Ditch the Piano, give your students (and you) freedom!

Weekly Teaching Tip – June 12, 2017
by Aimee Geddes

Do you hide behind your piano during voice lessons? Does this sound familiar:

You call your student into the studio while you sit behind the piano.
They stand on the same spot on the floor that they do every lesson.
You play the long scale and do bubbles, then lip trills, then some octave repeats etc.
Then you have them sing their song and work on trouble spots.
Send them away and tell them good job, just work on such and such.

Too often lessons can fall into a rut and we become so focused on fixing vowels and getting perfect technique out of students that we forget that singing used to actually be fun for them and for you. The whole reason you went into teaching was to help others experience the joy you feel when you sing and are free to sing anything you feel.

I have found a very effective tool in stepping away from the piano during lessons from time to time.

I greet the student standing up when they come in and talk to them about their week for a minute. We do stretches (I’ll do a short video on that one later,) and breathe for a moment.

I have had great success in call and response exercises. I still use the same concept of the exercise chart, giving exercises to counteract the bad habits I hear, but I try to make it feel not like warm ups at all. Everything needs to “seem” spontaneous. However, you are still listening to what they are doing and giving appropriate vowel/consonant combinations to help them.

Scat sounds work really well for this. Plus, since you don’t have to worry about playing it on the piano, you are free to use any scale pattern or combination you like without worrying about how to play it.

Another benefit of these kinds of exercises is that you are modeling good singing behavior and having them repeat it back to you. There is great power in your personal example as a teacher and they will copy your habits, good or bad.

I explicitly give them permission to make mistakes. I say “Make all the mistakes you want. It’s totally ok. I don’t care if you miss a note, or something comes out flat or doesn’t sound “good.” Just sing and feel the music.”

After giving them this kind of strange freedom and permission, I hardly have anything to fix. They usually sing much better for me than when they are trying too hard. Not that all the problems go away completely, but they seem to get rid of that tension that inhibits them so readily and creates the problems in the first place.

They learn that they can trust you and that you won’t get mad at them if they aren’t perfect. They perform better for you and are willing to let go of a lot of the mental inhibition. They have to be mentally free to perform well, so I try to “sneak through the back door” as much as possible and not let them know all the scientific details of what I am doing as a teacher.

Have fun experimenting with this one. Remember, the vowel consonant chart still applies, you just have a new way to apply it that will mix things up for you and your students and will hopefully bring new perspective to your students and their singing.

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