Surviving the Voice Studio

 

It would be wonderful if every voice teacher out there truly loved to teach, had the student’s best interest in mind and selflessly wanted to serve the great cause of continuing the vocal pedagogical traditions of the past by training singers to reach their ultimate potential.  Alas, that is not always the case.  There are a number of excellent voice teachers currently teaching, but there are also a number of poor ones, who are either burnt out, discouraged, lacking technical skills both in singing and teaching, inexperienced with different voice types and vocal issues or simply settling for teaching after a career of singing.  There is not much that can be done about this situation in general, but you, the singer, have to remember that you are always in control of what you do and who you study with.

I have seen so many students feel that they cannot leave a teacher’s studio for various and sundry reasons, even when they are not happy or are not getting what they need from the teacher.  Since voice lessons are one-on-one, students build up relationships with their teachers, feel a certain amount of loyalty and are reluctant to hurt the teacher’s feelings.  It is very awkward to leave a teacher’s studio and maintain a positive, on-going relationship with that teacher.  But it is possible if framed in the right way.

You never want to blame a teacher.  Blame just opens the door for negativity and the blame will come back to you.  I myself experienced this twice when I was very young, decided to switch teachers and naively told them in person.  The teachers in question took it very personally and lashed out by telling me I did not have any talent, which was extremely hurtful for me and took me years to get past.  If you want to maintain a good relationship after leaving, it is best to compliment the teacher effusively, point out all of the help s/he has given you and express your sincere gratitude, while stating clearly that you think it is time to move on and try another teacher to see what it would be like.  The other option would be to take a break from lessons, try another teacher in the interim and then later on let the old teacher know, while emphasizing how much wonderful help that teacher had given to you with your technique.  Here some stretching of the truth and even a few white lies might be necessary adjuncts to the process, but are a small sacrifice to protect your own sense emotional well-being.

Identifying bad teachers, strangely enough, is often challenging for singers.  The old belief is that a singer needs to give a teacher six months to see if the technique is going to be helpful or not.  I no longer believe that.  A teacher who understands the roots of vocal issues and has the appropriate tools to solve them can help students make positive changes in a much shorter period of time.  That does not mean that major technical issues can be completely eradicated in such a short period, but they can certainly be heading in the right direction and the student should definitely feel a positive difference.  As I have said before, if you are not singing better or feel that things are getting worse, you need to change.  You can not afford the wasted time, wasted money and build-up of bad muscle memory.  Only a couple of months of bad instruction can take up to a year to correct or even more.

Identifying emotionally abusive teachers is also difficult for singers, especially those that grew up in less-than-ideal homes.  Both teachers and singers can end up unconsciously playing out physic dramas from their childhoods without being aware of what is going on.  I remember a talented student of mine who seemed to struggle with her own demons at each lesson, casting me in a role of mother, sister or friend as she saw fit, even though I was always extremely clear about that fact that I was merely a teacher, passing along helpful vocal information and rooting for her to improve and succeed vocally.  Singers who experienced abuse of some type can grow to expect and accept it from teachers in the voice studio, where it has no rightful place, or assume that it is a necessary part of the process.  The teacher’s authority role also encourages singers to acquiesce to a teacher’s behavior, even when it is uncomfortable.  I have a colleague who seems to seek out teachers with whom she can have a dysfunctional relationship, shunning more upbeat and positive teachers time and time again.  Try to take a good look at yourself and see if there is a pattern of your voice teacher experiences that needs to be addressed and changed.

It is a tragic fact that sexual abuse in varying levels is also not uncommon in voice studios.  A male voice teacher of mine in college often made female students uncomfortable with looks and comments, but even worse, had a blatant affair with one of his students, even though his wife was also on the music faculty.  Clearly that was a terrible abuse of power and damaging for the poor young woman in question.  This type of behavior by any teacher is completely unprofessional, unacceptable and deserving of legal remedies.  You definitely do not need to feel preyed upon to receive good technical instruction.  Run away and don’t look back.

If you are in a studio where you are made to feel unworthy, untalented, ashamed, abused, etc., chances are you need to leave right away.  The emotional damage of the situation outweighs any positive vocal progress taking place.  Singers can not be free to produce the best technical sound when weighed down by abuse and negativity – the voice is far too interconnected with the emotions to allow that.  There are always other teachers and other options for you, even if you can not see them right away.  Trust that you will find the right teacher and do your due diligence – on-line research, chatting with friends and colleagues, etc. to find a new and better teacher.

Most singers, sad to say, have had at least one bad teacher as they were studying.  It is crucial that you understand one thing.  Bad teaching is not your fault!  You do not deserve it and it has no reflection on your abilities as a singer.  Since the experience is so common, the best you can do is identify the problem as quickly as possible and change to a new and better teacher, doing whatever you need to do to make the transition as painless as possible for everyone concerned.  Also, it is important for you to understand that it is not your role to take care of the voice teacher, except as a way to buffer yourself from repercussions and negativity.  Voice teachers should be used to the fact that students come and go.  It is the nature of the work.

As I have discussed before in my article, How Singers Get in Their Own Way, therapy can be extremely important aid for singers.  If you have been in an abusive or negative voice studio, consider talking about your experience with a friendly neutral therapist.  It is definitely possible to heal from bad experiences in the voice studio, but you need to take the initiative and get what you need to move on in a positive, uplifted way.

 

For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com

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