Teaching Voice to Beginners

Weekly Teaching Tip – April 15, 2013
by Agata Pisko

One of the difficult issues for a voice teacher is to teach a beginner. Especially to teach somebody who has major technique problems and low level of musicality, somebody who can hardly repeat simple scales and melodies.

When you first meet them, they are usually very motivated, very curious and happy about their first voice lesson. They will also tell you that they have a bit of stage fright to sing in front of you. They may also tell you that they have already taken a voice lesson or two, or they have sung somewhere, but that they have been told that they should not sing at all.

What a cruel statement. Let’s be honest, everybody has the right to sing, we only may be on a different levels of proficiency. Everybody has the right to be an absolute beginner in anything, why not in singing?

I find that the most important thing they need first is support and encouragement. These two make miracles. Also, they need an immediate feeling of achievement.

However, how to give them such a feeling when your ear hurts when you hear them, and your brain tells you: I guess their previous teacher was correct!

What I do is I let them feel their voice first producing tones in their chest and head. I would for example, ask them to say simple ‘Aaaa’ in their chest and then try and imitate a siren in their head voice. They should play with different sounds and feel their voice on various pitches. Intonation is not important at this moment.

A smart teacher will decide to limit their choice of exercises, scales and syllables at first. Pause between the exercises. Repeat them. Make sure the student is not confused and give them time to ‘get’ the new feeling, and save new pieces of information.

I also use simple language and watch out that I do not say too many sentences. I would keep my explanation short and simple.

I definitely want to sing a song with my beginning student at the very first lesson!!! What I do is to prepare a very simple one. Maybe something like a Girl Scout song or a children one. The idea “I sing a song” supports the feeling of achievement and gives them a great amount of motivation.

After several lessons, I would also insist that my beginning student sings their song on stage in front of supportive audience. I make sure that the song I choose is simple (The Rose, Bubbly). I regularly organize vocal showcases for my students and I find them very motivating. In order to diminish their level of stage fright, I may sing part of the song with them on stage. This way they feel secure enough to experience the fun of performing. Guess what? After such a performance, your beginner is no longer a beginner. They turn into intermediate students!

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