How Singing Teachers Think

The hardest thing to change is someone’s mind.

People “get married” to their own ideas. They invest in them and their validity. They build a case for the “rightness” of them and then proceed to make everything they encounter either fit in with their thinking or just reject it because it doesn’t.

I have run into this first hand many times. After presenting, I typically talk to people. Often they will tell me that they totally agreed with what I said only to go on and explain what they do and it’s totally different! I did a talk and teaching demo in London in front of a prominent teacher. I was very careful to point out the technical, auditory and musical differences between chest, mix and head registers, and how important it is to know those differences when working with students. Her comments to me where about how much she agreed with what I do and how she does that “chesty, mixy, heady thing” with all her students. From what I knew of her teaching, I was sure that the “thing” was all one thing – of some sort! She rarely dealt with technique at all.

People who go through a formal pedagogy program may or may not be exposed to different points of view about how to teach classical singing. In some courses there is comparison, but in others, there really isn’t. As of yet there is only one pedagogy course taught at the master’s and doctoral levels (mine). We can’t have “comparative pedagogy” for CCM styles yet as there are no other courses with which to compare, at least not at a university level. Nevertheless, being taught by someone who has a “this is the way it is” mindset, gives you the same mindset. Few are taught, “this might be a good way, but there might be others that are equally good, but different”.

Since I always say the only thing classical singing teachers agree upon is “breath support” and “resonance”, and that even those two topics are fraught with argument, there is clearly a mindset prevailing that says, “you have to know these things”. How about coming to teaching with different ideas? Ideas that are really outside of anyone’s box? What’s in the world beyond breath support and resonance?

When Picasso was a boy, he studied painting from his father, a fine artist. By the time he was 15 he had mastered the “old” realistic kind of painting. He must have been bored. He had to break out of that traditional box, and, we all know, he absolutely did. Of course, he was reviled before he was honored and he was mocked before he was praised. Comes with the territory. Still, the people who go outside the box are few and far between.

Really unique thinking is unique! It takes a creative mind, a kind of boldness, a sense of curiosity, a dedication to experimentation, a keen awareness of the world in which you are living (professionally) and a commitment to discovering new ways that work. This does not mean, however, that you decide that any idea you have is “revolutionary” and “radical”. No, it means that you compare what you have discovered with all else that is out there, and recognizing that, decide that there is nothing else like that in existence. If what you have found is so far out that it makes no sense to anyone but you, then you haven’t discovered anything but your own ego. THAT happens a lot. If, however, what you have done is turn the information available around so that it operates in a way that demands a new way of thinking and behaving, then you have something.

If you teach singing, ask yourself: Am I quoting my teachers without knowing why? Am I spouting a rote answer I read somewhere? Am I telling my student something that I was told that I never really checked out myself? Have I said the same thing to dozens of students over and over without coming up with a new way to put it? Am I giving an answer I made up, based entirely on my own personal experience without checking it with any other authority for validity? Am I saying something that I know is accurate because I have expressed the same thought to other experts who have corroborated my idea? How am I listening? What values do I bring to what I hear? Where did I get those values? What makes them “right”?

Do I ask myself these questions? Yes, I still do and I always did. Take no one’s word. Assume nothing. Search things out for your own truth. Be open. Think, as they say, “different”.

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2 thoughts on “How Singing Teachers Think”

  1. I was trying to find a teacher in Texas in this method to pass/recommend one of my students to as he will reside in Texas permanently now (I teach S. Jersey) and he wants to continue his study. I was totally surprised that none of these websites offer a list of somatic voice teachers in different geographic areas!!!!

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