What makes a great singing lesson?
In the first of this three-part post, internationally renowned vocal coach and author Jeremy Fisher shares his top tips for a great singing lesson
Whether you’re a singing teacher, a vocal coach or a singing student, a great singing lesson can really make your day. But what makes a great singing lesson feel great? I’ve boiled it down to three vital ingredients:
Form, Focus and Feedback.
Include these three and your singing lessons will feel powerful, useful and effective!
Let’s explore the first (and probably the most important) ingredient:
Form means the structure of the lesson. So for example, a good lesson will flow like this
Vocal warmup – Skill-building – Application in song
Just using these three items to plan your lesson means you include everything you need for a great singing experience. Incidentally, you’ll see that I differentiate between warmups and skill-building exercises. This is because the two have different aims, as I’ll explain later
Vocal warmups can contain anything that gets your voice sounding and moving. Noises, sirens, quiet humming, tiny glottals… Remember that the warmup is usually more effective if it uses material from or similar to the songs that are being practised. If you’re singing Handel or Bellini, books of vocalises such as Vaccai focus on classical scales, style, timbre and technique. But if you’re singing contemporary pop, R&B or similar, ditch the Vaccai (wrong musical and harmonic content for your needs) and look for short riffs based on pentatonic or other modal scales. Or do what I do, take phrases from the song being studied and turn them into short riffs that you can sing in different keys
A warmup is designed to get your voice ready for work. Mine takes 30 seconds, unless my voice is tired. A good warmup doesn’t usually take any longer than 5 minutes.
So you’ve done your warmup (and with more experienced singers this can be done before the lesson). Necessary exercises come next. An exercise is designed to improve or increase your skill levels. Again, I favour taking phrases from a song – you can use them to create an exercise targeting whatever you think you need to improve. In my blog post “Belting The Money Note”, I wrote about how I broke down the problem (and came up with solutions) for one singer who had to hit and sustain the word “go” on a belted high G.
Why does the use of song material in this way work so well? Because if you’ve incorporated phrases into the warmup AND any necessary exercises, you’re already doing the third part of a good singing lesson – application in song.
Application in song
Doing great exercises, having a good warmup, making great individual noises ultimately means NOTHING if you can’t do it in the context of a song. All good singing is contextual, so at some point in the lesson you have to sing something from the repertoire (arias, musical theatre songs, cover numbers, original material etc).
Since you’ve geared your vocal warmup to the song repertoire you’re singing, and you’ve used material from the songs to create vocal skill-building exercises, it’s a very easy step to applying your knowledge in the song.
Sing the song through from the beginning, and notice how you do. If you find an area that isn’t working well for you (or doesn’t come out the way you want it to), back up a few bars (measures) and repeat that short section. You don’t need to go back to the beginning of the song!
Even if your warmup works and your skills are well-honed, you still need to communicate your thoughts, emotions or story. Remember that singing is always an act of communication.
In my next blog post I’ll discuss another vital ingredient to a great singing lesson – Focus
In the meanwhile, here’s to great Form in your next singing lesson!