Friday, June 1, 2012

Turning criticism into positive

This business of music is a tough one - you've just got to have thick skin if you want to succeed. And you've got to know everything about everything - why limit yourself?

Yesterday was weird in that another voice teacher, someone who I had never heard of or met, and who had not read my book or listened to my CDs, posted some critical remarks about the fact that I was offering CDs with my book as a teaching tool. I do believe that there is a positive in every "negative." Sometimes it takes a while to make itself known, sometimes it happens immediately, especially is you are looking for it. I realized that this person's negative critique was a positive for me, because it gave me the opportunity to really express my philosophy regarding teaching, and to take pride in what I do, and to stand firm in my beliefs in what I know works. And now I am grateful for his negativity, because I've made it a positive!

So this is my opinion on instructional books and CDs:

- Some students can't or won't take private lessons. Yes, one-on-one instruction is always best (if the teacher knows what they're doing - if they don't, the teacher can CREATE problems). When I say a student "won't" take lessons, that doesn't mean because of financial considerations, that could mean a variety of reasons, money being one of them. But other reasons could include: the discipline that lessons require, practice, the time involved. Lessons do create a certain amount of anxiety (when knowing they have to face their teacher week-to-week), which can be a good thing because it can inspire a student to practice, and some students don't want that pressure. They prefer to learn at their own pace, or from a variety of sources, which is OK too. They may take a little bit of my style and combine it with something someone else suggested. I'm not saying my way is the only way. And each student and each teacher are unique individuals with their own personal style. There is not one way that will work for every single person. Thank goodness!

- Some students are using an instructional book/CD rather than a formal voice lesson because they want to learn about singing for their own enjoyment and personal satisfaction. Not everybody wants to go through the rigorous experience of professional singing - it's not for everyone. I would like to improve my violin skills, not to go out and perform onstage, but for my own pleasure. A book/CD is perfect for that because I'm not looking at violin playing as a serious endeavor, just something for fun. And that's OK too.

- Books/CDs such as mine are usually geared towards a particular "specialization." Mine is focused on R&B Singing. Here's an analogy: all doctors are under the "Doctor" umbrella, but some specialize in pediatrics, some in the study of bones, some in allergies, etc. You wouldn't go to a ear/nose/throat doctor for a pain in your foot, now would you? And you wouldn't want to study with a Broadway teacher if you wanted to sing R&B would you? They may be a great singer, but not teaching the style you want to learn.
Research each teacher and see what they specialize in. Also, The advantage of an instructional book/CD is that there may not be an R&B voice teacher such as myself in your city. So the book/CD is the next best thing!

So here's some advice when searching out a teacher or an instructional book/CD:

Research any potential teacher - check out their training and background. Do they have education? Have they studied the voice in a formal educational setting (i.e. a university with trained professionals)? Does the teacher have videos showing him/her singing? If they don't have videos showing that they can "practice what they preach," why would you want to study with them? Here's another comparison: I have a friend who wanted to learn to speak Italian, so she took Italian lessons from a native speaker. One-on-one lessons from a pro, right? Well, it so happened that the teacher didn't know how to be an effective teacher. It was not organized efficiently or expressed in a way that was clear for my friend to understand. So my friend dropped out of class. Me, on the other hand, learned basic Italian from a CD! It was easy - the speaker spoke the phrase and I repeated it slowly. That worked for me - and it came with a book so I could see it written out as well. So, the teacher is extremely important and HOW they teach. And in this case, the book/CD proved to be more valuable than than the teacher!

Another thing to consider is the teacher's teaching abilities. My voice teacher in college was a world-renowned voice teacher, yet she was older than me and probably couldn't do the things I could do vocally because of age. But she knew how to teach it, she knew how it worked. Sometimes the greatest teachers aren't the greatest performers. Take Chaka Khan for instance - one of the greatest living singers in the world. Would she be a great voice teacher? I don't know - maybe...Sometimes teachers who might not have the chops of a singer like Chaka Khan will invest years of practice, study, research, time, effort, and money, to learn everything they can. I believe that's one thing that makes a great teacher, not necessarily perfect "chops" but a knowledge of every tool available to help a student. My husband tells me that the coaches in professional football can't play as well as the players, but they still know how to coach them to make them better players..

And it was interesting that this morning I got up and there was an email from a former student, who stated that her new teacher had damaged her voice with some of the exercises she gave her. My student told me she was going to continue using my exercises because they worked for her, rather than her new teacher's exercises!

So learn everything you can from every source you can get your hands on. If you can study with a professional vocal coach - great! But research that teacher first, not only their education, but their singing ability and their ability to be an effective teacher. Remember, you have to find someone or a book/CD that fits in with YOUR interests. Now GO FOR IT!!

Click here to purchase the book Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer: