10 Tips for getting the most out of your lessons

A student of mine recently requested a set of clear guidelines for how to best approach the exercises we do in her lessons. I thought compiling such guidelines would be a useful exercise for me and might benefit my other students as well, so here goes!

  1. When I play an exercise or a chord or a note, LISTEN to it. Just let it register on your brain; don't rehearse it, try to memorize it, or think about it. And don't worry about getting it right. If you sing something different than I intended, it might be even better than what I had in mind. (This happens all the time! There truly are no mistakes.) Anyway, we can repeat anything as many times as needed.
  2. When you sing the exercise, perform it as musically as possible, as though it were a passage from a wonderful piece of music. Sing it as though it was your own idea to sing it.
  3. While you are singing, LISTEN to your voice as it emerges. Do not judge the results or think about them or plan what you will do next. Be in the moment.
  4. Signs you are not in the moment during your lesson: mind-wandering, having an inner conversation about your singing, judging your singing as good or bad, feeling bad about yourself or your singing, not having fun. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, just notice them without judging them. Feel free to state aloud what you are noticing and we'll discuss it.
  5. After the exercise, if I play another chord, repeat the excercise in the new key. Pay attention, as I may indicate variations through words or gestures or facial expressions or piano playing.
  6. Stay present to your environment as you sing. This includes me, the piano, the room you are in, and especially the sounds you are making.
  7. Perform each exercise exactly as I present it, to the best of your ability. Do not arbitrarily vary the rhythm, vowel, volume, or any other factor. 
  8. Between exercises, unless you have a question, it is usually best to stay silent. This gives your voice a bit of a rest and allows me to think about how to proceed with the lesson.
  9. Throughout the lesson, use any tools you know (like the Alexander Technique) to bring energy, ease, and poise to your posture and movements and breathing. Remain as still as possible while singing—promote efficiency by moving only what is necessary. 
  10. Do not judge the sounds you are making! If I am having you make sounds you consider ugly or improper, there is probably a reason for it. Besides, we are terrible judges of our own singing: my students often stop right in the middle of an especially well-sung phrase, certain that the new thing that just happened was wrong.