It is difficult to believe sometimes, but I have been teaching this technique
for almost 30 years now. I started teaching at age 23 when my friend Martha
Rosacker offered to be my instructor in Ft. Worth, Texas. She was the first
person who was able to offer vocal assistance when no one else understood my
technical issues. I had been searching for vocal answers for a long time and
felt depressed and hopeless after studying with several teachers who could not
help me beyond an ego-centered or superficial level. If anything, my vocal issues
became worse during and directly after my university study. My primary vocal
problem was of incorrect vocal fach of which I have spoken in other articles.
It is primary and crucial that a young singer be singing in the correct fach.
Otherwise the singer can develop severe vocal problems such as a high larynx
or the pushing of breath pressure and the singer can eventually suffer vocal
damage. This was exactly my situation. I feel a great responsibility to spread
this message to the public.
Since the development of this web site, I have been teaching at least 7 to
8 hours per day, six days per week. This is mainly due to the fact that singers
and teachers travel from all over the world to my New York Studio and my European
Studios to study this technique. There is a special interest in the Swedish/Italian
School because of the connection to Flagstad and Bjoerling.
Teaching such long hours can create a grueling schedule and it takes a lot
of energy to focus while offering one on one instruction for that many hours,
especially on an almost daily basis. My professional work ethic dictates that
I offer each person the fullest attention of that hour and I do so. So many
teachers ask me, "How do you do it? How do you teach so many hours without becoming
completely exhausted?" In this article, I will try to answer this question to
the best of my ability and offer some ideas that could possibly help other teachers.
I take great delight in writing about technical aspects of the voice and the
psychological factors involved. Many of the psychological factors have not been
addressed sufficiently, especially when it comes to private teaching. One major
factor about which I have never read is the 'energy factor' of teaching. I have
never seen material in print, which offers factual or even hypothetical information
on ideas regarding balancing the teacher's energy while teaching many hours
in a given day.
It has become completely clear to me that there are factors in both teacher
and singer that effect energy. Most of the time I find that my ability to budget
my energy is directly related to the specific type of personality of the singer.
In this article, I will try to draw some personality profiles with which I have
had direct experience and offer some ideas that have worked for me in my almost
30 years of private teaching.
Personalities: Energy Balancing in the Studio
One need only think of the diversity of personalities within any given family
of origin to gain some idea of what a teacher faces every day. Considering the
fact that there often exists great contrast in various personalities, it is
easy to understand that these different aspects of human behavior represent
challenges a teacher may face daily. It is imperative that teachers learn about
differing personalities and how they operate. How much energy does one personality
demand in contrast to another personality type? This is a rather complicated
question and the answer is not clear-cut. The variables are too extreme and
the amount of energy in teaching each personality differs with these extremes.
In the following sections I will attempt to outline contrasting personality
types and define the amount of energy it takes to move them forward in the learning
The Needy Child: The Energy Drain
I find one of the most difficult aspects of teaching is evaluating the individual
personality fairly. Experience repeats exposure is a wonderful teacher in this
area. Since we really learn by doing, I have learned how to evaluate a singer's
personality often within the first hour of instruction and certainly by the
second hour of instruction.
One of the biggest energy drains is what I call the needy child: an individual
who really needs lots of attention, psychological reinforcement, and demands
lots of constant focus from the teacher. This is one of the largest energy drains
a teacher could ever experience. Again, I am no psychologist, but even Alan
Lindquest once told me that a teacher has to learn about the psychology of the
singer. In fact Dr. Gilles Bratt, teacher of Flagstad, studied with Sigmund
Freud as well as Manuel Garcia. Lindquest could not have been wiser in his statement.
The needy child often suffers from the following characteristics:
Living in a 'soap opera' type of dramatic state (there must always be
a life-crisis in order to feel alive).
Demands special attention: this can take the form of a special price for
a lesson or more time from the teacher beyond the professional hour.
Always demanding a change as an attempt to feel special beyond other singers
in the studio.
Longs for that special break when some agent or opera conductor is going
to simply discover him/her even though he/she really does not practice and
work like a professionally bound singer.
Suffers boundary problems; arrives for lesson early or late and demands
the teacher's time outside the specified hour.
Would like to spend most of the lesson time talking about personal problems
rather than learning how to sing.
Possesses a deep desire to make the teacher a surrogate parent; the good
parent he/she never had in childhood.
Reflects constant insecurity and wishes the teacher to constantly reinforce
him or her in an attempt to feel some sense of self-esteem or even just
a sense of safety.
Often these personalities are from families where addiction or abuse has been
present in the household. I suggest that teachers recommend that these singers
read the John Bradshaw books along with the books of Nathaniel Branden. Since
self-esteem is suffering from what I call the bottomless black hole, then it
is important that these people at least begin a healing journey. A teacher can
be a huge influence on starting this process.
The Co-dependent Personality: A Different Kind of Energy Drain
I call these types of singers "too much of a good thing". This kind of person
often gives to the point of self-sacrifice and then resents giving afterwards.
They often speak of themselves as good people and try to impress the teacher
with constant good deeds. This person's insecurity takes a different tact from
the needy child. These individuals need to constantly be giving to others in
order to feel good about themselves; another type of extreme insecurity and
neediness. It can take a while before realizing that someone is one of these
types of singers. The disguise is being nice all the time. Usually they do not
like or respect professional boundaries. I had a personal experience with someone
like this who was always offering me gifts. This individual really wanted my
approval so badly that he/she would constantly shower me with favors, gifts,
etc. These students usually are not focused on their personal or professional
goals and they often do not possess the discipline necessary to become a career
singer. Sometimes these individuals are extremely scattered emotionally and
really cannot achieve the professional work ethic necessary to have a healthy
professional life. I have found that they are often type A personalities seeming
to have a lot of energy and appear to get a lot of work done. Sometimes they
are actually depressed and disguise this depression with the joy costume. The
appearance of getting a lot done is usually where it stops. He/she is often
very social and loves or needs to be recognized by others almost constantly.
This is a general personality description and there are certainly variables
within this kind of co-dependency. I suggest the Melanie Beattie books: "Co-Dependent
No More" and "Beyond Co-Dependency". These books will begin an awakening of
It is easy to see how this kind of personality is an energy drain on the teacher.
The person seems focused and positive, yet he or she does not move forward in
the skill of singing and developing as an excellent musician. With time, the
teacher often finds that the lack of work reveals itself. In fact, this kind
of person is usually more interested being social than in attaining career goals.
Again this is not a value judgement of this person but simply an observation.
It is important that this kind of singer become emotionally visible and the
personality characteristics be clear. It is the only way a teacher can successfully
learn more about dealing with the co-dependent.
The Balanced Personality: Those Who Can Move Forward Quickly
How can we define a balanced person in such an imbalanced world? I really
don't know the exact answer to this question. I believe that it is rare to find
a person in this world who feels emotionally balanced. However, the most emotionally
balanced people I have taught have one major characteristic in common: they
ALL take responsibility for their professional and person lives. They work toward
a deeper self-understanding and take responsibility for a personal growth journey,
which broadens their self-understanding. These individuals continue to grow
because there is always some level of self-analysis that is encouraged. Having
developed a curious mind for learning, there is usually a sharing of questions
and answers at the end of each lesson. It becomes apparent to me early in the
singer's study that he/she actually gives the instructor energy back rather
than just draining. It is a personal delight to teach such singers. Often these
are people I could feel good about sharing a personal friendship with as well
because they have strong boundaries in their own lives. These strong boundaries
help them to develop a respect for my personal boundaries as well and the result
is mutual respect and consideration. It is not rare to find young professional
singers with these kinds of personalities. Rather than calling them balanced
personalities, I suppose I should call them individuals seeking balance and
taking adult responsibility for themselves physically (through exercise), emotionally
(through therapy or group self-help organizations) and financially (through
taking on a second career that pays for the training of singing). So balance
is a journey combining the desire to accomplish and the desire to give back
to the world. The balanced singer is basically a curious-minded person who thrives
Tools for Saving the Teacher's Energy:
Unlike the balanced personality, the other two extreme personalities described
before take more energy than any individual can offer and still teach 6 to 7
other singers within a day. I have prepared some ideas that have worked for
me in dealing with the difficult personalities, which I will share in the following
Move around the room quite often. Stand and demonstrate a concept such
as correct posture. Remember the energy drain is when this kind of person
can look you in the eye for long periods of time. Doing physical exercises
at the first of a lesson can help to save emotional energy.
Focus on the 'third eye' which is a point exactly in the middle of the
eyebrows. If someone is intense, then this will disperse the focus and protect
you from the 'energy drain'. You can remain present yet your energy will
Visualize a beautiful suit of armor. (I learned this from psychologist
Ruth Hersh of New York.) Image this armor in the most beautiful color or
your favorite color. Psychologically put on this beautiful armor before
the draining student arrives. Enjoy being in a costume that is of your favorite
color and design and that is strong enough to disperse the intensity of
a needy personality.
Ask questions to the singer about their singing process. Do not allow
this conversation to drift to their personal problems, but rather keep it
only on singing. If they drift away from the subject, simply say in a kind
voice: "Let's stay with the subject of singing and what you have discovered
this week. I am really interested in your process."
Make meditation assignments to the singer in order to develop his/her
ability to focus and concentrate. Perhaps this will invite a self-dialogue.
Have the student discuss the results of self-discovery within the next lesson
and the effects on that person's singing.
Ask the singer to make a verbal list of his/her vocal and professional
goals. Offer a list of priorities and ask the singer to speak about those
goals. Have the singer list both short term and long term goals.
Give the singer physical exercises to do to warm up the body for singing.
For singers who have difficulty concentrating, this can offer them physical
movement and often takes their mind off any personal issues. Physical movement
can center the mind and function as a tool for enhancing concentration.
If you have an open studio, offer the singer the opportunity to hear the
lesson of a singer with a similar voice. Then at the next lesson, ask that
singer to verbalize similarities to his/her vocal issues. Also, have the
student verbalize differences. This discourages a competitive attitude.
ALWAYS make the singer give out more energy than you are giving. I find
the less energy I give (this does not mean I am not fully present), the
more the singer takes responsibility for their vocal process. I demand that
the singer be involved in his/her process and offer feedback in each professional
Master the art of using a sense of humor in your teaching. Professional
goals need to be approached ethically and with high standards; however,
it must also feel light and enjoyable. This will keep the singer focused
on the positive instead of the negative aspects of personal issues. The
humor also helps to disperse energy and you will feel how the humor actually
gives you energy in return. This allows you to teach many more hours without
fatigue. (Remember that humor is NOT sarcasm. Sarcasm is abusive. Real wit
is laughing a life situations, not individual people.)
All of these ideas are designed to disperse the intense energy of teaching
one on one. This will save your energy because it puts the singer in motion
and does not allow time for personal issues to become the focal point of each
session. The work will become the center of attention.
Keep Your Behavior Professional
NEVER answer telephone calls or eat during lessons. This does not disperse
energy, it makes you look unprofessional and it allows the singer the opportunity
to complain to others that he or she is not getting full time or attention.
If a singer is needy, then he/she can play victim once again with the idea:
"Poor me, I'm not even important enough to have this teacher's attention even
when I am paying for professional time." Remember that teachers need to be examples
of professionalism. Take your example seriously and keep your standards and
ethics at an extremely high level. Respect is earned not demanded and you must
earn respect of the singer just as the singer must earn respect from you and
his or her colleagues.
Also it is important that teachers stay off the judgement seat. When a teacher
comes across as judging someone's character constantly, then the singer becomes
defensive and uncomfortable. Remember that a teacher is not a parent and it
is easy for singers to project the bad parent role onto an instructor. This
is an uncomfortable role to play and one that I do not recommend to anyone.
Finally, good luck in your teaching journey. This is a most rewarding profession
if done with a positive attitude, a sense of humor, high standards, and a true
determination to help others. Alan Lindquest was an incredible example of a
man who became a master teacher through his positive psychological approach
to teaching. I once knew a philosopher who said to me, "No one is special and
everyone is special." I will never forget this quote because I try to practice
this philosophy in my daily teaching and my daily life. It makes everyone worthy
(c) David L. Jones/2002