Nurturing Talent in a Singing Lesson – Listen


In this 5-part series on nurturing talent in a singing lesson, I’ll break down 5 communication & diagnosis stages that give you the best chance of succeeding with your students. If you’re a singing teacher, vocal coach or choral leader you almost certainly know about some of them, but do you do all of them? And if you’re a singer, does your teacher really include all of these?

Stage 1 – Listen

It’s Thursday and your student is about to arrive for their next lesson. Already you’ve decided it’s going to be breath day. Congratulations, you’ve failed at the first hurdle.

That approach works in the gym (“Thursday is always leg day”) when you’re working on yourself, but it misses one vital ingredient when you’re teaching in the voice studio: the student. It’s great that you have a plan, a method, a sequence. But any robot can do that (and with the rise of AI, today’s student can get all of those online for free).

You have three huge advantages over AI in a singing lesson – your ears, your brain, and the fact that you are working with the student live (online or in the room). Your first stage is to search for the clues that will help you shape today’s session and make it the most effective lesson for the student possible that day. Since this also includes what they don’t tell you, you might need to read between the lines or use your intuition.

Listen at the beginning

Open the lesson with a neutral sentence such as “What’s happening” or “Give me an update” or my favourite, “What are today’s headlines?”. Listen to what they say, what they tell you and the way they tell it. Examine their energy, their focus, their emotions, the language they use, even watch their body language. This applies whether they’re a regular client or a performer on a first consultation.

This is the first vital step to making your time with them as efficient and productive as possible, so (paradoxically) you need to take the time to listen, watch and notice.

I don’t have time to listen!

If you’re used to diving in immediately with fixes and techniques (maybe because you want to be of value to them and they’re paying you), this will feel awkward and endless. But even taking just 3 minutes to listen and catch up will give you the information you need.

Sometimes when we run our singing teaching training programmes, we play a teacher’s lesson videos without vision, or at 2x speed, or with the audio muted. Students constantly give off information and energy, including subtle signals that as a teacher you might miss. By changing the process of watching and listening, we can “pattern-interrupt” our usual perceptions or held views. 

I have been known to spend a third of a lesson in focused listening, finding out what the student wants, needs and means. A lesson like that always produces great results, because everything we do in the remaining two-thirds of the session is properly diagnosed and targeted. 

Your students tell you how they are every time they arrive for a singing lesson or a vocal coaching session, even if they don’t say much. Stay tuned!

In the next post, we’ll move to stage 2 – Diagnose


Throughout our Teacher Pathway courses we use this focused listening to improve lessons and get better, faster results. In the Masterclass unit of the online course 12 Hours to Better Singing Teaching you can see how we put this into practice when we work with two musical theatre students for the first time. As part of the course we also discuss with the audience why we did what we did and what signals the students gave us. Check out the details here 



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