Weekly Teaching Tip – Feb. 20, 2018
by Keri Hughes
Listen with your students to their favorite artists. Help them identify what technical and stylistic choices the artist is making to create their sound. Discuss the pros and cons of imitating the artist’s choices and talk about other approaches your singer can take to make the song more comfortable or unique. This is a great way for the student and teacher to better understand each other’s goals and create a shared vocabulary when discussing musical style.
Example 1: A musical theater singer hears the powerful voice of their favorite broadway star and assumes they are always belting so that is the sound they try to imitate. When you listen to the artist with them, you point out that the artist is in a mix most of the time and saves their “power belt” for a few select moments in the song. Perhaps you discuss the moments the artist speaks the lyrics a little more or sings in a deliberately non- beautiful way for impact. The variety is what makes the song interesting. Then you play an example of a great belter performing a beautiful legit ballad and discuss with your student the importance of training in both styles to have the most versatile and long term career.
Example 2: A singer’s favorite recording artist is a great vocalist. You listen together and discuss the artist’s stylistic choices or the way they alter the word to increase their power on the higher notes. You point out the vibrato and how its applied – your student didn’t realize that there was any in this style and was trying to avoid it. Then you listen to another artist your singer loves -this artist is extremely popular but as a teacher the last thing you want is for your singer to imitate this strained and potentially damaging approach to singing. You discuss what you are hearing and why you are concerned. Does the style have an emotional impact? Yes. Can it be produced night after night and still keep the voice healthy? Probably not. You discuss other ways to express the song and still be true to the message. Perhaps it’s choosing a few important moments in the song to use a more extreme sound and then returning to a great vocal balance.
Taking time occasionally to listen with my students to their favorite artists makes their lessons more effective. They feel understood, have their goals validated, and trust that the direction I’m taking them will help them get what they want. When they understand what they are hearing in their favorite songs, they are more willing to try sounds and approaches they may not have associated with “good singing” at first. Have a great week of teaching!