In the years I’ve studied and have been teaching, I’ve learned the patterns of most lesson students and have been almost able to predict their expectations. For the most part, they all have one common interest, that is, to get better! Whether its to enjoy their instrument in the comfort of their home, or to use their talent to entertain the masses, everyone wants to excel. In that, while teaching, its not uncommon to encounter gifted students—those who undoubtedly possess the qualities and potential necessary; in order to pursue a semi-professional or professional music career. But what happens when someone you’re teaching isn’t gifted or innately musically inclined? What hope do they have to rely on? Perhaps they struggle with intonation, cannot quite grasp rhythm or their overall musicianship skills are not ideal—what does your student need to have in order to get better? Technique!
In my humble opinion, technique, is like putting the key in the ignition of a new car, having confidence that once turned in the right direction, the engine will start, allowing the car to move. What does this suggest? That it is consistently reliable. In correlation, musicians, on any experience level should have that kind of faith, confidence and hope—when using their instrument.
The acquisition of positive growth, resulting from technique, comes from the students’ complete awareness of their instrument and keeping the fundamental steps in tact. Especially when advancing to new methods or more difficult repertoire. One of the most invaluable lesson’s I’ve learned in cultivating my own instrument is: practice, beats talent any day! This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this notion, or that when coupled with diligent practice, a naturally gifted and talented musician won’t inevitably advance. In fact, “everyone has the potential to advance and be successful musically!” That is my philosophy of teaching and I believe it.
When I work with a new student during their first lesson, I generally like to ask them, “what is your goal; can you tell me what you want to get out of this experience?” This ice breaker is a solid platform to build off of, because you put the ball in their court. I cannot imagine any other way a teacher would be able to build rapport and establish instant trust with their student. They’ll greatly appreciate you and will be more likely to get the most out of the overall collaboration.
I have bore witness to the benefit in teaching students what I call the “blueprint for success.” Simply put, “your lesson ought to be the blueprint for how you will practice throughout the week.” While obvious for any serious musician, a beginner or intermediate might understand the concept to be quite difficult. With guidance from their teacher, I’ve found that it’s encouraging and highly motivating for students to have something to reference, in order to measure their progress and practice with intention. To this day, I can relive lessons I had ten years ago, asses the progress I’ve made and rely on past breakthroughs—all resulting from having a digital archive of my lessons. If not so already, your students ought to try doing this too! There are several resources that can help in recording lessons. Cellphones, laptops, tablets, voice recorders and the like, are all ways your student can start anew; on their road to success, studying and archiving lessons digitally. I find it is also valuable to transcribe the exercises you have assigned your student to work on. Using both an audio reference, as well as notated exercises, your student’s ultimate musical successes will be positively inevitable.
There is a general consensus amongst my colleagues and that is, performance, is the best way to “fact check” and solidify ones own technique. Due to the fact that nerves plays a significant role in our performance, we must find ourselves always seeking the opportunity to perform. Its also much easier to perform for a crowd when it is done regularly. Being comfortable with an audience or having a muse during a performance always makes it a better experience. However, there are likely many times when that is not the case. I have vivid memories from my college experience in which I had a crippling fear, performing in front of my peers. Despite the fact that they were all extremely talented musicians, I just couldn’t fathom not being successful in something that meant so much to me. It was exciting to experience and encouraging to get feedback, on how I could improve my performance. That changed my life! Having had the opportunity to face my fear and go for it, benefited in the long run. I learned to lose my inhibitions, let go of all reservations and just perform what I had practiced. To my surprise, the response from my studio mates and teacher was far better than I expected. Truly, had I not let go of that fear, I don’t believe I would have gotten as far as I have—nor would I be as resilient. I believe in recitals and master classes and encourage my students to participate in them; as I have and still do. I also encourage performing at open-mic nights, community events and even forming or joining a band! Whatever the platform may be, if presented with options and encouragement, your student is more likely to take advantage of it and inherently learn to be a better musician and performer.
Of course, this style of teaching is most appropriate for a lesson student who is cognitively mature enough, to conceptualize the benefit in studying this way. Ultimately, success is always in the eye of the beholder. As teachers, we can encourage and equip our students with skills and knowledge to better learn their craft, but one must have intrinsic motivation and practice to get to the next level. The “blueprint for success” in music can help. With so much potential to yield great results, including musical excellence, I can’t fathom teaching or encouraging my students any other way, I hope that my colleagues and other teachers will find this method to be successful just the same. Let your students lead the way, but be their driving force, offer unwavering support being consistent in instruction and accountable for the progress they make.
About Richard Lindsey:
Regarded for his “warm stage presence and impeccable pitch, -Jed Gaylin, Bay-Atlantic Symphony,” Richard Lindsey has taught voice for several years. To his credit, he has trained and coached singers who have won national awards and sang leading roles in opera and musical theater. He is also voice teacher of Andrew Corkery, lead singer of Shadowplay, a rising and nationally recognized classic rock band. Lindsey has sang leading roles in opera and musical theater and is a frequent concert singer. He has studied with several internationally acclaimed opera and Broadway singers, both prior to and while attending Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ. Richard teaches lessons throughout the country via skype and maintains a voice and piano studio in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He continues voice study with Juliana Gondek.