Challenge your own beliefs, and maybe even those of your teacher!

A new year has started, and it’s all about resolutions. I stopped linking them to January 1st a long time ago, because I really believe you can make changes any time you want to. One of my goals as a singing teacher has always been, and always will be, to become better at what I do.

I hopefully already know a few things (otherwise I really shouldn’t teach people!), but I never stop learning – there are still questions, and I am still looking for answers. Sometimes we simply have to admit we don’t know – personally, I don’t feel there is any shame in it, it merely depends on how we deal with it. If we don’t know, we have to find out. It keeps us on our toes and ultimately makes us a better teacher.

Most teachers and singers I know are very similar. Every so often, you stumble across the ones though who get defensive if you disagree with them. It’s as if questioning things is a personal insult, when in fact it should be seen as a chance to widen your horizon and explore new things.

If a student questions the things I say or do, I am usually quite excited about it, because someone pays attention. They try to understand, they think for themselves. This is the best way to learn. Of course there needs to be a basic amount of trust between student and teacher, and if you mistrust everything your teachers suggests, you might want to look for someone else. In general though, asking questions is always good.

If another teacher/voice professional questions what I say, I feel quite similar about it. I think about what they have to say, and three conclusions are possible:

  1. They are right and I was wrong. All the better for me, because I can adjust my thinking and teaching.
  2. I believe they are wrong, and I don’t change my view. Still, even behind this, there is a thinking- and evaluation process.
  3. We could both be right/wrong, or there is simply no easy answer to it. Maybe both approaches are valid, depending on context. Good as well, because it makes you want to find the answer in the long run, or it opens your eyes to how other people work.

Far more often than anything else, 3. will actually be the case.

A common cause for arguments is how much a teacher should know about the physiology of singing, or indeed human anatomy (or even acoustics).

First of all, I believe a singer doesn’t necessarily have to know these things, they should mainly feel (both on a physical and emotional level): Tune into what feels right, how it improves your sound, and how you make an emotional connection. You don’t necessarily need to be able to name the body parts involved, or what happens physically. Just be aware that using your own mental and imagery and “going by feeling” might be something that only works for you, but it might not work for others. If you don’t understand why it works for you, it’s a plain silly thing to recommend it to others, because it might have an adverse effect on their voices – or none at best.

As a teacher on the other hand, it has always been my firm belief that you need to know the basics of voice production/physiology to help your students efficiently. And some of the absolute basics are really not so hard to understand if you make an effort. Sadly, some people are not willing to make that effort, and I ask myself why.

As a voice professional, I obviously read countless books on the matter of voice production and singing. Many of them are very good (which doesn’t mean I need to agree with every last detail), but some are just badly (or not at all) researched – there is really no other word for it.

Don’t get me wrong – we don’t always get it right, none of us. We learn more and more as we go along (or end up with even more questions).

A singing teacher is neither a physician, nor a biologist or physicist. I personally don’t think they have to know every tiniest detail normally within the realms of specialists like physicists (where acoustics are concerned) or laryngologists. If you are a voice researcher, you will have your field of specialism and will look at things in great detail – that’s different and great, and we all profit from it in the end.
As a singing teacher, you don’t need that amount of in depth-knowledge. You need to get the basics straight however – everything on top of that certainly doesn’t harm and is a bonus.

If you don’t know these basics, you will always only teach the things which helped yourself (and you might even produce some very good students with this approach), but you will never understand why they simply don’t work for others. The job of a vocal coach/singing teacher though is to solve ANY vocal problem, not just selected ones they experienced themselves.

In the days of Internet and easily accessible information, you will find “answers” to almost any vocal problem very quickly. I would just urge everyone however to really look behind it in as much detail as they possibly can. There is a lot of good, sound and well researched information out there – but also an awful lot of really bad advice. The fact it comes from a “top industry professional” doesn’t necessarily make it a good one. They might still be really great educators in person because they have a lot of empathy and people skills, and are able to bring out the best in a singer who already has a good base to work with. You don’t get that element though if you just read their books or articles.

Which gets me to the final point: Question this one as well 😉

© Petra Raspel 2012

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