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Your Responsibilities: Choosing Your Voice Teacher

Topic Talk

A conversation between Carol Kirkpatrick and Alexandra “Lexi” LoBianco after her Premier as Magda in The Consul by Menotti at Opera Santa Barbara in April of 2014, discussing the mentality of being a professional singer, trusting yourself and vocal technique, role models, and how to take risks while keeping yourself on the edge of the emotional expression.

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.

Johann von Goethe

If you don't know how to choose the voice teacher for you or what your responsibilities are in preparing and taking a voice lesson, then this post is for you. It can be a win-win solution that allows you, the singer and your teacher, to both feel empowered and productive.

What is the best way to find the right voice teacher for you?

It is important that you do the necessary research on the teachers you are currently interested in. Perhaps you want to study with someone to learn something more specific about breath support, or want to work specifically on developing your high or low range. If you are comfortable with what and how you were taught previously, you may want to find a teacher who can keep you on that track. Or perhaps you feel you have learned all you can from one teacher and need to move on to the next level. Find out all you can about them, including how much they charge per hour. Remember, you are hiring their expertise.

If you don't know where to start your search, listen to other singers you know or work with and if you love their vocal technique and ability to be expressive with their voice dramatically, find out with whom they study. Ask if you may sit in on one of their lessons. This will give you the opportunity to really hear, see, and feel what is being presented by the teacher without having the added stress of singing yourself. You can sort of try out, vicariously, the technical issues the teacher and singers are working on. You need to know if their teacher has room in their studio for you and if you are at the right level to be taught by them.

Having had a successful singing career doesn't mean that a famous singer can teach singing. It also doesn't mean they have the ability or will want to share their important, prominent contacts with you and it may not even be the winning ticket on your resume. You're not trying to become the teachers pet. You want to find a reputable singing teacher that can communicate with you, that is your goal.

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

H.M. Tomlinson

Even after you have done your homework, it is possible that you may discover after a few months of studying with a specific teacher, that there really is little or no communication and you feel you are not making any progress. This is the time to thank them and move on.

I can't say it often enough, search until you find the teacher with whom you can communicate clearly and whose integrity and sensitivity to your particular issues can be met. You need to feel they are being honest with you. It is often a gut level or intuitive feeling you will have. You usually know on the inside whether you can trust them or not. Ask the hard questions and you will know whether they are telling you the truth or not. Hearing the truth can often times be hard, but necessary if you want to progress. If you want to become a great performer, you need to know the hard truths about your talent, voice, and the rest of the package.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Never go into a lesson to impress anyone. You will get nothing in return except to pay for their time.

A teacher that uses abuse to control you, whether mental or physical, must never be tolerated. That is not a conducive way to foster an artistic endeavor or encourage growth. It becomes instead a way for someone else to feel better about themselves by treating you with disrespect and frightening you. It often keeps singers stuck because they don't have the experience, skills or tools to leave a situation like this. This is not a healthy teacher-singer relationship.

It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.

Claude Bernard

What is your responsibility as a singer during a lesson?

Your job is to come to your lesson with a specific agenda. Know ahead of time what you want to work on, what needs further discussion and be prepared to vocally demonstrate the outcome of the previous weeks practice in a manner that shows your teacher where you are right now. This helps you know whether you have a real grasp on how it works or not. As you deal with new issues during the lesson, you must feel confident that you can continue working in this direction by yourself once you are alone and practicing.

So, find a teacher that doesn't want you to become a sheep mentality, waiting to be led. Don't always wait for someone else to tell you what needs to be done so that when you go home you are not sure what to do or where to start. You must go to your lessons with a specific agenda already in mind. Your teacher expects you to have done the work during the previous week and come to your next lesson with some answers and probably more questions. When you are able in your lessons to vocally demonstrate where you are right now, full voice, then your teacher can make the necessary suggestions or clarifications that then become what you practice for the following week.

When you are in your lesson and you notice something is not going in the right direction, can you fix it yourself? If you have questions concerning this issue ask them. If you don't get an answer you understand, ask your teacher to explain in a different way.

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

Don't be afraid of trying something new in the way of making sound. No one expects you to be perfect the first time out, but if you don't try it in front of your teacher she/he won't be able to help you understand the process and be able to steer you in the right direction. If you had all the answers and sang perfectly, why would you be spending your time, energy and money on taking lessons anyway?

Never give your power away. What do I mean by this? Often times we feel everyone else has the answers so we give them our proxy to run our lives, we give our power to them. This can leave you feeling unsure, fearful, useless and never worth it. You see others moving ahead so you change lanes and try to fumble after them even if it doesn't seem like the right thing to be doing. It's as if you have no direction. You don't know how to make the next move in your own life. This is where you must have your own user friendly plan of action in place and stick to it.

Don't let anything or anyone else sway you and make you feel like you are not moving fast enough or "getting it." You get to run on your own time table and by doing something each and every day, just one small thing, you will continue to grow and change at your own pace enjoying your own journey and feeling capable of encouraging other to do the same. You are unique and must allow that to shine through.

Experience is almost always the best teacher. Trust your own instincts.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs - even though checkered by failure - than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

It's important that you understand that you are in charge of your own life. And if you don't run your own life, someone or something else will. Because you are unique, there will never be another talent or voice like yours to be heard or experienced by others so figure out with the help of your teacher how to connect to it so it can be shared through performance. Continue to find new ways to discover just who you are at your very core and then express more of that to the world through your voice.

Risk being who you are and ask for what you want, believe you can have it and then be ready to receive it. It works!

Ciao until next time.

- Carol.

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