Nurturing Talent in a Singing Lesson – Diagnose


In the second of this 5-part series on nurturing talent in a singing lesson, we’re focusing on one of our favourite stages – Diagnose. If you’re not up to date yet, click here to read Stage 1 – Listen

Stage 2 – Diagnose

You’ve listened to your student, witnessed today’s situation and noticed what they want to achieve. Now is the time to diagnose. 

While many singing teachers will do a version of this, some will just jump straight into the next category (Choose). But diagnosis is the crux of a good lesson. There is absolutely no point in giving exercises, techniques or repertoire to your student if you haven’t worked out your diagnosis. You’re just wasting everyone’s time. Don’t believe me? Here’s why I think it’s important.

What is diagnosis?

I think of diagnosis in two parts:

Part 1. What’s going on today in general? What’s happening vocally, what’s happening energetically, what does the student need to do, is anything being made more urgent by external influences?

Part 2. What’s really happening specifically with the physical/functional/understanding/belief and which of all these issues is the most important AND urgent to tackle?

Dealing with part 1 is easy since you’ve already listened. You have a lot of information to work with but it needs translating into vocal goals and directions. You may need to ask more questions to clarify the context. Is there anything urgent coming up that might take priority over voice building (a performance, an exam, or another teacher wanting something new that impacts the student)? Is there something that is obviously causing problems or does the singer feel uncomfortable without showing it? Gather all the strands together, even if it all feels knotted.

Part 2 is the diagnosis skill. And here is just one problem that could skew your diagnosis. What the student tells you might not be what’s happening. “I can’t get the high note” is not a diagnosis, or even a technique. It’s an outcome. And it might be triggered by many different causes. 

For example, it might mean their throat is sore today (physical), or they are taking too much weight up and the effort is unbalanced (functional), or they are in the wrong setup altogether (misunderstanding/technical), or the sound they think they should be making isn’t the one they need to make (belief). If necessary, go back to listening.

Then mentally arrange the threads and imagine that each thread is connected to at least one more. You’re looking for the thread that, if you pull it, will undo some of the others too. This is not “this exercise works for everything” – this is deciding which of the threads are “symptoms” and which are “problems”. In other words, which is a cause and which are effects. 

Diagnose the problem, not the solution

This is a common issue in a singing lesson. The singing teacher is looking for results, so grabs a solution first. But in the example above, any one of the four bracketed diagnoses could be the thread to pull. It depends on the student, the situation and your skill and intuition. Interesting that for the same “problem” there are at least four very different solutions. Physical might mean you focus on gentle warmups, straw work and glides to support the vocal health. Functional might mean you work the phrase down a tone or minor third to rebalance the pressure, or change the dynamics earlier in the phrase. Misunderstanding/technical might mean you explore a different vocal setup, perhaps starting in a more comfortable part of the range with the lyrics on one note and working (up or down) towards the target pitches. Belief means you might take time to play different YouTube video performances to discuss what other singers are doing and why that might (or might not) work for your student, then experiment with a number of different sounds and setups to expand the choices. Choosing the wrong solution will, at the very least, waste time.

This is one of the real skills of an excellent singing teacher – the diagnosis of not just the problem but the underlying issue – the cause, then choosing how to tackle it and which exercises or approaches would work the fastest.

There is far more I can say about diagnosis, it’s a specialist topic that I love and when done properly gives amazing results. But for now, let’s assume that you’re happy with your diagnosis. It’s time to move to the next post and the next stage – Choose. 


We spend many hours on the Teacher Pathway and Accreditation Programme helping people to distinguish between symptoms and problems in vocal technique. Click here now to check out the different options It could revolutionise your studio.



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