Staying in Touch with your Student’s Needs

Weekly Teaching Tip – March 26, 2012

At the beginning of every lesson, I ask my students some variation of this question:  “What can I help you with today?”  I’m generally on top of student’s long-term goals; a recent event reminded me that I need to listen beyond that.  One of my 17-year-old students had been working very hard to prepare for college auditions and was recovering from surgery for a deviated septum, so our work was intense.  When he came in the door, I noticed that he seemed a bit shaky, but wrote that off to the fatigue of keeping up with his academic load and preparing for college auditions.  We jumped right into vocalizing and after 15 minutes, I asked which audition cuts he wanted to work.  He burst into tears:  “My grandmother died last weekend and my mom wants me to sing for her funeral tomorrow.  I don’t have any idea what to sing.”

Had I just taken a few seconds to ask what he wanted to work at the beginning of the lesson, I could have saved him a very emotional (and for him, embarrassing) moment and could have been scanning my memory for songs that would work, while he vocalized.

I’m also reminded that goals change, sometimes dramatically.   A student who I helped prepare for college auditions a few years ago seemed strong in her determination to perform in professional musical theatre.  When we were narrowing the list of possible audition songs, nothing that I suggested interested her and I became quite frustrated.  I asked, “If you could sing any song, in any style, what would it be?”   The long list that came from her was a surprise; there wasn’t a single MT song on the list.  I asked why she wanted to study musical theatre and she said, “Honestly, I don’t and I’m tired of pretending that I do.  I love acting.  I DON’T LIKE SINGING IN PUBLIC.   I only do it because my teachers and parents and friends tell me I’m good at it.”

In the March 23 on-line teacher training, I said that working with pitch-challenged students reminds me regularly that singers come to us for many reasons.  Sometimes, they just want to sing “Happy Birthday” without embarrassment, or to get into their school choir so that they will have a place to belong in a large high school.  Not everyone wants to be an American Idol and not everyone wants to sing as a professional.  Dean shared a great story during that broadcast; if you missed it, click on the link on the IVTOM website.

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