I recently met up with a colleague of mine, Joanna Cazden, (www.VoiceofYourLife.com) who is a speech pathologist (as well as an accomplished musician and voice teacher…and author of a very helpful book, How To Take Care of Your Voice )
We often work in tandem when I have a client who is dealing with vocal damage or other issues with their physiology. Her knowledge of the voice and experience as a teacher is tremendously helpful in my own teaching practice.
Our conversation reminded me of some very simple principles that we as teachers can easily forget…it also highlighted a lot of things my gut has been telling me during lessons…sometimes I listen to it..sometimes I don’t.
Here are a few things that stuck with me the most…
It’s important to be in conversation with fellow artists and teachers. You have things to offer them. They have things to offer you. We are all stronger and able to help our clients when we support each other.
Ego Check… I can only speak for myself here, but many times I have fallen into the trap of basing my effectiveness as a teacher on how quickly I can get a client to achieve a certain result. I want to be some kind of a miracle worker.
When I slip into this mindset, lessons feel rushed and tense. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to ascertain that a tense environment isn’t conducive to any kind of good music making.
When I step back and see that each session is all about the client and what that person specifically needs, then the session opens up, and we can discover together….through dialogue…what works best.
Foundations…The majority of my clients are professional musical theatre performers, so there is always a pressure to have their audition books ready to go…While that is certainly important, I find a lot of my clients want to put the repertoire-cart before the technique-horse.
What good are all these songs going to do if you aren’t singing them from a solid vocal foundation?
Let’s look at breathing, making sure you have a free onset of sound, etc. It requires patience and understanding from teacher and client….and most importantly, we both have to understand that there is no hurry. Hurrying will only impede progress.
Repetition…This is a hugely important point that Joanna brought up to me…How many times have we come up with the right image that really clicks with the client only to move on to another image that might interest us more…or spun off into some pedagogical monologue that just leaves the client confused…?
It’s important to see if an image/idea resonates with a client….then practice the use of that image. It has to transfer from intellectual understanding to body knowing.
A good dance teacher isn’t just going to talk about the idea of movement….the dancers have to move themselves and incorporate the technique into their bodies. Same with singing. Repeating the simple principles is crucial.
Silence…Another point Joanna brought up…sometimes we just need to shut our mouths and tolerate a few moments of quiet in the session. If we’re not sure what to say, then maybe we shouldn’t say anything…Often, that will be the moment when the client will come up with the information she needs on her own.
Softness and Relaxation…This is a topic for a completely different post…but in a nutshell, how can you expect your client to be relaxed if you are not?
We have to set the tone in the studio and create an atmosphere of safety and comfort. As teachers, we have to be really aware of our own bodies, staying relaxed and centered so that we can model that energy for our clients.
One thing I’ve learned…a very simple idea…you can’t ease tension with tension, i.e. Just relax! Your body might give you a similar response that a wife would give her husband to the same command.
For me, the key to relaxing is seeing how much I can soften up, feel vulnerable…sending really good, loving energy to the places that feel tense…thinking about things that make me feel melty, like a grilled cheese sandwich…yum :). And oh, breathing….more on that later.
Listening….There isn’t just one way, there isn’t just our way…We have to dialogue with our clients and let their own minds, bodies, and intuition work to formulate their individual techniques.
Of course, we guide with the proven principles, but once we remember that we, too, are learning as we teach, then all kinds of possibilities open up.