Communication for Voice Teachers
Communication is the act of transferring information from one place to another.
With a subject like singing in which the instrument is one that you can’t easily see or touch, vocal coaches need to be excellent communicators. Especially when teaching beginning singers, a singing teacher needs to be especially careful to communicate the goal of the current training and the plan they will use to achieve it with the student.
And while it may seem silly to think of communication being a requirement for a good voice teacher, remember that singing is the art of communicating lyrics beautifully. And a voice teacher should exemplify that, even in their words.
The Vocal Coach Tool Belt
Voice teachers use many different tools to teach singing lessons.
Vowels, consonants, and scale patterns are just a few of the tools that a singing teacher will use to instruct a student. But one of the most powerful tools in the teacher’s disposal is their own voice to communicate.
While vowels and consonants are used as tools to transfer experiences (such as an “ooh” vowel, which will drive more head voice), the singing teacher’s voice is used to transfer knowledge and demonstrate a desired sound.
Perhaps most important is the ability of the teacher to give feedback regarding what the student is singing.
This feedback loop between student and teacher allows them to ascribe a judgement to what the student has done. It’s very important for a student to know whether they performed the exercise well or not. Positive reinforcement is especially powerful in this feedback loop because what a student feels when they sing and what they actually sound like is often different.
3 Mediums of Communication
Voice teachers use 3 main mediums to instruct their singing students.
- Words – What the teacher says. It could be a direction such as “Sing that note on ‘Gee'” or a description of what they heard like “Yes, I noticed that was more on pitch”.
- Demonstration – The teacher uses their own voice to demonstrate the desired sound.
- Tools – The teacher prescribes an exercise designed to cause the singer to experience an intended result, such as a scale and vowel/consonant combination.
We can break down these mediums of communication even more by listing the 3 ways a voice teacher can communicate.
- Direct – Asking the student to do something.
- Describe – Elaborating on a concept.
- Demonstrate – Using their own voice to teach by example.
A Few Things to Note
The forms of communication voice teachers use are only effective as long as what they are asking is directly under the student’s control. If they are not, the teacher should find another way to create the desired experience in the singer.
It would be confusing to ask a student to “sing into the mask” or “place the tone in their head” unless they already knew how to do it.
Instead, good voice teachers rely on cause and effect communication. While we often think of cause and effect as a negative, it can be a very positive tool in teaching someone to sing.
Cause and Effect Communication
Cause and effect is a style of communication in which a teacher will direct the student to sing in a way that causes the desired effect. That way the student experiences the result with minimal confusion. Cause and effect also allows them to describe the feeling on their own terms.
From the teacher’s perspective, the “m” is a bilabial consonant that provides resistance to the air while the “uh” vowel drives more chest voice. This could conceivably help the student hit the G5 with a fuller head voice than before.
But all the singer knows is that they are able to hit the G5 more fully that they were before. They can then describe it in terms that make sense to them.
If the teacher instructed the student to sing the G5 “into the mask” however, it would be up to the student to interpret what that direction means. Whereas asking the student to sing the note on “Mum” is much more straightforward.
If descriptive language is used too much as a method of directing the student, confusion can result.
The Goal of All Vocal Training
By it’s very nature communication is an incredibly important aspect of how a vocal coach teaches their students. It can be painful to remember, but the goal of all vocal training is allowing the student to develop the independence they need so they no longer need us.
One of the most important aspects of developing independence as a singer is understanding how their voice works in their own terms. Good communication between the teacher and student is the key to developing this understanding.