Voice lessons are an expensive necessity for anyone who is serious about singing. Many singers sacrifice significantly in other areas of their life to be able to afford lessons, so it is important to super-size your experience and get the very most out of every minute. Below are some ways to get the most value for your investment:
1. Discuss your problem areas – ask your teacher what s/he thinks are the areas of your voice that need the most improvement or that are holding you back in some way. If the teacher believes it makes sense to focus on those for a while, that can be a very helpful way to get a jump-start on your technical development. Remember, some problems are secondary symptoms of other, more basic issues, so it makes more sense to address the basic issues first.
2. Voice your needs – don’t be afraid to ask for what you need of your teacher. If one vocalese or technical concept was particularly helpful for you during a lesson and the teacher wants to move on to something else, feel free to ask nicely if the lesson can focus on that concept. It is your time and the teacher should want to solidify a helpful concept. But be flexible – the teacher might be reinforcing the concept in a different way. Open, polite communication between teacher and student is important.
3. Don’t forget support – support or breath resistance is the Rock of Gibraltar of a wonderful vocal technique. Jaw, tongue, lip and throat tension are all secondary symptoms of a lack of correct breath resistance. Merely working on other technical aspects without improving breath resistance directly or indirectly is just shuffling around the problem. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Ask your teacher if it is ok to focus on breath resistance for a while and see what other problems improve as a result.
4. Ask questions – the lesson time is yours, so if you are unsure about a concept or the goal of a vocalese, ask respectfully for clarification. In the voice lesson, you need to get all the information you can to inform your own practice until the next lesson. Every singer is really his/her own teacher. The voice teacher is your guide, helping you gradually learn how to teach yourself. It is important that you are clear about what you need to do. A good teacher will be happy to answer questions and clarify the technical aspects for you.
5. Ask for practice advice – ask your teacher how s/he would recommend that you practice on your own and why. Ask for specifics regarding practicing both vocaleses and repertoire. You might get a good deal of special information and insight into his/her technical approach from the answer.
6. Record the lesson or take notes – it is nigh well impossible to remember everything that was said during a voice lesson. Sometimes it is even difficult to remember one of the new vocaleses only a few hours afterwards! Make sure to write down this precious information, along with any special advice, tips, concepts, etc. It might feel like this takes time away from singing during the lesson, which is does, but it allows you to use information from the lesson to practice much more effectively over the long-run. If you record your lesson and listen to it later, take the time to write copious notes at that point. The more details you record, the more information you have to help you teach yourself.
7. Know before you go – don’t waste precious lesson time having the teacher play the melody for you to learn. Voice lessons are about learning vocal technique and applying it to repertoire. Learning music in a lesson is a waste of time and money. Make sure you are musically prepared and are completely ready focus on your technique instead.
8. Be open to new ideas – the more flexible and open you are to trying new concepts and letting go of your old, familiar habits, the more quickly you will be able to progress and make positive, technical changes. Just be willing to try each new idea a few times and see what happens. You might surprise yourself! If something consistently doesn’t feel good, let the teacher know clearly and politely. S/he should then adapt and take another approach.
9. Take judgment out of the equation – your voice teacher is there to support your technical growth and offer helpful information. S/he isn’t there to judge. You should also try not to judge yourself. The learning process is not automatic. It takes lots of time, patience, trial-and-error and senses of both humility and humor. Be willing to make mistakes – that is the best way to learn.
10. Be healthy – make sensible dietary choices the day before and day of a lesson. If you have a dairy allergy, stay away from yogurt. Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol and excess coffee. Also, stay out of drafts and make sure not to strain your voice.
11. Energize – since singing is a physical activity and requires bodily energy, try to go to your lesson with your body awake and ready to do a little work. This can be difficult if you sit in front of a computer all day. Take a few minutes right before your lesson to take a quick walk or do some other type of physical activity. That way you won’t have to wake up your body, as well as get your coordination for singing to work.
12. Get the big picture – your voice teacher should have a plan in mind for your vocal development and should be able to explain this to you in a positive, supportive way. You can always ask what this plan is, in order to understand the big picture of your vocal development from the teacher’s point of view. Since every student is different and a teacher can’t know ahead of time your ability to incorporate the various technical concepts into your vocal technique, your teacher’s plan for you will be flexible and contingent upon how you progresw. However, your teacher should have clear goals for you and ways to achieve them in mind. If your teacher is unable to articulate this plan or can’t put a positive spin on it, that could be a warning sign that the teacher is only working on parts of your technique and not taking the development of your whole instrument into account. This is a problematic approach and to be avoided.
For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com