Music Teacher's Helper Blog

The things we make our students do…

Every time I find something new that works for me in my own practice, I try it out on my students.  Here’s my latest – the BOSU ball. It’s basically an exercise ball cut in half (& on a sturdy platform – you can turn it BOSU in the Voice Studioover and stand on the flat part, too).  But, just standing on the thing works your core muscles.  A MUST for singers.  I’ve been using the BOSU to really work on my core muscles (needed after 2 C-sections!) and had a brainstorm that I wanted one of my students to use it.

This student is a high school student, but will likely develop into a dramatic soprano of great strength & power.  The thing about those voices is that they REALLY need a lot of control as they are often called upon to have great subtlety as well as great power.  So, I’ve called upon the BOSU to help her activate her core muscles.  It’s helped a LOT and she’s really happy with the results (although sore at the end of the lesson.

Other tricks I’ve utilized lately in my studio to help my students:

Met Player Free Weekend – got to watch free opera from the Metropolitan Opera for a weekend.  Not quite sure if it’s worth the monthly fee for unlimited or the pay-per-view version.  Used it to help show students how the sound LOOKS in the face of a singer.  Also was extremely helpful in just hearing good vs. bad production.

I regularly use a Koosh ball to have students toss it from hand to hand.  I find it helps with breath preparation as well as getting the mind OFF of what you’re singing.  Anything that can help to create the proper physicalization so that it can go into muscle memory.

Squats against the wall – an old voice teacher standby to engage the core muscles, but now I have the BOSU, do I really ever need to squat again?  YES!!  Squats ON the BOSU!!!

Figuring out what kind of learner my student is: kinesthetic, auditory, visual.  I use Dr. Jerry Doan’s tried & true method – have them sing any pitch on any vowel and then ask: “How did it sound?”  Have them sing again & ask: “How did it feel?”  Have them sing a third time & ask: “What did you think of it?”  If their eyes head toward the ceiling when answering the questions they are visual learners.  Eyes heading towards the ears = auditory learners (often the eyes will head towards right or left ear consistently – this is their “dominant” ear & it may be helpful for the student to keep that ear towards you while they are singing).  If the eyes head toward the ground, they are kinesthetic learners.  Often people are combinations  of visual/auditory or kinesthetic/auditory.  I myself am EXTREMELY kinesthetic & visual runs a close second (not a combination I’ve found often in my voice studio).  I am auditory dead last & only truly remember things if I’ve written them down or if I’ve been doing a monotonous physical task (such as sanding or sewing) while listening.  I try to keep all this in mind while teaching each student – how do THEY learn best?  Auditory students I try to guide them to what THEY perceive aurally (not necessarily what’s actually coming out of their mouths).  Kinesthetic learners need to FEEL where the sound is – does it occur on the “upswing of the breath, the down slope, does it circle around, etc.).  Visual learners need to see something as they sing (sometimes a certain sound has a certain color, other times images such as “thinking up as you go down,” or “keep the sound on the tracks of a roller coaster.”)

The upshot is TRY EVERYTHING you can to get your student to make the progress you know they can.  Keep learning and trying new things.  What works for one student won’t work for all (or even ANY others!).  It is our job as teachers to constantly learn & strive to best serve our students.  Go try something new today!!  Anyone have any cool things they do in their studio that help certain singers??  I’ll take any ideas you have!

About the Author

Rachel Velarde
I began my music career in Bloomington, Indiana. After receiving my B.A. in Music from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, I earned two Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Luminaries I have worked with include Vernon Hartman, James Caraher, Lorenzo Malfatti, Shirlee Emmons, Mary Sue Hyatt, John Sikora, David Jones, David Britton, and Carol Smith.

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1 Comment

  1. Peggy Schaaf

    Great ideas, Rachel! I use THE WAVE in a similar way as you use THE BOSU. The student has to balance on THE WAVE which has been inverted. This engages the core muscles, too. Peggy

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