9 Goofy Things Voice Students Say

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9 Goofy Things Voice Students SayVoice students say the darndest things! And my students are no exception. Over the past couple of years I've collected their antics and funny comments. Here, without further ado, are 9 goofy things my voice students have said:

You know you're old when...

A: *takes out smart phone and hits the button* Siri, who is “Milli Vanilli”?

Do I have a wobble?!

T: *looks at me wide-eyed.* Nicole, your vibrato…it scares me.

Confessions of a high schooler:

D: (whispered) I like orchestra better than band!


Kids say the darndest things:

G: (singing from “The Cherry Tree” original lyrics "They sing of the frozen rivers...") They sing of the frozen livers…


Me: (reading from sheet music) Steht der Strauch…

E: What’s that word?

Me: Strauch.

E: *shakes head slowly* No…

Dear Senior Voice Students...7 Words of Wisdom

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Dear Senior Voice Students,7WordsofWisdom

It's hard every year when you depart. The last concert is so emotional, your last lessons are poignant. I often imagine what you'll think 20 years from now when you think about your voice lessons. Did you learn what you wanted to learn? Did all the music theory sink in deep enough? Do you remember to breathe with your belly?

Here are 7 pieces of what my students would probably call unsolicited advice I give to seniors and any voice student who's going off on a new adventure. I like to call them Words of Wisdom.

1. When you take lessons, you are paying money in exchange for a service, which means that you are the consumer. You are paying the bill, which means your teacher works for you. You might be in a teacher's voice studio, however you are the client, the customer. So if you're happy, keep it up. If you're not happy, start shopping around.

This applies to all areas of life, whether it be lessons, relationships, doctors, etc. Don't ever think you have to keep at something to meet someone else's expectations.

2. Your list of (over-)achievements is long. Life is short. Choose your activities wisely. You will be happy to have time in your calendar when your friend calls, someone in your family falls ill, or for simply having quiet time at home to follow your fancy. You are so worth it.

3. Remember that at the end of the day, there are no schools--they are just buildings; there are no businesses, it's just paper. At the end of the day, all you have are people. So be kind. And spread it far & wide. The world needs more kindness.

Routine in the Voice Studio

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Having a general, predictable routine in the voice studio is part of what I call the "culture of a voice studio." When students start taking lessons from you, whether it is your private studio or at a school, they need to learn how your studio functions--Routine in the Voice Studio bluethey want to know what they can predict. Having a general structure to lessons creates a sense of security for you and your students and avoids chaos.

Over this past school year I've implemented a beginning-of-lesson-routine that has helped many students focus and relax when they enter their lessons--they take 3 slow, deep breaths before we do anything else. There are always a few students who try to rush through these breaths, and I have them start over and take slower breaths.

These 3 breaths serve multiple purposes:

1. The student turns off the outside world and turns on to their voice lesson.

2. The student will calm and relax.

3. How the student breathes gets you an idea of where they are that day, breath-wise as well as psychologically and emotionally speaking.

Things I've Learned from Teaching Voice, Part 1

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things ive learned from teaching voice part 1In 2004 I started teaching voice. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Long story short, I thought I was too good for it, that I should be singing, not teaching, and I was soon proven completely and utterly wrong.

I LOVED it. My first student was an attorney who sang in the concert choir in the Musikverein Lippstadt and took voice lessons to enrich her life and so that she might enjoy her singing more. Other students followed, from teens who wanted to sing the choir music arrangements from Harry Potter to rock singers to adults who only wanted to sing classical music.

Since then I've taught hundreds and thousands of hours of voice and I'm happy to share with you several of the things I've learned. Here's Part 1.

1. Your students will always show you their utter humanity.

There isn't much more bittersweet than a teen telling you how much they really want to do well at contest or how frustrated she was that something went wrong in an audition. Teens (and adults) come to lessons as whole beings, which means they have all their hopes and their dreams and their own perfections and lack of perfections. Somehow I thought teaching voice would be really nice, fun, and somehow cute, yet students come to their lessons with every emotion you can possibly imagine--I am continually changed by the stories they share, how they connect with the text or with the music, and how much they seek my undivided attention. It is an honor to give it to them.

2. Your students will crack the funniest jokes you've ever heard.

I have a blog post started on this, and I'm still collecting the funnies. Stay tuned for this.

3. You will be witness to the most beautiful music... and no one else will ever hear it just like you heard it.

This is one of the toughest things I've learned and I learned it again yesterday. A student came in with a piece with a solo that she's auditioning for so we worked on it--by keeping it simple, and by focusing on the story and the perfectly written melody, her voice and the music, the story flowed out of her. The room (at the school) was hot so I had the door propped open and a teacher walked passed us--when the teacher heard her singing that song, it stopped him in his tracks. He looked at me, his eyes wide, and he just stopped and listened.

She was singing the story.


For Voice Teachers: The Private Voice Studio Handbook

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The Private Voice Studio Handbook by Joan Frey Boytim

Joan Frey Boytim's Private Voice Studio Handbook is a Must-Have for all Voice Teachers

September is just around the corner and now is the time to get your voice studio organized for the next school year. A great tool for getting your studio set up is The Private Voice Studio Handbook: A Practical Guide to All Aspects of Teaching by Joan Frey Boytim.
Long known and respected as a voice teacher and presenter for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), Ms. Boytim taught voice privately for over 45 years. Her experiences as a school music teacher, a private voice instructor, and a compiler of dozens of vocal repertoire books for Hal Leonard publishing have provided her with more than enough expertise for producing this excellent handbook.
I've been using this book as a guide and resource for my voice studio since I began teaching in 2004. Knowing the ins and outs and having heard it all, I can confidently recommend this book for any and for all private voice studio instructors.
Here's what I think:


+ Friendly Format: each chapter begins with a 'letter' from 'Nancy' and serves as an introduction to each chapter. Even these short letters provide insight and assistance.
+ She is clear that a voice studio is a business. Chapter 21 is appropriately entitled "Business 101" and that's exactly what Ms Boytim provides. She covers the delicate task of raising lesson fees with clarity and appropriateness: "Since studio teaching is a business and not a hobby, your fee schedule adjustments must be made as economic factors dictate."
+ Ms Boytim has covered all the major topics in a great level of detail. She covers equipment, the studio policy, music purchases, record-keeping and organization.
+ The structure of the lesson is important, as consistency and repetition lend much to the students' learning process. She covers the initial lesson in-depth (Chapter 7).
+ Solfeggio Syllable Sheets:  So many singers don't necessarily learn the basics of how to create music, they learn music and then can repeat it. Learning to identify the structure of music is a key component of creating music, and Ms Boytim has included her own Solfeggio Syllable Sheets for your studio use--with duplication authorization. She's even included simple harmonizations so you can accompany the student for these. These are an invaluable tool to helping students learn how to sight-sing and they are basically free.
+ Multiple Income Streams:  there's a list on page 105 of other income producers. She gives great ideas!


- Since this book was published in 2003, it doesn't offer advice on running your website or using online scheduling.
- Some of the topics, like what to wear (she recommends skirts for females...) are not necessarily going to resonate with Gen X, Gen Y, and the Millennials. When in doubt, go for Business Casual or for Business Dress. It's always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
- Sometimes it's better to politely reject a student that you can not serve well, whether it be through personality conflict or mismatched goals. Ms Boytim doesn't answer this question, which can be a sticky situation for an instructor.

In Summary:

The Private Voice Studio Handbook is a must-have for any voice instructor, whether you are teaching part-time or full-time. It's important to have a clear structure and to present yourself professionally as an independent business owner and as an instructor. Especially if you are in the vital foundational stages of your business (the first 1-3 years), this book will provide you with essential information and guidance for a successful voice studio.


What is Solo & Ensemble? And What Do the Judges Do, Anyway?

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Solo & Ensemble (or "Solo-Ensemble") is a yearly opportunity for kids in music programs to perform a solo, duet, and/or a small ensemble piece and get some feedback from a judge. This feedback includes a rating and if it's really high, they can go on to perform at state and receive another critique.

For some students, Solo & Ensemble is the only time they get to perform outside of band, orchestra, or choir. (I'll focus on choir and solos & vocal ensembles in this piece.) It may be the only time that they ever sing a solo or the only time they ever sing outside of choir.

And students sing for so many reasons. Some students sing because they are taking voice lessons and perhaps will go on to study music. Other students sing because their choir directors asked them to sing in an ensemble. Others sing just to sing something with their friends and/or siblings--it's an experience that can last a lifetime and a wonderful way for a friendship to grow. Especially for seniors, this can be a wonderful way to highlight their senior year in choir, singing with their classmates and friends.

Several schools join together and one school hosts a Solo & Ensemble Festival; usually schools rotate the hosting responsibilities between this group of schools. The hosting school sets a deadline for sign-ups so choir directors work with the students to select their solos, duets, quartets, and even quintets. Perhaps the chamber choir will also take part. Practicing and rehearsals take place en masse.

Each solo or ensemble students sign up for is called an 'event' and students are limited to 3 or 4 events per Festival, depending on the state guidelines. Perhaps a student will sing in a solo, a duet, and a trio--that's three events. Their festival events are now capped.

Whoever schedules Solo & Ensemble Events must be a genius. ;)

The day of the event students get ready, warm up, and show up at the specified room in time to sing their piece. For accompanied pieces, they will also have an accompanist with whom they have already practiced their piece. This is what (usually) happens in their short, 10-minute time slot:

They hand over a clean, legal copy of their score and their pre-labeled scoring sheet to the judge.

Students introduce themselves and their piece, perhaps also the high school they attend.

They sing their piece.

The judge takes notes on their performance and only their performance during this, on a standard critique sheet published by the State high school music association.

In the remaining time, the judge can speak with the student(s) and work with her/him/them on a couple of aspects that work well and other aspects that they can improve upon.

At the end, the student takes their materials and depart. The judge completes the comments and scoring.

The next student shows up (if they haven't been listening to the other participants) and the process begins again.

PHEW! That's a lot in 10 minutes. And depending on the Festival, it could be 3 hours or 5.

The judge's job, as I wrote about last week, is to meet each and every student where they are, whether they are a seasoned Solo & Ensemble participant or a total newbie to singing, and to bring them to the next step. A judge has time, perhaps, to affirm 1 or 2 things they've done well, and work with the student on 1 or 2 things they can improve, and the time is up. It's a small, crucial period of time.

Solo & Ensemble is intended to be an educational experience for students and an opportunity for musical advocacy and music teaching for judges (and accompanists and choir directors and band directors and orchestra directors).

It is a not an opportunity for judges to insult students, bring them down, criticize them demeaningly, nor to deem them worthy or not. If you ever have such a judge, report them to your teacher, the Festival director, and your state's music association. Because when judges do that, they destroy a student's interest in a musically creative life. Think I'm being overly dramatic? Think again. This is what we voice teachers and choir conductors hear years later, all of which I have personally heard:

I sang in Solo & Ensemble once. The judge yelled at me, I did so poorly and I haven't sung since.

The judge gave me a bad score last year. There's no point in going again this year.

I was told I couldn't sing so I haven't sung for 20 years. But my baby likes it when I sing--should I sing?

Choir directors also talk about students who won't go to Festival again because the judges were overly critical and not supportive.

What we should hear about judges, when students have had a good experience or they messed up and were still treated with respect:

I forgot all the words to the second verse, but the judge worked with me to help me remember the words next time. So my score wasn't very good, but I learned a lot.

That tip the judge gave me made a huge difference. I can relax more when I'm singing and it's a lot more fun!

I STILL remember the awesome pirate duet I sang with my friend Kelly in Middle School for a solo & ensemble-type event. "The wind, the wind...the wind, their rebels deep..." I will never, ever forget the judge that tore me apart my senior year of high school (and I will never, ever treat students like she did--I sincerely hope that she has changed). This is an opportunity for professional singers and voice teachers to help guide 'the next generation' of singers into college choirs, community choirs, performing ensembles, barbershop quartets--building on the foundation their current choir directors and voice teachers have created, we get to assist them into an even more beautiful life.


What do you remember about Solo & Ensemble? Do you remember what the judge said to you? What piece was it you sang?