The learning curve – why singing teachers need to stay connected

Teaching singing can be a lonely business, but it is crucial vocal coaches stay in touch with the ever changing music industry. Ian Davidson explains how vocal coaches can continue to educate themselves and stay inspired.

“No Man is an Island….” – John Donne’s Devotions (1624)

I’m sure that you’ve come across this quote before. It’s fairly well known and has definitely passed into our vernacular. The presumption from this quote is that human beings depend and rely upon each other. That we naturally create communities, we are herd animals, we don’t do well on our own.

Except that sometimes we do find ourselves on our own. And very often, the singing teacher finds themselves on their own. However, the truth is that no singing teacher is an island. And shouldn’t aspire to be. Why not? Well there are several reasons really.

Firstly, singing teaching is a largely unregulated industry. There is no gold standard that we can adhere to nationally or internationally that will certify us as being skilled or even qualified really to do our jobs and so it is of critical importance that we keep abreast of the many changes that are being made to vocal health and science research as well as differing pedagogies and schools of thought. As mentioned above, many of us teach alone, without colleagues to learn and study from and so end up being responsible for our own learning, and it can be hard to know where to start.

Secondly, the natural isolation of the singing teacher can inadvertently cause the teacher to become “stuck”. The best case scenario is that you just stick with teaching what you know, but you can very quickly become disillusioned and bored with the job, which in turns leads you to becoming demotivating and uninspiring to your clients. The worst case scenario is that you can end up becoming labelled with the smear of smears – the “bad singing teacher”. I think you can agree that neither scenario is particularly appealing.

Here’s another quote

“Bad singing teachers ruin singers’ voices….”

I don’t know if this is an actual quote by the way, but I’ve definitely heard this bandied about over my career as a singing teacher, and I’m sure you will have too.

I’ve always derived much amusement from the image of this Machiavellian singing teacher – the arch-nemesis of singers everywhere, complete with underground studio/lair, hooded cowl, breeze block close at hand for diaphragmatic breathing exercises, with out-of-tune piano, no internet and a high-pitched Voldemort-esque laugh, devising new cruel and unusual ways to be a “bad” singing teacher. Sounds crazy right? And that’s because it is.

Surely nobody sets out to become a “bad singing teacher”? It can’t be an aspirational role? And yet, there are individuals who may fall into this category from time to time. Whether they “ruin” singers’ voices or not is another matter entirely. Personally I believe that ultimately a singer is responsible for their own voice, but maybe that’s a discussion for another time. But although I personally don’t believe in the “bad singing teacher”, bad direction or teaching can definitely play a negative role in development of a singer’s voice. 

So how do we end our isolation and avoid the label of “bad singing teacher”?

The answer quite simply is by engaging in “Continuous Professional Development”, or CPD. CPD is the sure fire way to avoid the being labelled a “bad singing teacher” and can propel us into joining communities that can help to end our isolation.

What I love about my continuing study of the human voice, is how relaxed and confident it has allowed me to become about my own teaching. The further I dig into this world, the more I realise there is to learn and this is tremendously exciting. And the great thing is that I don’t have to do this alone.

I belong to two organisations, Vocology in Practice (ViP) and BAST (Be A Singing Teacher). I am also a member of the British Voice Association (BVA) and I subscribe to the Naked Vocalist podcast/vodcast and iSing magazine. By far and away the most useful thing about being a member of an organisation like ViP or BAST, is that they provide me with educational resources in the way of articles and webinars and, of equal importance, they plug me into a community of singers and teachers via educational events and online forums. There are a number of singing organisations that can help to educate, maintain educational development, and provide ongoing support for singing teachers. Here are just some of them:

In conclusion, no singing teacher should ever aspire to be an “island”, and yet sometimes it can be one of the loneliest professions. The reality is that it is up to us to get connected and stay connected to relevant communities that can help to grow and develop. There really isn’t any excuse, especially with social media being the way it is these days. It is extremely gratifying to me as somebody who trains singing teachers, to watch people engaging in online forums, asking questions about the voice and receiving answers from all over the world.

There have been times during a lesson that I’ve found myself stumped and I’ve very quickly sent a message to a fellow teacher and received an answer back in the same session. It’s such an exciting time to be a singing teacher!

When I first started out, I remember being sat in my room with a piano and tape recorder so that students could record the lesson on to a cassette. I can’t even imagine teaching now without YouTube, or Spotify or Ultimate Guitar or any of the myriad of online resources that are available to us, and I can’t imagine being a singing teacher on my own without being plugged into various global communities.

Get involved and get better – swim for the mainland!

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Ian Davidson is a Singing Teacher and Vocal Coach based in Liverpool and Manchester (UK). He the co-director of Balance Vocal Studio and the Education Director for the Vocology in Practice global network of singing teachers, and one of 5 certified BAST (Be a Singing Teacher) trainers in the world. Ian regularly lectures at a number of different universities and colleges, most notably the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and he holds a MA in Music from the University of Salford. His thesis entitled “Can’t Sing, Won’t Sing - Afraid to Sing?” earned him a Distinction in his studies and continues to help people to overcome their fears and find their voices on a regular basis.