Updated: Jul 31, 2018
If you spent a day observing my teaching studio (and you are most welcome!), you might notice that I ask many questions and give not-as-many answers. Especially when working with new students.
In the first lesson, I may ask things like… …How do you think the human body produces sound? …What do you love about your voice? …What would you like to do differently with your voice? …If you had to teach someone to sing, what would you tell them? …If you could sing any role (or song), what would it be?
These are diagnostic questions, aimed toward helping me understand what the student knows about the process of phonation and how their vocal instrument works. They also help me understand how the singer thinks of him/herself and how we can work to define their goals and structure future lessons.
In subsequent lessons, I may ask things like… …How did that feel? (More specifically, how did your throat feel? Torso feel? Jaw feel? Shoulders feel? Etc.) …What did you observe? …What is happening in your body when you make that sound? …What steps can we take to recreate that sound? …What could we change to make this easier? …Does singing in this way feel good?
These are, for lack of a better term, empowering questions, aimed toward helping the singer develop their unique vocal vernacular, based on their unique physiology.
In asking what a student feels and observes rather than just telling them what I see and hear, they are tasked with the responsibility of checking in with themselves and developing a sense of “rightness” or “efficiency” from within—not from my external observations.
In asking how they made the sound or what steps they could take to recreate the sound (or what they could do differently), they are tasked with the responsibility of knowing their instrument and how it functions and of making informed artistic choices in their singing.
In asking if singing in this way feels good, they are reminded that singing should feel good. It might feel like work or effort or engagement…but it should be pleasant work, effort, or engagement. Singers need to be reminded that if something hurts or feels inefficient, there is likely a better way.
Of course there are plenty of moments of "teacher talk" in lessons. I don’t expect singers to entirely teach themselves, and, of course, I give tools, exercises, techniques, and general instruction. But too much of this for too long can make the lesson feel as if it is about my teaching, when it should be about the student’s singing.
I am learning that asking questions rather than giving directives is one way to lay the foundation of an informed, empowered singer. Whether the student is 8 or 48, it’s pretty awesome when they’re able to sing, assess their singing, find a solution, and sing again more freely. That’s the goal in my teaching (or perhaps I should call it my professional question-asking?)—informed, empowered vocal choices. Let’s question everything.