VoiceCouncil will no longer be updated. Articles will still be available for some time.

5 Ways to Teach Voice without Sinking the Student

Jenn Clempner singing live

Singing teachers have the challenge of working with artists who are at different stages with this emotional journey – it can be a fine balance between being too hard or pandering – says Jenn Clempner.

Whatever the age, experience and voice type of a singer, one thing we all have in common is that we are human beings. No one is the same, but when we feel knocked we tend to retreat, react or retaliate.

The exposing nature of singing can make us more susceptible to knocks, no matter how professional we are.

Here are 5 simple ways you can set your student free in their practice, without knocks or over-dependency.

1. If they do something well, tell them

This may seem like a given, but often when a teacher becomes rigidly focused on learning aims and outcomes they forget simple encouragement. A culture of strict singing teachers has somehow been cultivated over the decades. This may be due to the shift in education, attitudes of students and pressure on teachers to achieve results, but you need to have the student ‘on side’ to enable progress and you can do that by giving credit where credit is due.

2. Be honest but kind

On the flip side, it is, of course, important to call out incorrect practice in singing. In the vein that students engage best when they feel safe, it is, therefore, prudent to apply a little tact when correcting them. Statements like “No! Do it again!” serve only to deplete the student’s self-belief. Some may argue that pushing can be a motivator. Maybe so, but is it worth pushing your student into a negative relationship with their singing voice?

3. Breathe

We all know that breathing is paramount to supporting the voice, but taking time to breathe also has a soothing effect on the body. Soothing Rhythm Breathing is a practice used within Compassion Focused Therapy by psychologists across the globe. It helps an individual move from a state of threat to a state of soothing. Taking time to guide a student’s breathing helps them to feel calm as well as in better control of their voice.

4. Listen to how they feel

You are a teacher of voice, so let your student know that their voice is valuable. As the vocal instrument is largely unseen we depend upon how it feels, i.e. what feels tight, open, comforting, hard or just wonderful. Teachers can learn a lot from their students by listening to what they have experienced.

5. Be humble

It is worth remembering that we all have so much more we can learn. Playing god with the vocal instrument is a dangerous game. Learning is intrinsic to our practice and that applies to us also. If you get something wrong, own it. A healthy relationship between student and teacher requires respect. Admitting that you are fallible and learning with them will build upon their respect for you.

As we teachers embody these themes, we will be creating an environment which is engaging and fun. We know how much diligence required to improve our singing, but there’s nothing better than when we enjoy singing. Give your student freedom to laugh, at themselves, at you, at mistakes and with joy. There is a sense of reward when a student walks away and says “Wow, I really enjoyed that singing lesson”.

Jenn Clempner Jenn Clempner is a Singer, Pianist, Music Director and Vocal Tutor. Her first professional work as a Musician came in 2007 when she toured throughout the UK and Europe with indie-pop outfit The Hoosiers (Sony BMG) as a Session Musician (backing vocals, keyboards and percussion). Jenn was awarded a platinum album for the sale of 300,000 copies of ‘The Trick To Life’ and her work with The Hoosiers. Jenn is a Vocal Tutor and Lecturer at the Royal Northern College of Music on the Popular Music degree programme, but also consults as a music professional and continues to sing and play within the live music arena. Find out more at: jennclempner.com

  • Kim Chandler

    Common-sense, kind-hearted advice :)

  • Jenn Clempner

    Thank you Kim. Although one of the reasons I wrote this was that, in my experience, sadly this is not always common sense and Tutors are not always kind. It may be because they have a different approach, justifiably so, but personally I feel that pedagogically it is best practise to lift our students up, not break them down and that many of us can afford to implement this more. :)

  • Kim Chandler

    Amen sister!