Train the Whole Musician by Veronica Hodgson
Apr. 15, 2019
In my studio, I work with a lot of elementary-aged voice students. They are
interesting and complicated little people who often need a little more time to get to
know me, and to become comfortable with the intimacy of private voice lessons.
They are sometimes awkward in their bodies, and they need a lot of reassurance. I
begin each lesson by asking them to tell me one wonderful thing that happened to
them during the week. This breaks the ice and helps us to start the lesson off with
energy and happiness. It is also helpful when a student has had a difficult day,
because it helps them get into a better head space for learning.
Train the Whole Musician
With my elementary-aged students, I spend 5 minutes of each lesson working on
either rhythm or solfeggio. Though I see my primary function as voice teacher, I
definitely want to train the whole musician. Spending a small amount of time on
music fundamentals when they are young saves me so much time when they get to
middle/high school, because by then most of them are great sight readers. When they
are young, it is easy to make a game of it, and it goes very quickly.
Storytelling has become my favorite tool for working with little people. Mary Ann
Kehler visited my studio a year ago, and introduced us to her process of acting a song
by using a different color (emotion) for each phrase of the song. It's a great tool for
getting the imagination moving, and for creating a dynamic performance. I have
found lots of wonderful applications for it over this past year.
I have a box of 3×5 “emotion cards” that my students have helped me create. Each
one has a different emotion or adjective written on it. Some are simple like “sad,” “happy,” “silly,” and few are more complicated – one of my young students added the
words “melancholy” and “mercurial” to the box! Before we begin vocalizing,
students get to go through the emotion cards, or create some new cards of their own,
and post them in any order they choose, on the big mirror in front of the piano. As we
go through a vocalise, they change the emotion they sing every time we change key.
At the end of the entire exercise, they get to rearrange the cards and begin again with
the next exercise. As they focus on the emotions, they sing much more freely. If I
need to, I will give them a single small correction on the way they are doing things,
but I keep it very simple. With students focused on the emotion they are singing, they
become much less self conscious about the sounds they are making. It is pretty
Storytelling First. Technique Later.
While I generally work technically first with an older student, with little students,
storytelling is the first thing we address when moving into a song. “What's happening in the story?” “What is the mood of the story?” “Does the mood change in the story?” “What is the most important part of the story?” “How does the story make you feel?” These are some of the questions that I ask as we begin. As we dive into these
questions and address them in the song, many technical problems become non- issues,
especially those dealing with tension and breath. Again, I will give them small
technical prompts if necessary, but I keep it very simple and try not to give them
more than one at a time. Often just by adding a gesture to the story, even if we only
use it temporarily, we can fix a problem without actually talking about the problem.
This can be especially helpful in transitioning through registers.
With little people whose bodies are constantly changing, the best thing that I can do
as a teacher, is to help them feel freedom and joy in their singing. I have had great results with this approach, and I hope it will be helpful for you.