Voice changes are trying for all adolescents; making vocal progress during a voice change is even more frustrating. What can a teacher do to help students who are struggling physically and emotionally through this awkward period?
This is advice for all parties involved! Instructors need to be patient when it comes to temporarily changing teaching strategies and technical goals. Students need to be patient while they wait for mother nature to take her time. Inevitably, a vocal change coincides with recitals or a lead role in The Big Show! It is almost never convenient, and exasperations will abound. Young singers often express feelings of betrayal that the voice they were confident in using has suddenly become unreliable. The sense of self-worth that they associate with singing is often badly shaken when something that felt natural and effortless has become incredibly difficult. Take a deep breath, have a frank discussion with your student about the next steps you can take as a team. Keep the studio equipped with tissues.
Look Forward, Not Back.
In the recent weeks, I have encountered several vocalists whose voices have changed in some way, resulting in feelings of helplessness or lack of control. Each student has commented that ‘They don’t really sound like this,’ or ‘I was better before.’ I find the most tactful response to encourage a student not to look backwards at the child’s voice he/she is leaving behind, but forward to the adult’s voice he/she is acquiring. Dwelling on a past that can never be regained is an exercise in futility – don’t let students self-destruct by wallowing!
Take Some Time to Focus on other Music Goals
Many students who experience a vocal change at an inopportune time will quit studying voice – this doesn’t have to happen. When a student is unable to control their voice enough to make reasonable vocal progress it might be time to branch out and try some different areas of music study. My first suggestion is to take a look at developing basic piano proficiency – every prospective music major will need piano skills, why not start now? Alternatively, take up the guitar or another instrument that would allow for self-accompaniment. Let a student take out their frustrations on a percussion instrument while reinforcing their rhythm reading skills. Spend some time on music appreciation and music history. Practice aspects of voice that don’t require access to the student’s full vocal range – review excellent breathing technique, neutral vowel production, foreign language pronunciation. Get ahead on music theory!
This Too, Shall Pass
Remind students and parents that vocal changes are temporary. There WILL come a time when a student’s voice will not constantly crack. It may feel like an eternity to a young man whose soprano voice will ultimately land him firmly in the bass section, but it will settle eventually. Try to stay positive and have some good back-up lessons in mind for days when a student is having a tough day.