I hear it time and time again from my voice teacher friends; I’ve even said it myself occasionally. “My student just doesn’t practice. Each week it’s like we’re relearning things.” The phrasing may vary, but the premise is the same – it’s frustrating when students don’t practice.
I wonder sometimes though – is it fair to expect students to practice?
I’m sure all of my fellow voice teachers are thinking, “Of course it’s fair to expect students to practice!”, but perhaps it’s not as black and white as that. A number of factors should be considered when determining how much we ask our students to practice and in what ways.
Why are they taking voice lessons?
A student looking to become a professional singer should practice extensively, without a doubt. A lot of work goes into being a professional singer, and practicing plays a big role in that.
But what if a student is taking lessons for fun? Maybe their weekly voice lesson is relaxing for them, an opportunity to unwind. Should that student be expected to practice each week? While it should be made clear that they will progress more quickly if they practice, maybe it’s not so important for this student. Some teachers will be alright with this kind of student, and others won’t be, and that’s okay! It’ll just factor into your teaching niche.
Do they know how to practice?
Although most voice teachers wouldn’t expect a beginner voice student to know how to practice, sometimes even more advanced students never learned how to learn music. We may or may not consider it our jobs to teach students how to practice, but if we’re going to expect our students to practice, we need to make sure they know how to.
Do they know what they need to practice?
Once it’s established that a student knows how to practice, teachers need to make sure their students understand what is asked of them each week, and that the student has the tools they need to complete the task. If a student needs to learn a section of their music, for example, make sure they have the sheet music at their disposal and mark which sections they need to learn or memorize. If they don’t know how to read music, give them a recording and show them how to practice with it.
Similarly, if you want your student to work on certain technical exercises and warmups, show them how to play and sing the exercise on their own and the technical goals they should be working towards with it.
So of course it is fair to expect our students to practice, but we need to recognize as voice teachers that different students will have different goals, expectations, and learning needs. We, as teachers, need to adjust our teaching methods appropriately while making our expectations for our students clear. As a result, we will have happier students who see more progress in less time, and in turn, we will be happier teachers for it.
Do you expect your students to practice? What tools do you give them to achieve their goals?