I have been teaching from the onset of my third year of formal studies in voice during my Bachelor of Music Degree, Honors Voice. I was nineteen when I set up my first private studio as a university student. During my undergraduate and graduate studies I was fascinated by vocal pedagogy and sought to absorb a great deal of pedagogical knowledge which has granted a much deeper understanding of how the science of singing illuminates artistic vocal effluence of tone. For years, I have continued to cumulate further knowledge pertaining to teaching which benefits my practice as a professional voice trainer.
A teaching philosophy is amassed over years of experience. With each student, new insights can be divulged. There are innumerable components that can be extrapolated from teaching, particularly in the field of singing. To be an exceptional and effective voice teacher one must understand various learning methods parallel to the subject matter in discussion. I have, through the course of my instruction implemented three main methods of learning: Listening, seeing and touch, or what some might refer to as experiential. In doing so, it is possible to provide a learning environment that reaches students on all levels, especially when dealing with the inward nature of human senses. Each student learns differently, personal experience informs a teacher of this from the beginning of one’s career. Therefore, a teaching setting must inform the student and stimulate the processing of ideas. Because the human voice is an instrument that is not ‘seen’ but ‘heard’, it is imperative that students first learn to interpret various sounds and what the practice of creating tone feels like. This aural perception is the most important sense for humans and has been throughout history. Understanding sound and its meanings has been our shepherd throughout our evolution as a species because it has always been our primary means of communicating with others and the external world around us. We communicate sound to express our needs, desires and emotional state and interpret sound as a means of understanding what various sounds connotate. As human beings, it is conceivable to hear from considerable distances and gauge our own feelings and reactions to sound. These sounds stimulate a pathway of informing ourselves and others of our needs and desires, thus opening the pathway to the exposition of human emotion. Therefore, singing is primarily about the communication of thought and expression of feeling. Processes which are invisible to the human eye and yet acutely clear to the human ear and their complementary sensations within the body itself. As a voice teacher, I choose from a generous range of tools associated with listening (providing examples), seeing (supplementing learning with images, graphs, literature) and touch (having students feel various responses to their individual breathing and sound production). Students then develop a strong perception of processes and sensations in singing.
My goal in each lesson is to facilitate the processes of singing through exercises that optimize responses from the physical and psycho-emotional responses of tone production. Physiological reflexes that are based on primal sound that, when organically produced, promote the functional unity of the voice that was designed by nature. In addition to applying learning methods, one must also challenge the student to identify and explain the processes in singing. Although singing should first be a process of ‘doing’, there is a stage where students must be challenged intellectually. Drawing analogies to physiological responses in singing assist students to understand what is happening. For example: The relationship of the thyroid cartilage drawing down toward the cricoid cartilage during range extension exercises may exemplify the importance of creating laryngeal stability through the suspensory mechanism. Often students require various ways of understanding one specific idea until concept is clear, removing any confusion and/or frustration earlier experienced. A teacher must be patient with students, reinforcing a climate of removing doubt and replacing it with determination! Singing should appear easy, but the process of achieving this stage of vocal professionalism is a dense journey filled with self-discovery. I believe that a teacher of singing is a guide, one where he/she may not only provide great examples of how to sing, but also furnish the students lessons with an atmosphere where taking risks are encouraged in sequence with precise enrichment of scholarly information. This accumulation of discoveries is best suited to a systematic approach toward learning by setting short and long term goals.
Setting goals are useful for many reasons. Teaching the value of goals enables students to find clarity in their direction and what specifically they would like to achieve. Not every singer is going to debut at the Wiener Staatsoper. However, not every singer necessarily wants the life associated with someone who does sing at the Metropolitan Opera. Proactive activity toward a ‘conscious creation’ enables students to realize a dream that suits their vision, no matter how great or small. Students should be reminded to always begin their goals with the end in mind, to think about what lays ahead. As it has been written, all things are created twice: First in the mind, then in the physical world. It’s a concept that I firmly believe in. Goals require thought, risk analysis and execution. By setting goals one becomes a master of singing through practice and deepening one’s focus. This prepares the student for the real world and how it functions. Actions have consequences, and therefore every student benefits from goal setting because it teaches them accountability. In a capitalistic society, one should be aware that a singer can become obsolete without constantly aspiring to be the best they can become through every phase of their career. When students enter their undergraduate degree as a voice major, a teacher is essentially focusing on the potential of the singer. Each person contains the same potential, it must be unlocked, activated, and launched. I strive to provide inspiration to my students, providing realistic advice in repertoire choices and the most accurate examples and information with respect to technical expertise. Furthermore, goals evolve and change through the course of study and life in general. Critical thinking is key to changing the course of one’s plan.
Objective thinking leads to dynamic learning. Therefore, as a teacher it is my first duty to develop and sustain a mutual respect and trust with my students. Every student/singer comes with a specific set of needs, tools, and talent. I use my perceptions and analytical knowledge to create an environment of growth and achievement of the highest order. Success is the result of effective communication between the student and teacher, a relationship that is founded and based on trust. The operation of trust directly impacts the investment of both teacher and student. In lessons, I strive to engage the student not only vocally and musically, but also personally, inviting them into a sphere where they may apply their whole self. This same application of self is required on the great stages where music is created. Therefore, studio lessons are a paradigm for the real world of performance. By acknowledging the unique characteristics of each individual student I’m able to ascertain what parameters are available and how I may galvanize new areas of emboldened vocal advancement and personal prosperity. The program must be structured and yet malleable enough to allow course material and assignments to flow with the coordination of the students learning curve. The interaction with students between studio/class and externally should retain not only an uninhibited professionalism, defined by naturalism and free from disassociation, but also a continuum of enthusiasm for the advancement of musical ideas. These actions set a foundation for positive consequences.
In summary, my philosophy as a teacher is defined by diverse experience and the continued process of teaching-learning. I believe in continued professional growth and conclude that teachers also need to set clear goals and be instrumental in the achievement of new ambitions. I have embraced challenges in teaching with honesty and directness, reaching inward to discover what solutions will factor into my expertise as a singer and teacher of singing. Command of skill and knowledge empowers communication and effective learning for students. Establishing healthy relationships with colleagues and students alike foster a stronger faculty, enabling the program to strengthen and draw more students to the program. By creating a supportive environment for both students and fellow professors, a positive atmosphere for exchange is encouraged and achieved. This is reflected in and also allows students to build a culture of communication which amplifies a setting where social, psychological, and physical learning and knowledge is charmingly acquired. It is always a priority to provide the best teaching practice I can offer through a high technical competency; insightful, reflective, and strategically set analysis of the subject matter I am teaching combined with creative, innovative imagination. In the end, my philosophy of teaching concentrates on my ability to allow students to take subject matter I am cultivating and use it to elucidate real solutions. This renders each student to overcome obstacles and augment the breadth of their professional horizon as a singer and musician. From this can I objectively assess the exact effect I am having on my students and their learning, which ultimately should be both compelling and competent.