Observing and being a lifelong learner as a singing teacher

LOVE Sheri Sanders! Her Rock the Performance classes are a must for anyone seriously into CCM Music Theatre styles!

I’ve been back to teaching and researching after my trip to  the US in January. This morning I observed an online class with New York music theatre coach, Sheri Sanders. I believe observation is an incredibly valuable learning tool, which is just as well since it is a major part of my doctoral research!

I have been so lucky to be able to observe wonderful teaching and singers in lessons in the US over the last few years. It is such an act of generosity, allowing another teacher to watch you teach. I have watched teachers work with a student in a way that is maybe the opposite way of how I might teach but get the same end result – there are MANY ways to teach singing, and it is not about right or wrong.  I find the sharing of information challenges and strengthens my teaching.

In the past you might have become a singing teacher through the master-apprentice method. You studied with one teacher for many years, watched them teach and were taught by that teacher yourself, and then went on to teach yourself. This method of training no longer really exists, we are trained in conservatoires, or through private pedagogical courses, or both. Teaching singing is of course completely unregulated, and many teachers come to the professional without any formal qualifications but with years of performance background and teach what they know through experience. Although I had an undergraduate degree, I certainly started out that way, and quickly realised I didn’t know enough to meet the needs of my students. My Masters degree in vocal pedagogy gave me a wonderful training in lots of areas relative to singing teaching, especially voice physiology and acoustics, and was a launch pad (NOT an ending) to my ongoing quest to learn about the singing voice and voice teaching. There were gaps in the degree (you don’t learn EVERYTHING in academia, right!), which meant I needed to continue seeking out the knowledge and skills to teach to the best of my abilities. The observation of other teachers has been invaluable in filling some of these gaps. I especially like it when we can have long discussions about the lessons too!

Just some of the teachers who have generously allowed me to observe their teaching over the last three years include Jeanette LoVetri, Mary Saunders-Barton, Raymond Sage, Pat Linhart, Wendy DeLeo LeBorgne, Sheri Sanders, Elizabeth Benson and Timm Adams. Sometimes I have things pop up in my brain from lessons I observed, or when I’m researching, I might recognise how a teacher applied a certain principle. Sometimes I have watched, or participated, and been a little confused, but after a period of time, an understanding of what the teacher was doing drops into my brain. It’s like things stew around up there for a bit, and then an understanding appears. Sometimes I observe and just soak in the wonderful teaching and singing. What a privilege! Knowing not just the theory of voice pedagogy, but the application of it when seeing others teach is truly valuable.

The Diva herself – the wonderful Pat Linhart!

I learn new skills, and return to my teaching humbled by the incredible number of highly skilled voice teachers out there in the big wide world. I messaged the wonderful Pat Linhart after watching her teach and being back in my studio, pinching some of her ideas. She responded “isn’t stealing the only way!” I LOVE this attitude! We all have something to learn (steal) from one another, especially if we decide to be lifelong learners. I do think it is important to recognise and acknowledge those who have so generously sown into your skills! I am excited to be presenting on mature voices this Sunday at the ANATS Building Blocks training day. I will get to observe my Queensland colleagues teaching and presenting on the different ages of the voice. Very cool!

Observing is great, but then it’s time to go apply what you observe, so I’m off to warm up and sing! Thank you to all the singing teachers I’ve been able to watch over the years. You have all contributed to who I am as a teacher!