Do you pick your music or does your voice pick it?
Fascinating article by Maylyn Murphy, CEO and Founder of Music Nation Academy:
I have discovered a common challenge most vocal teachers face at some point in their teaching career. That challenge is working with a student whose voice is suited for one genre of music while the student’s choice of genres to sing is very different. Take for example the young vocalist who only wants to sing pop and top 40, only the most popular and loved songs that are “right now”, but has a voice that is “made for” jazz. So what do you do in this situation? As the teacher, you know that the student’s voice has the tone, range, and quality for jazz, but the student is set on singing pop. Do you work with her and try to influence her to sing jazz or do you support her desire to pursue pop music? Which saying—“the customer is always right” or “teacher knows best”—rings true? It’s quite the quandary.
I can share with you my method for handling such a dilemma, as this is one of the challenges my teachers and I tackle most frequently at Music Nation Academy. In addition to the vocal teachings of the genre, we also provide performance-based training, which entails another very-different dimension to teaching any specific genre and the performance stereotypes attached to a genre.
Initially, I have a discussion with the student in order to understand the student’s short-term and long-term goals for taking vocal lessons. The students I teach have a host of reasons for taking lessons at my school. Students’ reasons range from “I always wanted to learn to sing for fun” to “I want to make this my career.” Right now, many students come to Music Nation Academy to improve their singing and performance abilities to get parts in school musicals, performances, chorales, or choruses. In these cases, it is good to know the student’s focus prior to lessons. Of course, this is not required, and many students “find” their voice and better define goals as we move through their musical journey. I will also inquire with the parent(s) as to what their perception is regarding the reasons for the student taking lessons. I prefer to know if the parent(s) and student are on the same page for why the student wants to take lessons.
Once the lesson begins, I perform an initial vocal assessment of the student. I listen for his or her ability to control the voice, pitch, and breathing as well as the student’s vocal tone, vocal strength, and ability to read music. Upon completion of this assessment, I am able to narrow down the genre(s) the student’s vocal abilities would best “fit”. The key to picking and singing a specific genre is in the vocal tone. It tells so much in relation to the vocal strength of a student for a particular genre.
I have come to find an amazing correlation between the genre the student would like to pursue and the music genre for which the student’s voice is best suited. However, the biggest discrepancy I find is regarding the desire of students to sing pop music. Many students want to sing and perform the latest and most-popular songs, yet their voice may be better suited for very different genres, such as musical theater/performance, blues, country, or perhaps jazz.
In these cases, I work with the student to achieve the goal set during our discussion. That’s correct. If the student is determined to sing pop, yet the student’s voice is best suited for jazz, I will work with the student to make adjustments to the vocal delivery to best sing and perform pop music. Many might say that, since you are the teacher, the experienced one, the knowledgeable one, you should somehow lead the student in the direction you see fit. However, the reasoning behind the course of action I take is because of my overall view of music—that a student’s exposure to music should not be limited or hampered.
I find that a student’s success is directly related to that student’s specific motivation and focus. Attempting to refocus and motivate a student to sing a genre they don’t like decreases likelihood of success. I therefore work with the student to master singing and performing that genre, which leads to a high level of confidence. That inevitably leads to the student’s own desire to branch out and attempt to master other genres. This is the perfect time to introduce the genre the student may be best suited for and see where that leads us. Typically, students will enjoy the genre of music they are best suited for but only after having mastered another genre they were truly motivated to sing and perform in the first place.
I have sung and played rock, pop, jazz, blues, country, classical, and just about any other genre of music. All of this has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about music, performance, my strengths, and the weakness I strive to improve upon. This is the ultimate goal I have for my students: not simply to master a song, genre or single performance but to build upon what I teach them and expand upon their own successes, their strengths, and their weaknesses. This is not only a music lesson but also a life lesson.
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