Mar 252019
 

What makes a great singing lesson? Part 2

Finding focus in a great singing lesson involves Listening, Analysing and Targetting

Finding Focus in a great singing lesson

In the second 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 has three ingredients:

Form, Focus and Feedback.

My first post here examined Form. Let’s explore the second ingredient:

Focus

Focus means the content of the lesson – what you are concentrating on. So for example, a great singing lesson with Focus will look like this

Listen – Analyse – Target

A great singing lesson really needs all three of these. Let’s break them down

Listen

When I was learning my craft, I used to play for singing lessons with different singing teachers. You would be amazed how many teachers had already decided what to focus on before the student arrived (“today is resonance day”), whether the student needed it or not

Singing is a moment-by-moment process. How you sing depends on how you feel, what your understanding is, and sometimes what’s just happened. The ideal is to be able to sing at the same high standard every time. To do that, you have to accept where you are when you start – and life is not ideal!

So it’s part of the teacher’s job, and part of the student’s process, to spend the first few minutes of a lesson listening to find out where they are right now. You can use the warmup or skill-building sessions I wrote about in the first of these posts here, or you can “tune in” using conversation, physical movement exercises or stillness

What’s my mood (colour, feel, emotion)?

What’s my mind doing (is there anything stopping me from wanting to sing)?

What’s my body energy right now (tired, listless, bouncy)?

Only when you accept and acknowledge the state you are in when you arrive for a lesson will you be in the moment. And when you are in the moment, you are ready to move forwards

Analyse

Listening is lovely, but passive listening will not move you forwards. You need to analyse what you are doing:

What is happening with my voice right now? Focus on Feel, Sound, Movement, Colour, Shape.

Notice this isn’t yet about getting exercises right or singing correct rhythms in your song. This is about tuning in to where you are at that moment vocally.

Doing this (which may only take a minute) sets you up to be present, open and engaged in your singing lesson.

It’s rare in my experience to find singers who have been taught to analyse and correct efficiently. Here’s how it usually goes: You sing a phrase, something doesn’t work. You go back to the beginning of the phrase and try again. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. You either repeat or just go on, but you’re not sure what you did (other than perhaps stand on one leg or make a different face…)

It’s tempting…

The first thing to analyse is precisely at what point in the song/exercise things are not working. Sing the phrase again, and focus on just the point where you think it falls apart. Then back up two or three notes and sing from there. If that’s ok, back up another few notes and sing from there. You will usually find something going awry that you didn’t notice before. This is because the part that isn’t working correctly isn’t always where you think it is. The error often happens a few notes or phrases earlier and causes a more obvious error later.

Errors fall into five broad categories or TEMPT

  1. Technical (a vocal production or resonance issue)
  2. Emotional (you can’t sing it with the expression you want)
  3. Musical (rhythm, pitching or melody shape)
  4. Plot (your story isn’t clear, or your chosen peaks don’t match the writing)
  5. Textual (difficult or wrong words)

Once you’ve discovered where you’re going wrong, and what type of error it is, you’re ready to…

Target

You’ve listened, you’ve analysed, and when things aren’t quite working for you, you need to start targeting the problems.

Here are a few suggestions to focus on that may help you improve:

The melody – are you singing the correct notes? Are you sure? You’d be amazed how the slightest waver of confidence in the melody can affect your singing. Sing the phrase r–e–a–l–l–y slowly to make sure.

And if you’re riffing, sometimes it helps to have worked out some of the riffs beforehand. After all, most riffing is based on interchangeable patterns – make sure you know what the patterns are!

The words – are you singing the right words? What are the actual sounds of each word? Forget how they are spelt and pronounce them r–e–a–l–l–y slowly. Can you feel/hear/taste what’s going on?

Very few words have just one sound (“ah” has one, but “oh” has two – it’s a diphthong). Do you need to do them all, or does your singing style not require it?

And where does each part of the word fit – before, on or after the beat? In general, a word like “love” will need the “l” to sound before the beat.

If you want to stay in time, start the vowel on the beat.

Do you need to sing the under, on or above the note, or glide around the pitch? Gillyanne’s book Singing and the Actor contains a song with the words written as they are sung, with consonants, vowel changes and rhythm positioning indicated. It looks nothing like the printed text!

Remember that there’s no real “right or wrong” here. Each music style has different quirks. In operatic writing such as in Puccini’s La Boheme, you can (and should) slide between the notes quite a lot – it’s part of the connected sound and legato singing style required. In Jazz, you wouldn’t do much sliding as you’re often matching piano or wind writing, and tight rhythm is essential. Consonants in Opera, Musical Theatre, Jazz, R&B are treated very differently – touched, kicked, glossed over, removed, even stretched.

And finally

A great singing lesson is one where you emerge feeling and singing better than when you arrived. Although what I’ve described here looks like a lot of work, once you’re into the Listen-Analyse-Target process it’s actually the fastest way to move on, to begin embedding good skills, and to get quick results

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the third vital ingredient to a great singing lesson – Feedback

In the meanwhile, here’s to your Focus for a great singing lesson!

Jeremy

PS If you want to experience the sort of laser focus that Jeremy brings to a lesson, either in person on online, click here for more details

  8 Responses to “A great singing lesson has Focus”

Comments (8)
  1.  

    Hello Jeremy!!

    I just wanted to share this –

    I’ve struggled with focus in my teaching for ever, you remember how hard it was for me to define the next step, to increment, to find the overarching goal, and your article just came in right in the time where i was making sense of the word, rather the VERB…

    I realized that I’d been focusing on the target final sound, which was overwhelming, not only for myself, but for my students, especially non advanced ones, my whole clientèle.

    The second I started focusing on what my student needed, regardless of the final sound I thought she could be making or should be making, for that matter, every thing shifted.

    I was able to really listen, to tune in to my student and to rely on my intuition that is quite strong, if you remember.

    Every thing you describe in your TEMPT list, plus the Big 4 just flew quite naturally, as I was able to work on one area and, when recognizing that my student was done integrating the proposed solution for the day, pass to another in a single lesson. Therefore, incrementing very efficiently from one week to another.

    I know it seems obvious, but is is not, not for me who is struggling with a type of ADD maybe, such an endless arborescent understanding and analysis of things. Makes me think that it would be very interesting to apply all the concepts of processing information, PNL and so on to your teachers as well, in your training 😉

    In conclusion, of course, ideally, we want the Big 4 and the TEMPT for work together flawlessly, but it should not be a goal in itself, as I thought it had to be, it should be the consequence of a fun, inspired and inspirational exploration of vocal function and expression.

    As you said in another blog, teaching is mainly about trying out things, right?

    Thank you for you ever inspirational and fun teachings, Jeremy,
    Cheers,
    Martine

    •  

      Martine, what a lovely message to receive from you. You have a lot of great instincts and I would be very sad if you hadn’t found a way to use and share them! I’m so pleased this article has unlocked something for you.
      Brilliant that you were able to recognise when your student had reached a natural conclusion, and were able to move easily to another topic (without overwhelming the student too). That’s exactly how I think great lessons work.
      Absolutely, teaching is trying things out – I do it all the time. And sometimes I know exactly what to do, and sometimes I just tread slower using my instincts. I think it’s what makes teaching interesting.
      Great to hear from you, and keep us posted!
      Cheers
      Jeremy

  2.  

    Hello Jeremy!
    That’s a really delightful and beautifully constructed article. It’s encouraging to know that you are all for the lesson growing out of what’s presented by the student in the room, on the day in the moment! I couldn’t do it any other way…. for me, it keeps the work alive as the student then knows they are being taken seriously. This is what we all long for; to be heard and understood. From that place great things can and do happen.
    Thank you so much.

    •  

      Thank you Fliss. Totally agree that being with the student in the room validates them and what they are doing (as well as you and what you are doing). Being present in this way is a very powerful thing to do.

  3.  

    Hi Jeremy, really interesting. I liked the idea of slowing things down and getting the student to really focus on how they personally learn. I’d have never thought to talk about how a word ‘tastes’ in the mouth but we are all so different I’m definitely trying this out tomorrow! I also like the whole idea of having the student actively engaged with how their voice (and whole self) feels at the beginning of the lesson. I think this is empowering for the student and will help combat passive engagement or where the student almost hands over their voice to the teacher. Thanks Clare

    •  

      It’s an interesting one Clare, I often use the idea of tasting words – it’s a very visceral way of experiencing what you’re doing, although it doesn’t make sense to everyone!

  4.  

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this as sometimes in my teaching some of my pupils, when I ask questions look at me as if I am on another planet.
    I have always tried to do the best for my pupils and reading this I found very helpful. I use your advice a lot and am really grateful for what you both have done for me. It does make me realize I am doing the correct things in my teaching.
    Many Thanks

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