the experts do say that it’s important to your metabolism that you eat every three of four hours. If you go too long between meals, your metabolism starts to shut down, and then when you eat a big meal, your body doesn’t know what to do with all the extra calories. Best to keep the fire going, keep feeding that stove, and eating on a regular basis, even if not as much at a time.

Whether you’re at home or teaching at a school, be sure to have quality snacks and drinks with you for time between lessons, and be sure to actually eat something significant (not necessarily a lot) every 3-4 hours. For this you’ll need to schedule time. Set that time aside by blocking out a “lesson time” for yourself in your Music Teacher’s Helper calendar. A half hour is nice but it could theoretically be 15 minutes if you have food and drink ready — and if you can finish the previous lesson on time.

When I tried this, I discovered that I maintained a much higher level of energy than when I tried to plow through lesson after lesson. I knew I could handle “plowing” through lessons — I have my Daily Summary from MTH and enough experience to really focus on and help my students — but when I’m reasonably fed and watered, I have energy to spare for humor, new ideas, and a varied approach.

You might choose to offer 55 minute lessons and finish on time so you can take a breath, and get a moment to yourself for a drink or snack, or even to enter lesson notes online into MTH and reconciling a lesson; or to write those notes with a pen or pencil (remember those?) in a notebook so you can transfer it to your online lesson notes later.

It’s not a crime to schedule 45-minutes on the hour and allow 15 minutes between lessons! I know, it’s hard to think you’re deliberately spending an hour and only getting paid for 45 minutes, but it might mean that you can have a bit, drink more water, feel better, enter lesson notes you won’t have to do later, and generally have a more energetic and calm presence for your teaching time.

You might mix and match, and schedule a few back to back 30 minute lessons, but allow 15 before a longer lesson, or just leave a space of a half-hour for your own sake.

As to snacks, remember that there are really tasty snacks out there that won’t leave you feeling bloated, jittery, or on a sugar-high (i.e. maybe avoid doughnuts and coffee!). You just need to be a little creative and do a little research and trial-and-error.

For your breaks, you may even want to bring a novel to read, or a magazine that has nothing to do with music, just to give your mind and spirit a break for short periods of time. Facebook, texting, etc., probably will only add anxiety and not provide a break to your over-multi-tasking modern mind!

So plan for some mental breaks, quality snacks and periodic meals, and be sure you drink enough water. It’s amazing what a difference these things can make in turning a heavy teaching day into a fun and productive one. And don’t forget — one of the easiest and most effective mental and physical breaks is to simply take a 15-minute walk.

For both you and your students, look after yourself!

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