Keeping it Honest

Keeping It Honest
Weekly Teaching Tip – June 10, 2013
by Leigh McRae (IVTOM Advisory Board)

As teachers it is a never ending challenge to remain focused, energized and objective given the amount of ceaseless distractions and so called ‘expert’ opinions of well intended parents, managers and the media at large. Through all of the smoke and mirrors that can constitute a singer’s life the one thing that must remain constant is how that individual uses their voice and that as teachers is our primary job. I recall driving out of Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch with Seth Riggs and him turning to me as I raved on like a 12 year old teeny bopper (I was approx 34 at the time) and he said to me, ’there is something very surreal about meeting the biggest star in the world but never forget this, he is not the star, you are not the star, but the work is the star’.

Our work as teachers is often arduous, sometimes thankless and rarely exciting but it is essential. The old saying ‘repetition is the mother of skill’ has never been needed in singing more than right now. We are living in an age where being an average singer can warrant a successful career and I can tell you categorically that it is not going unnoticed by the newer generation coming through. When I conduct my Workshops I always ask the following ‘who in this room believes that the overall standard of singing has improved in the last 10 years’. There is rarely a hand goes up and that should be an alarm bell to all of us. In my opinion there has never been a better time to be an outstanding singer and believe you me that will appeal to those ambitious students that we all have. Another aspect is the personal pride and the actual artform of being a great singer. The trend will return to a demand for excellence (not that it went away for most of us). I do my utmost to educate every student with technique, style, and history of the genre. I insist that they learn some basic piano, intervals and sufficient musical terminology to converse with other musicians. They learn to sing harmony by way of a duet with me and on their recordings. I insist that they build a book of correctly organized sheet music in the appropriate keys with correct audition cuts. I do not allow photocopying and I will put lyrics from the Internet on my computer screen once only, after that they must know them. Also their backing tracks must be clearly marked and readily available whether on a device or C.D.

Above all the advice and coaching the following has proven to me to be the most measureable and duplicable aspects of successful learning. I record lessons or parts of them every time and that is invaluable, but the actual recording sessions we do using a decent microphone and a recording program (Pro Tools for me) is where the rubber meets the road. These recordings are done approx every second lesson (unless a more pressing issue is at hand such as an audition or health problem) and the best of what is recorded goes home to be reviewed and not necessarily played to others (nor put up on Facebook thankyou!! ). I do not alter pitch but I will place a small reverb on the vocal to give it some effect. Now here is the clincher. Most students will feel better emotionally and physcologically because they have a new teacher and naturally we are guiding them with appropriate exercises and songs that suit etc however when they actually ‘hear’ the difference that is taking place with their voice that is where the magic is. It is the classic before and after similar to the home renovation or the weight loss regime and I have seen it work time and time again. Note that you must be discreet with the appropriate time to allow any recording to be taken home as the student who is not use to that process will be highly sensitive to what they hear (why we don’t want it played to someone who does not understand that it is a work in progress).

Finally if the student is not improving and you believe that you have done all that you can do ask them to come in on the next lesson and tell you why you should continue to work together, you’ll be surprised by the outcome. I certainly have.

Continued success to you all.

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