It happens to us all: You wander into your teacher’s studio with your tail between your legs, looking at the floor. The instant you sit down, you sigh and admit that you haven’t practiced at all.
You have reasons. You’re dealing with disruptions at home, school or work, or you just don’t feel motivated to be musical with all the other commitments you have piling up. You looked at your finances and decided you can no longer afford lessons; you’ve been doing them mostly just for fun, or you know that you can get just as much vocal practice in your church choir or whatever else, so why spend the extra money? You’ve had a change in your job or your priorities. You might be discouraged with the lessons themselves, feeling like you’re not getting any better, wondering why you had this wild-hair idea in the first place.
This is why, as a teacher, I take notes the moment a potential student first sits down with me. I want to get exactly why they want to take lessons, what their goals are in doing so. So that when they eventually come in with that guilty-puppy look, I know exactly where to go to start the conversation.
But I don’t actually start the conversation by reminding the discouraged student of her original motivations. Instead I will ask her to take the time to remember them herself, outside of the studio. The journey began in her hands; it has to remain there. And nine times out of ten, those original motivations are not really about singing at all; she’ll talk about confidence, self-discovery, stress relief, making a difference for others, and on and on. Even professionally oriented singers have deep reasons for singing that aren’t about singing, in the final analysis.
Singing is the journey toward fulfillment, not the goal itself. It’s a pathway through the obstacles in life, rather than another obstacle in the way. I like to give students time to experience this on their own, to see how vocal practice can make a difference for them even in the middle of all the chaos they may be experiencing. Start your day with breathing exercises or a toning sequence and see how it helps you face the rest of the day. Extract some wisdom or peace from a song you may be working on by humming it or listening to your favorite artist sing it. There’s no formal structure to it; just let music be your partner for a few days.
And then see if you’ve re-discovered your love and motivation for singing. It can be surprising. I have a student who said that vocal practice made a huge difference in her ability to teach second-graders: she could conserve her speaking voice in the classroom better and make it more authoritative without yelling. She also had the diaphragmatic fortitude to break up a fight on the playground! Now, this wasn’t one of her stated reasons for taking voice lessons in the beginning, but it’s one of the things that keeps her going now. It was a turning point in her lessons when she realized what vocal practice could do for her if she let it.
And that’s not a “side benefit,” either; that’s the whole point of making music: to transcend our everyday selves through the art of sound in time. I think if enough people see this possibility, then maybe music practice – or any art – won’t be just another schedule block for the few who can afford the luxury, but an essential part of who we are and who we can be.