Most singing teachers are alone in their studios with their students. Most singers are alone when they practice. This isn’t a particularly good situation for either.
If you are in a big city, you can do what I am doing now, which is renting a studio in a public studio rental location. I am in mid-town Manhattan, in the theater district, at a place that has auditions, rehearsals, and lessons going on all day every day. It is similar to being in a university conservatory where all the practice rooms are right next to each other and some of the sounds being made in each studio bleed through into the studios alongside. I am renting space, instead of teaching in my apartment, because I am in the midst of changing some things at home. I haven’t done this in three years, and it’s always a good experience because it startles me into being more in touch with the real world of teaching singing.
It’s hard not to be totally distracted by what I hear through the walls. Yesterday I heard a young soprano running through some classical piece I didn’t recognize. The sound was disconnected from any semblance of emotion or communication and had a fairly wide and uneven vibrato. Even through the walls it wasn’t something you would ever want to have to pay to hear. Down the hall, there was a man singing one of the Verdi arias. He was a baritone but he was singing in a wooden heavy sound that wasn’t too bad at full volume in mid range but his high notes were belted, without modified vowels. I could hear a faint voice, (no words) mumbling something in between, (I assumed this was the teacher or coach) and then he would begin again in the same way. Today, I heard a young woman with a female speaking in between. She had a boy soprano sound, thin and high and started out well enough, although the sound would only have been useful if she had, indeed, been a boy soprano. It gradually gave out on her, tightening more each time she repeated the vocal exercise she was doing, until finally the high notes were off pitch and then just cut off as she attempted them. This was followed by her working on “On My Own” from Les Miz. A worse song you could not possibly find for someone with this voice to attempt to sing.
I assume that these vocalists are paying for teaching/coaching and maybe also for the room. I can’t help but think that none of this has to be happening. Things would be quite different if we had a world in which truthful information about creating new vocal behavior was as easily available as information obtained on the web on all kinds of other topics. Of course, it’s true that there is “information” about singing available in cyberspace, much of it is less than useless.
Exercises for the voice are stimuli. They are meant to elicit a response and therefore lead to new or different vocal function. The exercises have to be used correctly and the teacher has to know what response he or she wishes to prompt in the student’s throat or body in order to choose the appropriate pattern of pitch, vowel and volume. Most teachers just guess. Others assume they know what the student should be doing, so they attempt to go there directly. This usually causes manipulated change, not genuine freely produced vocal adjustment.
If you live in a city, see if you can rent space where you might sit in the middle of a bunch of singing teachers and just listen for a while. If you live in an area near a college or school, ask if you can observe some teachers. If you can go to a conference where you will watch people teach, attend as many teaching sessions as you can. You will see and hear all kinds of things that purport to be singing instruction and you will realize that much of what passes for teaching is just guessing. Sometimes, if the student is intelligent and musical, motivated and creative, guessing can work. Trial and error is valid in certain circumstances. You will also encounter lots of things that are nonsensical, useless, confusing, convoluted, unnecessarily complex, and just plain stupid that are perpetrated on unsuspecting singing students. You will find hapless students who are paying to struggle with instruction that is not illuminating their path (educate comes from “educare” which in Latin means to draw out or point the way), and in fact makes things obscure and mystifying. Do this so that you will remember how important it is for you who teach to know what you are doing.
Lest We Forget: Above All DO NO HARM.