I have a personal philosophy. One that has helped me throughout my career, and one that I know can help you as well. Be lazy!
Okay, before you close this site, never to return, hear me out. My goal with every group that I work with is to have them do as much of the work as possible so that I don’t have to. If I’m doing all the work, then they aren’t learning transferable skills. I’m simply teaching songs.
The real shortcut to better performances is to invest time, early in the process, to build skills.
For example, as a cellist, tuning is really important to me, so I spend a lot of rehearsal time working on ear training and voice building. Once singers acquire a few skills, the intonation improves dramatically. Honestly, it doesn’t take much time. And then I can be lazy and move on to something else.
Instrumentalists also learn how to read music, a skill many singers often never truly master. That might work for someone like Pavarotti, but most of us don’t have his voice. Rote learning is important, and has its place. Singers should, of course, be able to hear and repeat pitches quickly. But too often rote learning is the norm. Being able to read music encourages the singers to be self-reliant, so we need to teach them the skills.
What other skills are important?
Vocal technique. Understanding rhythms. Score Analysis. Phrasing. Vowels, I.P.A. Listening. Performing. Social skills, like being able to have difficult conversations and appreciating differences. Singers should take ownership of the ensemble, and be responsible for as much as they can. This will create more efficient rehearsals and ultimately lead to better performances
No matter how advanced your singers are, there’s always more to learn. Roomful of Teeth, for example, has some of the best singers in the country, and yet they spend time every year learning new vocal techniques. If they can do it, we all can do it.
I’ve often been asked how I have the time to teach skills when there’s always another concert to prepare for? My response is, how can I not? I start every rehearsal, including considerable time at retreats, building skills. Whether it’s sight-singing or ear training or score analysis, investing time to teach your singers skills means you can get more done in less time. Be lazy!!!
So where to begin? In this section I will post articles and videos that demonstrate how I develop these skills in singers. Like most educators, I’m always looking for ways to improve in the classroom. The great thing about music is that there are a thousand right answers. As long as you teach skills, and not just songs, you’re headed in the right direction.