Technique and Beyond

Most teachers will have had some sort of experience with choral singing and probably remember the basics of a singing technique. Others will feel that in order to do a good job they should go on some sort of course for this purpose. The basics of singing are fairly well documented, irrespective of which school of thought you follow or which training beliefs you might hold as an individual.

But technique is only part of the story (albeit an essential one). Other preparations should be made so that all aspects of the pupil’s early experiences of singing are positive, so that they will keep singing for years to come. In this blog, I will lay out some ideas that cover some of the physical, social and emotional elements to singing.

Fear of the Unknown

Many pupils find the act of singing daunting. They often feel pressurized about it, and see it as a scary pastime. But we should try to remember that when we find an experience daunting, the cause is normally the fear of the unknown. When we are given an insight into what we find scary, the task often seems less daunting.

Couple knowledge with a few skills on how to cope with other physical effects of the ‘flight-or-fight’ nervous response syndrome, and we can manage most tasks. The simple explanation of what is expected will put some students at ease, while others will need more reassurance that they won’t be called upon to sing solo or do something else which they do not want to do.

Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties

Lots of children and adults, me included, are dyslexic and therefore find the art of reading aloud a daunting task. Our inability to process words and letters quickly and efficiently causes problems in various aspects of daily life, and singing is no exception.

While dyslexia is fairly well-known about today, it is still not fully understood. Early diagnosis can make many tasks more manageable, and we can gain enormously just by being able to talk about it openly.

I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I started preparing for exams at the Birmingham Conservatoire. My inability to spell had never been recognised as a special problem in school, as I managed to find ways round spelling words I was not sure of. It was the difficulty of memorising songs that finally brought about my diagnosis as a dyslexic. Many of us who aren’t too heavily afflicted by dyslexia are often bright enough to find ways of coping. If you or your students have problems with memorisation or sight reading, though, it is well worth having a test to see if you have a genuine learning problem that can be helped, if not fixed. It may change your life forever.

Find Your Own Way

The approach to singing can never be said to be ‘one size fits all’. And more importantly, it should never be made to fit. As teachers we should remember that all tasks have their own hidden problems, and it is our job to understand and approach tasks from a different angle if necessary.

Sometimes that angle is given to us as our gender obviously doesn’t match all pupils – most of us teach male and female students. Next month, I’ll be dealing with how to teach singing to the opposite sex, since being able to adapt in this respect is particularly challenging.