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Why Is Teaching Voice So Challenging?


Shortly after graduating college, I made the disappointing discovery that I was not making enough of an income from performing to make ends meet.  A friend recommended me for a teaching position at the local music store and I was offered a full day of teaching private voice students.  Although my focus at school was performance, I was truly excited to work with young vocalists in the private music studio. I had studied with many wonderful and talented voice teachers; toured Europe with the Toronto Children’s Chorus, had almost 10 years of recording studio and performing experience and graduated with honours from a first class music program. I thought that teaching voice would be easy!   I will never forget my first day of teaching.  It was miserable.

My student roster was incredibly challenging.  I had very young students who ran around my studio, banging on the piano and refusing to participate in vocal warm ups.  There were pre-teens who were so shy that it was impossible to get them to open their mouths.  I had teenagers who wanted to sing – er- scream aggressive “emo” music. Then the adults who just wanted a lesson or two just to get some “tips”.  Most of my students came into the lessons completely empty handed.  I spent a lot of lesson time writing instructions into the student’s dictation book. I also found it frustrating dealing with parents who were uninterested and unsupportive of my efforts or their child’s progress.

In amongst this motley crew of singers I had one beginner piano student.  This was the one student that I enjoyed teaching.  This private student had a piano lesson book.  The musical concepts were organized and presented in easy weekly lessons.  We worked easily thru the lesson book, playing songs and learning music theory. I saw noticeable progress with my piano student and I really enjoyed teaching her!

This wasn’t the case for my vocal students.  No matter how hard I tried, my singers did not make notable progress.  I thought I was a “modern” teacher by letting students determine the direction of the lessons. I thought I was “cool” by allowing them to choose their favorite songs to sing.  No matter how hard I tried, most students only took lessons for a few months then quit. 

This is an accurate picture of my first couple of years of private instruction.  I was incredibly frustrated. I was committed to providing quality lessons and I knew that I had a lot of experience to share – but it wasn’t working.  Teaching voice was a part time job that I hated.

Why is teaching singing so difficult?! I decided to talk to other voice teachers. I call it a “research project” now, but back then it was a desperate cry for help. I inquired about their personal teaching philosophies, how they structured a half hour lesson and what repertoire they used with their students.  I also asked if and how they taught important skills like ear-training and sight singing. This was very eye opening!  I soon learned that regardless of educational background, years of experience or teaching philosophy -  every voice teacher faces very unique challenges in the private lesson studio. 

Talking to other teachers gave me a lot of confidence and inspiration.  It was reassuring to learn that I was not alone in these challenges, and sharing ideas with other teachers was incredibly helpful for me and my students. With this insight I developed a teaching style and philosophy that worked for me and my students. Frustrated with the lack of teaching resources for young vocal students, I started developing one page exercise/activity sheets to use with my students.  Students liked the organized curriculum and to my surprise, parents became more interested and supportive about their children’s music lessons. Lesson coordinators had to put new students that wanted to study with me on a waiting list.  I raised my teaching rates.  I started teaching full time, not because I needed the money but because I found that teaching had become passion for me, a rewarding career that I was excited about.

The FULL VOICE® workbooks were the result of the continued research and sharing of ideas between private and classroom music teachers, students and parents.  My colleague Mim Adams and I researched and developed the series specifically for teachers working with young students. Our mandate for the workbooks was to provide teachers and students a musical resource that assists in the development of healthy vocal technique, strong vocal ability and musicianship.  We worked very hard to create a workbook that respected a voice teacher’s unique teaching style, and musical preferences while offering an organized curriculum that helped young singers learn the language of music in a fun and educational method.

You can check out free sample lessons from every workbook at our website and try them with your students.  Happy teaching!

Nikki Loney RMT, resides in Toronto and is author of the FULL VOICE WORKBOOK SERIES

By Nikki Loney, RMT
Date Posted : 8/26/2010
Why Is Teaching Voice So Challenging?
A Music Teacher’s Guide to Getting Ready for the School Year
Musical Icebreaker Activities for the classroom!
It’s all about the Preparation!