Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Art of Teaching

As we all know, the experience of working with singers is a truly rewarding one. There’s nothing like helping to dismantle ingrained physical habits and limiting beliefs, as well as witnessing the breakthroughs that take performances and careers to new heights. Unfortunately, there are as many horror stories out there as there are tales of victory. Not only do singers often complain of spending their hard-earned money–and time–with little to show for them, many others leave studios vocally and even emotionally worse off than when they started.

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Jennifer Hamady, Voice Coach
What is going on here? In my experience, these situations are more often the result of inappropriate rather than ineffective training. Disconnects between teaching and learning styles and interests, as well as students’ unresolved emotional concerns, often cloud and even prevent the possibility of the voice being properly addressed. Without a shared view and understanding of what vocal training should consist of and look like—and how to ideally go about it—it’s no wonder why the best efforts of both teachers and students often don’t come to fruition.

While it may seem a simple question, too often it is left unanswered and even unasked: What is it that new students want to achieve? Do they wish to heal an existing vocal problem or to craft a style for themselves? Is their priority to playfully and joyfully discover their voice or to determinedly develop it? There is a big difference between preparing for an impending tour and coming out of a vocal hibernation, just as there is between a technician and a stylistic coach. We all know this. Yet for passion, pride, or pocketbook, many of us often overstep the bounds when a client could be better served training with someone else. Working through potential songs for an American Idol audition if we are a classical teacher (or on legit technique if we’re a performance or repertoire coach) is likely not the best idea unless we are unusually—read impossibly!—versatile.

Singers aren’t always certain of what it is they need, leaving us with the imperative to help them get the best coaching and teaching available... even if it’s not from us. We all have our limitations, musical and otherwise. Being truly great means that we’re upfront and honest about what we do and don’t know and specialize in—with others and ourselves—as well as if and when the time has come for a student to move on.

Vocal training requires the baring not only of the voice, but also of the heart and soul to another…to become truly vulnerable. This required openness often leads to unresolved emotional issues and insecurities—rather than the voice—becoming the focus in sessions; a teacher can be working hard to help a student lock in a certain technique, unaware that an emotional concern is preventing the very progress they’re both consciously striving for. What’s more, psychological issues and insecurities can set the stage for the development of co-dependent relationships that hinder and often impair both vocal and personal progress. Clearly, these are matters that the singer him or herself must address and work through. Yet while it may not be our job to address our students’ emotional issues head on, it is our responsibility to look out for and consider their holistic as well as vocal well being, so that we may respond to the entirety of what they need. This includes taking a close look at our own unresolved “stuff” that might be attracting, fostering and perpetuating less than optimal dynamics.

Whatever our students’ specific goals, in my opinion the best teachers are those who view the process of teaching as a journey of co-discovery, rather than top-down instruction of an inflexible methodology. Central to the creation of this type of relationship is abandoning the notion of an unbalanced power dynamic between teacher and student in favor of the former. In fact, the opposite is true. When working with singers, they are employing us to help them grow in a certain area of understanding. The onus is therefore on us to demonstrate that we’re qualified to provide them with the service they’re looking for.

Sadly, many—teachers and students alike—continue to believe that learning is simply the passive intake of information from someone who knows more about a topic than we do. Indeed, we may be more knowledgeable about technique than our students, but that doesn’t mean we know how to best communicate that information in a way that’s clear to them. Our student’s participation—as well as our humility—are critical to ensuring that the process of learning, the giving and receiving of information, can be fulfilled.

Teaching is a journey that begins with a holistic and compassionate view of the human being standing before us, rather than the immediate sharing of a specific technique or approach. Knowing who they are and what they want is the key for singers to begin unlocking their potential, both personal and vocal. It is our job to support and create a safe space for them to discover these aspects of themselves, upon which all vocal technique and performance practices may be optimally built.

This guest post was contributed by Jennifer Hamady, a Manhattan-based voice coach, counselor, author of The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice and regular contributor to The Huffington Post, and Psychology Today. Jennifer's clients include Grammy, CMA, Emmy and Tony award-winners, as well as corporate clients across an array of industries.

The Zenph Online Education Network helps teachers, coaches and students find the perfect fit as they embark on their journeys of musical discovery. Check out our listing of online vocal coaches or sign up to teach online.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! I love the idea of 'co-discovering' - and would add that a good teacher remains in tune (no pun intended) with what works and what does not work for each student. I am constantly amazed by students who suddenly grasp a concept because I simply changed a few words in my delivery or explanation. I think a good teacher 'files' these events away for future use - and indeed, continues to create new ways to relate information to students.


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