Listening To Students As If They Have Something To Say

I have had occasions in a lesson where the student mentioned something that was calling his attention which seemed to me to be of little import. A student might say, “When I sing that sound, I feel a kind of funny pulling in my neck, up by the base of my skull.” In looking at the student, I might not see any tension or misalignment in their head/neck and I might not hear anything significant in their sound, but I note the feedback and say something general like, “Well, maybe as we go along and things get a bit easier, the tension back there will let up. Are you OK to go on anyway and see what happens?” If the student says yes (and that is the typical response), we go on and do not dwell on this issue. Sometimes, it indeed “just goes away” as we continue to sing.

If, however, it comes up again in another lesson, I might stop and give it more attention the second time and say to the student, “OK, let’s try massaging that area a bit and do some neck stretches”. I proceed to show the exercises and have the student do them, and we talk about how they are working. Then perhaps we go to the vocal exercises with an awareness of that area while singing, but, again, if it isn’t making an obvious difference (to me) I will ask the student to move on anyway and work on it here and there during practice.

If the same response surfaces a third time, I really pay attention and we spend some significant amount of time in that area of the body, doing massage, movement, adjustments and talking about how this particular area could be giving the same message over and over. We talk about what it could be from historically (and old injury? a fall? an accident? something more recent?) and we discuss what kind of body work would be effective and what sorts of things could address the issue in other ways, outside of lessons. Then, throughout the rest of the lesson, we really focus on that area, searching for ways to sing that do not incur this response. I might give him the names of bodyworkers I recommend or ask him to buy a certain book about a specific body discipline.

All of this is important. The first thing it does is allow the student to notice what is going on in the body while he sings. It allows him to share his feedback that at least some small part of him is unhappy and that he is noticing that. It allows him to know that the issue isn’t being diminished but that we are not worried about it immediately either. It opens the door to having him share other things that come up in his mind that he might want to inquire about and validates the idea that it’s always OK to share anything that he would like to communicate, whether or not it makes sense to anyone else.

The second thing it does is let him know that he has a right to his own experience, good or bad, and that having it is part of owning his authority as a person, an artist, and a vocalist in particular. It means that he is more likely to share something else next time because his first feedback was not dismissed nor ignored. The “don’t bother me with your questions, just trust me and sing” attitude is not something I like in anyone, and I certainly don’t want to teach from that mindset. I do not know more about what someone else is experiencing in his own body than he does.

The third thing it does is acknowledge that sometimes the body has gotten into a “funny” situation that can’t be handled directly in a singing lesson but that needs to be handled somewhere outside the lesson if the singing is to proceed to a better place. This is a crucial piece of information for the singer to have. Things go astray in the body all the time and we need to see to it that our “parts” like each other and cooperate so they can “play nice”. If you have reflux, spinal issues, severe allergies, old injuries from dance or sports, a family history of hoarseness, or any other factor that could impact your vocal well-being, you need to see the requisite experts for help until you can address and solve those issues that compromise your body. Medical advice, yes, but not just medical advice. There are a whole host of people out there to help you feel and experience your body until it gets better.

If a student brings something up, I listen. I will do my best to give that question, thought or perception some time, investigating it with some degree of seriousness, even if it seems to me to not be particularly important. Sometimes, in doing this, I have discovered problems that were just beneath the surface that I might have missed had I not honored the student’s feedback. Sometimes, it has opened the door to an entire new kind of awareness and I end up learning something important alongside the student.

If a student is uncomfortable and says so, pay attention, even if you do not see or hear discomfort. If the student says that something is wrong, even if you do not see or hear anything wrong, pay attention. If the student says that something is coming up on a regular basis, even if you do not see or hear anything in what is being sung that is causing a problem, please PAY ATTENTION! Somatic Voicework™ is somatic for a reason. Learn to trust your students and they will trust you, without you having to ask.


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