For the past five weeks I’ve been covering singing lessons. When asked, my initial reaction was, ‘What, me? A singing teacher! Don’t be silly!’. But since it was such short notice the school had a choice of either asking me or cancelling the lessons. And I had a choice of either letting my friend down or taking a risk.
My singing background is not a musical theatre one having only ever sung in a church choir and a choral society and a bit of skim reading on the internet suggested that I could only begin to imagine the vast chasm separating the two singing styles. However, never one to be easily intimidated, I decided that the challenge would be great experience for me and also that as a piano teacher, and now choir director, I should be able to teach someone a song if nothing else, right? How hard could it be?!
So here’s how it went…
Week One: I was surprised to see the variety in singing ability demonstrated by the students. I began to wonder what some parents’ motivations for sending their children for singing lessons were. Was it to teach them to sing from scratch? Or was it to nurture and develop a talent which they had detected in their children?
Week Two: As ‘teacher’ I exerted my authority, and seemed to turn a corner, with the ‘cheeky’ one. I sensed that the problem was something to do with the student’s own insecurities and a bit of encouragement and reassurance seemed to work wonders!
Week Three: To me a group lesson means singing as an ensemble, i.e. in parts, in rounds, in harmony - and this is my thing! So I selected a couple of songs which would get them doing just this. Tricky at first. Comfort zone…awkward…
Week Four: I eventually plucked up the courage to change the songs some of them were learning to something which I believed better suited their voices. For example, we replaced We Will Rock You with Phantom of the Opera.
Week Five: I finally started to crack the icy exterior of one of the older boys. I know it’s hard to get used to a new teacher, especially when they are used to a chap, but after five lessons of perseverance on my part, he seemed to relax a little in my company!
So it turns out I can teach singing, enough to cover - I wouldn’t be able to put students through exams - but I’m pretty chuffed. I was able to draw on my experiences in other areas and apply them liberally to this situation. All those hours I’ve spent watching musicals in the theatre and glee on the telly has paid off!
Some surprising things I learnt:
Just because you have singing lessons doesn’t mean you can sing like Alfie Boe or Mariah Carey. The voice is an instrument and it must be trained!
Learning by ear is challenging. Students would definitely benefit if they could read music - some didn’t even know how to follow the shape of the music - i.e. are the notes going up or down?
Singing in harmony is difficult if you aren’t used to listening to others doing something while you do something different! Multitasking at it’s best.
Finding the starting note is tricky - I was reminded of my husband struggling to find a starting note at times! Using your ‘inner ear’ is something which must be practised and perfected - ‘humming’ the note inside your head before making an actual sound.
Children’s voices can have a lovely innocence and naivety and they are so malleable at this stage. It was interesting to hear the different tones and timbre produced and to see the great potential for the future. Persevere and follow your dreams kids. Don’t stop believing.
How hard can it be to teach singing?! Actually quite hard. And should I feel like a fake? Maybe, maybe not. You decide.