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Working with Beginning versus Professional Singers

As teachers of singing, many of us teach a whole range of students from young and old, to talented and maybe not-so-talented, and of course, from beginners up to professionals. With such a diverse group of students on so many different levels, it can be tricky to come up with the best methods for teaching a brand new student versus an expert who has decades of singing experience.

Here are some tips to help you individualize your teaching methods for both beginning and professional singers.

Introduce beginners to singing terminology and help them get to know their voices

With a beginner, you can definitely start with the basics of technique, and you may have more time to build the voice in a slow, steady process. You will need to take stock of where they are at, and don't assume they know anything.

Beginning singers will need to understand terms such as chest voice, mix, and head voice, and then you will need to have them experience these things in their voices. They may never have experienced anything but one register, or they may not know what vibrato feels like, or perhaps they have no idea how to project a strong tone. It will be up to you to help your new singers discover what their voices are capable of while introducing them to the correct terminology as they practice and get to know their voices.

Some beginners may have issues with pitch, so you would need to slow things way down to get them to hear and match pitch, which may not happen very fast. You will probably need to delay working on any complicated songs if pitch issues persist, because if they are starting out with severe pitch problems, it can take some time to improve. But be patient, because the rewards can be great when you see that lightbulb go off and progress happens!

Some professional singers need fine-tuning, and others may need a complete overhaul

When working with a professional singer, especially someone who is currently performing, you are not going to be able to start from scratch. Rather, you'll have to ease in with any changes a little bit at a time: a vowel change, a slight reduction of volume, or you might just end up working with finishing qualities in their voice such as vibrato, style, and application into song. You can work in technique with scales and exercises, but you will also need to move into song application right away, especially if they are needing to prepare for a show.

Working with professional singers may present big challenges and require more than just a little technique tweak or pitch adjustment. A professional singer may have developed some unhealthy habits of singing, and oftentimes they have been singing that way for a long time. They can be very set in their ways and might need to give up something they've been doing for years, and this can be hard for them to do if they are right in the middle of performing in a show or in a band. In this sense, they might be more challenging to work with than a beginner!

Whether a beginner or an expert, every singer needs their teacher to work with them on an individualized basis

No matter how much experience your students have, give them individualized guidance and exercises that will help them balance their voices. Each student will present you with their own specific challenges, so it’s important to be patient and positive as you help them reach their potential, especially with beginners. And if you are fortunate enough to have professional students who are open-minded and willing to accept changes and try new things, they too can really grow!

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As a Master Teacher and Director of Education for IVA, Spencer is a leading expert in the field of vocal function and application.

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