Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Developing the Solo Voice

Lesson 1: Ask questions

I teach private voice lessons to college students in a musical theatre program as well as high-school students in a college-prep program. Some of them come from a strong choral or solo background, while others don’t know anything about singing beyond what they see (and imitate) on popular TV shows. Each student has unique goals and expectations for voice training, but all of them can benefit from having a solid foundation in healthy vocal technique. Regardless of the style or format of singing they prefer, we should give all young singers the gift of knowing how to produce a healthy sound and care for their voices.

In my teaching, I start with two basics: posture and breathing. I believe that these are the two most important building blocks of healthy technique, and this is where I begin with every new student. I also revisit these topics frequently with my more experienced singers.

One of the most informative diagnostic measures I have is to ask the student to explain posture and breathing to me. I’ll say, “Give me your thirty-second definition of posture for singing. Next, tell me your definition of breathing for singing.” I’m often met with a confused stare when I ask this question, and many students are hesitant or unsure of how to put their thoughts into words. I assure the students that they aren’t being graded on this, and there are no “wrong” answers—I’m just interested in learning what they think about when sing.

It’s amazing how much you can learn by the descriptions that students will give. And it’s especially helpful if the students also demonstrate the answers through movement. Once they start talking, they will often reveal areas where they have questions and/or misconceptions, which can help you chart the course in your teaching.

For example, did the student talk about taking a deep breath and then demonstrate a high chest breath? Did the student say you should stand tall and then demonstrate locked knees and a lifted chin? I frequently hear, “Stand up straight and breathe from your diaphragm,” but after I ask them to explain how that works, I find out that they have no idea what the diaphragm actually does. (I love teaching students about how the lungs and the diaphragm function—it’s a great “aha” moment for them!)

After the student has given an answer, I try to find something that’s already headed in the right direction and offer validation. For example: “I like what you said about keeping your shoulders relaxed when you sing—that’s definitely important in good posture, and I can tell you’ve been working on that!” I also identify something that needs attention: “I agree that standing up tall is important to good posture, but did you know that when you stood tall just now you locked your knees? Let’s take a look at what’s happening in your alignment that causes your knees to lock.”

It’s important that we meet students on their level and help them build a solid technique that will support a long and healthy singing career. Ask lots of questions, listen to what they tell you (and what they don’t tell you), and watch what they show you. You’ll learn as much as they will!

Kate McEwenKate McEwen is the manager of the Sales and Service Department at Lorenz. She has a master’s degree in Voice Performance from The University of North Carolina—Greensboro, and a bachelor’s degree in Voice Performance from Wright State University. Kate currently teaches private voice lessons for the Theatre Department and the Musical Theatre/Acting Preparatory Program (MAPP) at Wright State University.

1 comment:

  1. I like your technique of asking what your student knows first - what an accurate way to see where their strengths and weaknesses might be AND to remind the singer to think about breathing!