When the student gets worse between lessons
There are times when, with all the good will in the world, a motivated and hard-working student just seems to get worse instead of better. What is going on?
In my experience, most singers fall into certain types, when it comes to practice. There are those who really know how to practice effectively, can take what the teacher gives them, and run with it. On the whole, these are students who know how to work imaginatively with the important concepts. Unfortunately, they are in the minority. Among the others, some practice too little, and some too much. Among the former are those students who treat voice lessons like a kind of massage therapy. They arrive for the lesson, have a good workout, and then don’t think about technique until they see the teacher again. This type of student will not progress much from one lesson to the next. They won’t actually get much worse; but any progress made at the last lesson has to be relearned, over and over.
Among the most challenging students to teach are those who work hard and get worse between lessons. When this happens, perhaps the first thing you should ask yourself as a teacher, is whether the student is being overly zealous in carrying out your teaching instructions. An overly physical approach to vocal technique is as bad (or worse) than no approach at all. Emphasize that all physical instructions must be carried out imaginatively. “Up and over” is not about lifting your eyebrows: “lifting the palate” is not about muscularly jamming the pharynx and tongue: “breathing from the back” does not mean grabbing the intercostals and employing a “squeezebox” technique on the inhalation.
One of my students last week came in sounding noticeably worse than at her previous lesson. Being somewhat aware of her issues, I know that she tends to overdo it, physically. Turns out she was focusing so hard on the “gesture of inhalation” and on the feeling of a lifted palate, and doing it in such a physical way, that she wasn’t feeling the voice in the front at all. “Singing is like calling” I said to her. “If you’re not calling to someone, you’re not really singing”. Without balancing the elements that cause the voice to emerge, beautiful and expressive singing just cannot happen.