Music Teacher's Helper Blog

The Teacher Is Always Learning

I recently met up with a colleague of mine, Joanna Cazden, ( 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.

Happy teaching!

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  1. Innesa

    Thank you for the great points in your post.

  2. Dan Callaway

    Thanks Innesa…really glad you got something out of it.

  3. June

    Well, I totally agree with you.

  4. Dan Callaway

    Thanks June…appreciate it…would be interested in knowing if there are teaching principles are most helpful to you…anyone else as well.

  5. Cheryl Bbroown

    It is wonderful that this is availbie. Music teachers offten do not get much credit, unless it invovles tangabileinsrumtens. Vocaalllsits, must be taught their range from bass to soprano. It can b quite eye oppening for chior stuedents from middle school to college. There is more to singing to opening up and shouting out the voice. Quite the challengeQ

  6. Valerie Kampmeier

    Thanks, Dan- I appreciated the reminders in this elegant and concise article. The most important one for me to remember is “Silence”. It’s so easy for me to want to fill what might appear to be awkward gaps in an attempt to put the student at ease, bu, when I remember, I have also found silience to be a great teacher.

  7. Dan Callaway

    Thanks Cheryl…you are right…developing a relationship with the voice as an instrument is a lifelong process…lots to learn, and so much fun….thanks for your comment.

  8. Dan Callaway

    Thanks a lot, Valerie…Yep, silence is the toughest one for me. Just this week I had two clients who made some really helpful connections for themselves just because I wasn’t talking and they had five seconds to process their own experience…and I learned new things from their perspectives. Thanks also for your helpful posts on the blog.

  9. Linda Donnell

    You are so right! As a ballet teacher and a student of singing myself I recognize the tremendous similarity between the two disciplines. Thanks for your insightful teaching blog. It is informing my teaching practice and my own progress as a singer.

  10. Dan Callaway

    Thanks a lot Linda…you are a gifted and experienced teacher in your own right and I’m sure you have a full list of reminders that you’ve learned along the way…glad you enjoyed the blog, and hope you and family are well.

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