Graded Development

There is such a thing as learning to sing step by step. Most singing teachers don’t know which exercises are difficult and which are easy. They don’t know what kinds of things are vocally challenging for everyone and what’s only difficult for certain students. They can’t decide what kind of progress is slow, rapid or average (until they have been teaching for years).

The advantage of teaching for over 150,000 hours is that you have heard a lot of people sing a lot of exercises for a long long time. If you have your eyes and ears open you can’t help but notice patterns. The patterns between individual singers, in different voice categories, doing different styles at different stages of their lives. You notice what happens that’s typical, what happens that is unusual and all sorts of stuff that varies but not chaotically. It’s like studying the ocean. The ocean is the same all over the planet. It’s just one big body of water broken up by land, right? If you ask an oceanographer, I would venture to say that this answer would not suffice. Even sailors know this isn’t really the whole truth.

If most people who teach singing don’t learn how to teach singing (and most don’t), but just sing and go by what they were taught and what worked for them, it’s no wonder that there is confusion. If you are someone who has only sailed in a small boat in Long Island Sound for all of your life, then  teaching someone else how to captain a tug boat in New York Harbor or sail an ocean liner in the Caribbean wouldn’t be a good match.

The point of studying different approaches to singing is to develop a broader base, a wider perspective, a more diversified skill set in order to be useful to all sorts of students. If you do not know how normal voices function, you will not know what to do with a voice that is unhealthy or unhappy. If you do not understand kinesthetic learning or intellectual process you will throw exercises at students thinking that one of them might “stick” and be helpful. Of course, if it doesn’t, you can always blame the student for his or her inadequacies.

If you ask second graders to do calculus and they fail, is that their fault? If you ask a beginning vocalist to sing a song that has all sorts of difficulties (for any number of reasons) and they can’t sing it well, is that the student’s fault? If you are mystified as to what’s wrong, or what to do to make it better, go take a course in pedagogy. Anywhere. Just go.

CCM Institute, Shenandoah Conservatory, Winchester, VA. July 12-14, 2014.


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