The “Art” of Teaching

Weekly Teaching Tip – Apr. 27, 2015
by Mark Baxter

Question: What does the T in IVTOM stand for?

Hint: It’s not technicians!

There is no question that a voice teacher should have a deep understanding of the mechanics of singing. For this purpose, I’ve amassed an extensive personal library on physiology and vocal technique. I’ve also been very fortunate to have the prominent otolaryngologist Dr. Steven Zeitels as my mentor for the past 30 years and enjoy full access to the research and clinical trials at his renowned voice center. I write this simply to emphasize that, even with a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips, the book I view as the most important for the teaching of singing is my well-worn thesaurus.

Just as everything we sing (in any style) is the result of cord closure and breath flow expanded by vowel tuning – everything we learn is the result of mental concepts expanded by analogy and metaphor. Keep in mind there is a difference between teaching and learning. Teaching is the presentation of ideas – and there are several approaches (auditory, visual, kinesthetic), but every human learns the same way: by creating an internal analogy that compares new behavior to something familiar. Raise your hand if you’ve ever brought two fingers together as you said the words “vocal cord adduction.” That’s a visual metaphor – and that’s good teaching. OK – hands down.

Your knowledge and interests outside singing are equally important for helping students learn. Teaching is feeding. Our words are broken down into analogies and metaphors in the student’s mind just like proteins and carbohydrates are converted in the digestive tract. With all of the advances in medical and scientific research, it’s easy to forget that singing and teaching are still art forms. So get creative when you cook up a lesson!

The challenge I propose for this week is to expand your vocabulary. Read poetry, novels, cookbooks and “How To” manuals pertaining to everything under the sun in order to expand your concept of communication. If you’ve already introduced a student to the functions of cord closure, flow, subglottic pressure, TA and CT muscles, etc., then it’s time to find different ways to make the mechanics come to life. Repeating technical terms over and over is the equivalent of providing nutrition through a feeding tube! Instead, think of your words as sugar, spices, butter and alcohol to turn your lessons into rich learning experiences students will remember as vividly as a favorite meal. If you run low on ideas, I have well over a hundred videos posted on my website ( and each offers a different analogy for some aspect of singing. Inspiring people to expand their concept of the voice is the difference between teaching people to sing and telling them to sing. And last I checked, IVTOM does not stand for “International Voice Tyrants of Mix!”

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