Singing teaching

This is why I love teaching

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One little reason why I love teaching singing

In May, a shy 9-year old came to me for lessons, strongly encouraged by her parents who said that she sings at home all the time but needed to build her confidence. At her first session she reduced me to tears with a perfect and moving rendition of Quiet from Matilda. She is a joy to teach; she tries everything I ask her. She recently asked if I could help her learn another song from Matilda, the Escapologists Song, which requires lots of spoken word and is essentially a duet with the character’s father. She acted it so well, that we recorded it during her lesson and this is the result. Warning: As the only other person in the room, I had to cast myself as the tenor/father! It really is worth a listen, particularly when you consider that she had not performed in public or had a singing lesson until a few weeks ago. She has a passion for this music and is incredibly hard working.

When a 7-year old song writer is let loose with recording equipment

I wanted to encourage a 7-year old, who had shown an interest in song-writing by letting her record one of her songs during her lesson. Her discovery of how the recording process works and in particular the infinite possibilities for harmonies and backing vocals was hilarious. As we progressed during the song she got more adventurous and would have recorded 20 tracks if we’d had time. All of the lyrics and melody are hers, I just pressed the buttons. Funny and charming in equal measure.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ― Socrates

Never was a truer word spoken. As a singing teacher with a voracious appetite for knowledge, I read books, go on endless courses, participate in on-line forums, rub shoulders with and learn from the best in the business and yet I am light-years away from knowing everything I need to. My current fascination is in the detail that lends vocal identity to different musical genres and how that can create successful (or often unsuccessful) crossovers. Just enrolled on this course facilitated by the British Voice Association.

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Why singing teaching can't be regulated

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I have been asked several times which teaching method I ascribe to and my answer is normally a rather convoluted ramble about how there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to singing teaching as each voice is unique to the individual who owns it and subject to an infinite number of variants. As singing teaching is unregulated in the UK, I can’t just reach for my shiny certificate that shows that my teaching has been assessed and deemed as acceptable. I have to admit to a bit of internal eye-rolling and a desperate need to sigh, when I get asked this, but accept that it is a perfectly natural line of enquiry, after all, there are prescribed methods of teaching for all other instruments. The big difference between the two is that musical instruments have a resonating space that can’t change shape, but the vocal tract can change shape radically, and small changes make big differences to the sound. You can take an instrument out of the box, follow the instructions and get playing straight away, if it doesn’t work it is very likely due to the short-comings of the player and not of the instrument itself.

Life would definitely be so much easier if we had an officially recognised system that confirmed that we know our stuff and that our students will learn to sing safely and well, but I can’t begin to imagine how many modules would need to be included in a ‘singing teaching’ qualification to be able to cover everything you need to know; effects of age, gender, biology, physiology, state of health (physical and mental), vocal set-ups (huge, huge, huge subject), musical genre (enormous influencer on how you might teach someone), lexicon (as everyone processes information differently the choice of language has to be personalised to suit the individual) & not least, how to teach. By the time you had completed the course, which may be a life’s work, it would be time to review the science and start all over again.

I asked other teachers how they respond to being asked about their ‘teaching method’ through the Vocal Process Facebook Group set up by Dr Gillyanne Kayes. I was reassured to see that the universal response was as I described in the first paragraph; one-size-cannot-possibly-fit-all. In this group, we are all committed to CPD learning and keep up with the latest science and developments in teaching and take from that whatever is appropriate and manageable for the individual singer. We are drawing from research coming from all over the world (there is still so much that is unknown about voice function) and our lucky students are benefitting from that. But there is no compact, convenient or certificated way of describing this commitment to our trade, to potential employers.

The downside of not having a system of validation, is that employers don’t really know the right questions to ask and often accept applicants with music degrees from recognised conservatoires who are fantastic musicians and instrumental teachers, but who don’t necessarily have the appropriate skills and knowledge to be effective singing teachers. I understand why they use this criteria to make their employment decisions, what else could they do?