Last updated on May 18th, 2023
Class Is In Session!
Sooner or later, and no matter where you are in your musical journey, we all could use some guidance.
Last week, Luke kicked off the breakdown of our “10 People Musicians Need on Their Side” series by helping you learn what to look for when shopping for the right producer. But, before you can even get into the studio… you have to know how to perform!
So, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I decided to ask a couple of teachers how it’s done!
Erin McLendon and Caitie Thompson are performing artists and the co-founders of Music on the Move Studios. Based in Nashville, Music on the Move is a female-owned business which helps artists grow their careers through educational and performance opportunities. Those opportunities include private and DIY lessons – Erin teaches voice, while Caitie instructs students on a variety of instruments.
I sat down with Erin and Caitie to learn more about the role of a voice or instrument teacher. In the process, they helped dispel common myths, while showing the correlation between learning proper technique and building confidence. You’ll feel so enlightened after reading, that we’re sure you’ll run to all of your friends on Muze and tell them to check out this article.
(Not signed up for Muze yet? No problem! You can handle that right over here, and start building your network immediately!)
First, what are some of the ways that you help your students improve their musical technique?
“As a vocal teacher, the most important thing I teach my students, no matter their level, is proper breathing technique, stance, and mouth shape. If your voice isn’t supported by your breath, if you’re not standing correctly – or, at the very least, checking in with your posture when you sing — and if you’re not manipulating the shape of your mouth and your tongue placement correctly, you won’t get the results you want.
While all of that sounds complicated, it’s really not. There is a lot to think about when you sing, and those three things are just the tip of the iceberg. I break down the anatomy of the voice, so that when I do go in and teach those three concepts, they understand what their body is doing to create the sound they’re making.
Logic plays a huge role in teaching in general. So, breaking things down logically – and into smaller steps so that the ‘bigger picture’ doesn’t seem so overwhelming – seriously helps my students.”
“When it comes to playing instruments, great technique is how we achieve our goals. It’s not always the most exciting thing to practice at first, but once you begin to see the payoff, that’s when the lightbulb comes on. I like to create small exercises with familiar rhythms or melodies that the student will recognize. We break it down into small pieces so that it’s easy to comprehend, and then we build onto it when it’s time to increase the difficulty. Slow and steady wins the race. Also, I cannot say enough about using a metronome when you practice. Regardless of your instrument, you should always use a metronome to solidify your internal tempo. Learning to subdivide rhythms while simultaneously using the metronome will increase your understanding of how the rhythms/melodies fit together.”
In your experience, how does improved technique help a performer build confidence?
“When you improve your technique, you improve your overall vocal quality, and therefore improve your performance. You become confident in your own ability to make the sounds you want to make, and hit the notes you want to hit.
Mentality is also a part of technique, which is also a part of performing! You can reference an article I wrote about performance anxiety here. Basically, there is a chemical reaction that happens in your brain when you perform. You can either let it take over, or you can trust your own training and the technique you’ve learned.
Singing and performing is just as much a mental game as it is physical, and both play a role in confidence!”
“Working towards mastering any kind of technique will increase your skill level, and your ability to perform harder repertoire. When you achieve the goals you set for yourself – including mastering the techniques that got you there – you begin to see growth in yourself as a musician. The best part is, once you’ve mastered these techniques you have been working so tirelessly on, you will continue to apply them to new music. It’s like riding a bike. You don’t really ever forget the mechanics or ‘technique’ of riding it. You just inadvertently do it, because you’ve trained yourself to!”
Are lessons only for beginners, or do you find that more seasoned musicians benefit from expanding their abilities or receiving a “tune-up?”
“Lessons are for everyone! If you want to learn to sing, you can. As long as you can hear a note and match it, you can learn to sing.
Some of the most famous singers that you know still take lessons to keep improving their instruments, as well as to do a ‘tune up.’ It’s easy to go on ‘auto-pilot’ when you’re performing all the time. So, their own instructors help to keep their voices healthy!”
“Good heavens! If lessons are only for beginners, then call me – a 20-plus year veteran – a beginner! As a teacher, performer, and avid lover of music, I enjoy taking lessons from other professionals. I am always wanting to learn and grow. I did not start out at the skill level that I am at today. I worked to get here. However, if I am not further along in five years, then I am not doing right by myself or my craft. Musicians of any age or pedigree will always benefit from learning something new.”
Are all music teachers created equal, in terms of their style and approach to teaching?
“All music teachers have a different style of teaching. For example, I focus on the anatomy of the voice – and the role mentality plays in it – and not on certain genres.
There are also teachers who excel at teaching professionals versus beginners, or children versus adults. You just have to find the one who works with you the best!”
“Nope! We are all different but with some similarities. That is what is so great about learning from different teachers as you get older. Think about it: most students don’t have the same teacher all throughout their primary education. The benefit to this is that you learn different teaching styles, learning styles, approaches, and schools of thought, and then you get to decide which ones speak to you the most! All of the teachers you had throughout your time in school helped shape the way you think. If you’re going to focus on a certain genre, you’ll want an expert or someone incredibly knowledgeable in that specific genre, right? Therefore, you wouldn’t go to a Malmsteen-style rock guitarist if you want to learn about Chet Atkins’ country guitar style. However, there is much to be learned from both!”
How will a student know if their teacher is a good fit?
“‘Vibe check,’ as the kids say these days. Ha! Most teachers will offer consultations before you dedicate your time and resources to lessons. Honestly, it’s so they can see if they want to work with you, too! Singing, to me, is a very vulnerable action. You want to find a teacher with whom you feel comfortable and whom you trust.”
“As Erin stated, you want to feel the ‘vibe’ with someone before signing up in their studio. Some teachers and students don’t quite work out, and that’s okay. Remember, everyone has a different teaching style or method. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and really get to know the teacher. You know yourself best, so trust your instincts.”
What would you say to somebody who is interested in beginning lessons, but unsure or nervous about taking the plunge?
“Ask for a consultation first! See if that teacher makes you feel comfortable. Everyone had to start somewhere so, give yourself permission to be a beginner and to make mistakes! Personally, I love mistakes because it tells me what I need to work on with you, next!”
“Lessons aren’t meant to make you feel nervous or incapable. The right teacher will see to it that you feel supported and encouraged. I’ll echo Erin here, too. Ask for a consult. The teacher will be glad you did. Be open about your reservations and anxieties. Most music teachers remember that feeling, too, and they can walk you through how you’ll combat those feelings together.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“We at Music on The Move Studios are big believers in creating a safe space for all musicians. If you want to learn and dedicate the time the learning a new instrument, we are here for you!
Learning to play or to sing is scary, but it shouldn’t be because of the teacher. Find someone who makes you feel comfortable.”
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