I have often written about the responsibilities of the teacher in the voice studio, but the voice student has responsibilities as well. When both the teacher and the student are abiding by the unspoken agreement between them, things go along swimmingly. However if the student is not aware of what is expected and needed of him or her, it can definitely create friction and over time a bad feeling on the part of the teacher. Here I will explain the most important aspects that the student needs to understand and honor during the voice lesson process.
Respect the teacher
Growing up as the daughter of two excellent teachers with very different styles of teaching, I was always taught to respect and revere the teaching profession and those who devoted their lives to educating others. It frankly never occurred to me to do anything else. However not everyone was taught that lesson. Students sometimes treat a teacher without the respect s/he deserves. I have experienced students in my studio who range from subtly to more openly disrespectful, despite the fact that their voices were quickly and consistently improving. There were a number of reasons for this type of behavior. Inexperience is by far the biggest one, along with the lack of understanding the extent of technical progress, sexism, ageism (when I was younger than the student), trust issues and, sad to say, a lack of respect for themselves.
Respect for the teacher is extremely important for a healthy relationship to develop between teacher and student. One of the fastest ways to anger a teacher and even lose your place in the teacher’s studio is to be disrespectful. Yes, there are bad teachers out there. There are mediocre teachers out there. But there are also some excellent teachers and you will not know which type of teacher you have until you have had a few lessons and experienced that teacher’s approach. If a teacher has devoted his or her life to classical music by developing his or her own voice over decades, studying hard to learn all of the complex information surrounding the art song and operatic repertoire and sacrificing physical comforts for the sake of art, he or she has a great deal of specialized knowledge that deserves respect. Certain teachers might not be able to teach their way out of a paper bag, but they still deserve respect for the extensive knowledge they do possess. It is up to the student to realize that the teacher does not have helpful technical information to pass along and then quietly leave the studio. Usually the student has to try working with the teacher first to find out if a teacher can help, though hearing the teacher sing can also often be an indicator.
If you are having a lesson with a new teacher, it is assumed that you are there to learn a small piece of what the teacher has to offer. It is best therefore to be as open and receptive as possible and try the new exercises and approaches that the teacher recommends. However, and this is a big caveat, do not do something that goes against your understanding of good singing and that you believe will damage your voice. You will not know what these concepts are until you have more experience as a singer, but use your best judgment and trust your gut feeling about the situation. If a vocalese feels worse and worse, stop and let the teacher know. The teacher should offer some adjustments, an explanation or move quickly to a different exercise. If the teacher gets defensive and insists that you continue despite your discomfort, that is a warning sign. Singing should always feel comfortable and it can be risky to continue singing an exercise when you feel any discomfort.
You should always feel able to ask questions of a voice teacher, but make sure do it in a respectful way. You can ask for clarification, ask what the technical concept behind the exercise is, etc., but do it with a sense of inquisitiveness and interest. Be aware that, without enough technical understanding of the teacher’s approach, the question itself might be difficult to answer or you might not understand the answer completely. Continuing to ask question after question in those situations offers nothing helpful for you, wastes your lesson time and frustrates the teacher. It implies a lack of trust. Singing and experiencing the new sensations is extremely important and often more important when starting with a new teacher than intellectual understanding of the concepts. Try it first and let the experience of singing help teach you the concepts.
If a teacher asks you to do something that directly conflicts with what you have been taught previously, you can always say that you learned a different concept than the one being introduced and ask how the new concept will work with your current technique. Vocal techniques are not modular. They are not meant to work in pieces, interchanged at will. They were designed to work as a whole, so it is important that all of the parts of the technique will work well together. It is possible that you will have to learn a different coordination for a number of different areas of your vocal mechanism when learning a new technique. If the teacher offers a good explanation for why the new concept is important and has a clear understanding of how to build a technique as a whole, it is worth trying for a few lessons and seeing what the changes are. If you don’t feel comfortable with it after trying it, continue to be respectful throughout the lesson and then consider looking for another teacher. Never expect the teacher to change his or her technique for you.
As a teacher, I have had to refuse lessons to a small handful of students who were consistently disrespectful to me. Thankfully, they were by far the minority. Most students come in with a respectful attitude and are willing to learn. Those who have been leery from previous bad experiences with voice teachers usually become much more open and trusting when they feel definite, consistent progress is being made. Only the students who allow their own preconceived ideas and emotional baggage to get in the way have been problematic for me.
When I started teaching full-time, I realized why so many voice teachers seemed arrogant, as if their students should be lucky to study with them. When a teacher behaves that way, it is more likely that students will give him or her respect. And it actually works! Students do tend to be respectful of teachers who brag about their own accomplishments, the famous teachers they had or the famous singers with whom they performed. But teachers shouldn’t have to be arrogant to gain their students respect. It is entirely possible to have a healthy teacher-student relationship built on mutual respect. However, students need to remember that the teacher is the guide and authority figure. By following these guidelines, you will be following correct etiquette for the voice studio, showing respect for your teacher and earning your teacher’s respect as well.
Honor the lesson time
Students should make sure to schedule lessons at a time they know works for their schedule and then honor that appointment. Make it your priority. Teachers are professionals and deserve to have lesson times kept. Rescheduling occasionally is fine, but don’t make a habit of it. Teachers have their own system for scheduling students and also have lives they need to live. They usually can’t teach an early bird at 9 am and then finish teaching at 9 pm. Lessons have to be grouped together. For busy studios, you need to be flexible in order to get a time. Think about what is feasible for you and then make a commitment to that time. Remember, a 24-hour cancellation is required by many teachers. There are always emergencies, but if you have to cancel last minute, be prepared to pay for the time you reserved.
The other reason to honor the lesson time is financial. Teachers make their livelihood from their work and need to have financial stability like everyone else. If they expect to have six students on one day and three students end up cancelling the day before, that is a huge difference in income. Would you like to have your income cut in half? Perhaps there were other students who would have wanted to schedule a lesson during those times, but couldn’t. Be aware that consistent cancellations might result in no longer having a place in the studio.
Be on time/Leave on time
It is important to be on time for your lesson and to arrive ready to sing. This isn’t always possible, but you should always strive to do so. Your lesson time is valuable and you want to make the most of it. Arriving windblown and panting from exertion means you won’t be able to sing vocally well for the first five minutes and it can ruin the sense of calm necessary for good singing for even longer. Also, arrive hydrated and with a bottle of water, unless the teacher normally provides that.
Make sure to arrive just on time for the lesson, not early. You don’t want to disrupt another lesson taking place. This can entail waiting outside for a few minutes, killing time. If you are running late, call, text or e-mail to let the teacher know, but don’t expect a response. The teacher is very likely teaching another lesson and won’t get your message until your lesson time starts.
Also, make sure to leave the lesson on time. Once the hour is over, try to pack up very quickly and head out. If there is another lesson, that student needs to start on time. Even if the teacher does not have another student, the teacher has things to do and needs to move on. If you have questions, notate them and save them for the next lesson or ask to extend the lesson, if possible, and pay for the extra time. This is another way of respecting the teacher by respecting the teacher’s time.
Let the teacher run the lesson
It can be tempting for students who have studied previously to want to dictate the approach of the lesson. This is always possible and if you do that, you will certainly get what you want. However, you will most likely not get what you need. You are there for the teacher’s expert opinion, after all. If you simply do what you want, you will not be benefiting from that opinion. Voice lessons are about being challenged and expanding your understanding of your voice and technique. Repeating what you already know keeps you in safe territory and will limit your growth. The teacher can better hear what needs to be addressed in your voice. Trust the teacher and try his or her approach, so you can find out if it helps you.
Keep your bad day/bad mood outside of studio
It is tempting to walk into the voice studio after a bad day and vent. Just about everyone has done it at one time or another, especially if the teacher is friendly. Try not to vent, if you can. It wastes lesson time and crosses over into territory better addressed by a therapist. A Russian piano and violin teacher I know who works with a lot of children always tells her students, “Leave bad mood outside door for lesson.” I thought this was great advice. The lesson is a special place. Music is magical, healing, uplifting and transforming. Singing also transports us to a much better, more beautiful place. Let singing and the music wash away the negativity, so you can enjoy your lesson.
This etiquette for the voice studio is how professional singers act (or should act) during rehearsal periods and performances. It is the industry standard and therefore, is well worth integrating into your life as part of your professional development while still studying and honing your craft.
For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com