Blog – Being a Singing Teacher // Author: Laura Ratcliffe // Contact: laura@thesingersclub.
I wondered how to write this because there are so many different angles, niches and possible FAQ’s. In the end, I’ve gone for a sort of autobiographical summary of my teaching career to date and hope there are some bits here that you find useful if you are new to teaching singing!
HOW DID I START OUT IN MUSIC?
I was born into a highly musical family. Both my parents were bluegrass musicians and had me and my sister singing in harmony from age 2! 16 years later I became a professional singer and in-between contracts I would relish vocal coaching sessions in London, New York and over skype from Jazz, Contemporary and Musical Theatre teachers; including Ken Taylor, Ruth Levy, Debbie Lamin. After singing at a gig one evening – a lady came over and said “Can you teach me to do that?”
TIP: You don’t need to be a master of every single approach or musical style – do what you do really well and it’s always good to venture out and have some understanding of other approaches and styles – but also celebrate what makes you YOU – and where you come from
WHAT WAS MY FIRST TEACHING VENUE?
This is a funny story – I was in the Midlands and scouring for a venue to teach from. The dance studios were quoting £800+ p/m and I couldn’t get anywhere near that in budget. Then I was walking down Narborough Road and this wonderful, spire-like fortress sat above a letting agent and the amazingly wonderful manager said I could use the room to get me started (cue my crying). He said that many years before he had started out in a loft, with a land line phone and a clipboard and I reminded him of himself. So that was it… The Singers Club had its first ever base!
TIP: Students value the ‘experience’ of coaching and the venues feel, walls, atmosphere all have a part to play – so go with what works for you and be creative!
HOW DID I LEARN PIANO?
I could sing standing on my head… but in 2012 I also needed to play piano for mia and the moon’s album. I recorded parts in the studio and got myself a keyboard to gig with – but the amazing thing has been that using it to teach lessons forced piano practise and faster scales every day. Piano or guitar are great tools to teach singing with. The piano gives everything I need for teaching lessons but I do know my limitations! If an enquiry appears to require the marking up of audition sheet music with a musical theatre accompanist (or a classical teacher) then I will recommend someone more suitable. I don’t agree with miss-selling. There’s no point really – you might as well keep that spot available for a potential student on the horizon; suited perfectly to what you offer and allow people to find the right teacher for what they need.
HOW TO FIND A NICHE?
Speaking of well-suited students; At first, I taught anyone, anytime, anywhere. Over time… I’ve been able to carve out and realise my niche (changeable at future points of my life/career). I think the right students connect with the right teachers – this we don’t have to work too hard at – it just kind of happens!
Again; I can’t speak for all teachers – but the vast majority of students that have come to me for lessons have simply wanted someone who will be kind to them, allow and celebrate their quirks (we all have them), hear them. Someone who will be honest, constructive, make the learning process enjoyable and above all… ‘Inspire’. It’s a big ask for someone to learn how to open up their hearts & sing in a brittle, forced, awkward, heavy space – any teacher providing that type of environment is likely working more on their own ego than the student’s development. Students want a space to investigate, explore, experiment – gently steered by a teacher they trust. We also become students and I constantly learn from my singers – every lesson! It is a joyful and symbiotic journey that we are so privileged to be on.
TIP: Think about the unique parts of your own musical journey. What novel, sincere aspects can you extract and inject into your lessons? Remember, you don’t need to serve everybody moderately – just the right people really well.
NEVER STOP LEARNING!
We go through phases I think in careers where a little voice pops up now and again and says “time for a freshen up” or “that area is stagnant…” We are treated to such a plethora of resources and courses that there’s no excuse to not keep learning! I have loved going along to the Estill courses hosted by Anne Marie Speed in London – The whole adventure is fantastic; from taking the train down early on a Sunday morning (with sandwiches and a geeky vocal book) to a full day of learning surrounded by passionate singers, culminating in that exhausted feeling when your brain is completely full (5 minutes in! ha). We owe it to our students to keep on developing, learning – and staying on top of ever-changing technology, research and findings! At the helm of sharing much of this work recently is Jenovera Williams of ‘Evolving Voice’ and I have loved attending her zoom meetings with insightful guest hosts from around the world.
IS THERE ARE DIFFERENCE TO TEACHING ADULTS AND CHILDREN?
There are many. One that I will touch on here is that I’ve learned not to be too harsh on students with regards to ‘practise’ – especially adults. I realise it’s their hour of solace each week – perhaps one of the only hours they get to themselves to almost ‘meditate’ and they choose to spend it with me! What an honour! Children tend to already be in a schooling frame of mind and do really well to schedule their practise slots in with other subjects- but again, I’m careful not to overload – it’s their time of solace too and I’ve never been disappointed at the rates of progression as long as I keep things moving along, fresh, and fun! On the whole; half hour suits children, an hour for teenagers and adults (although there is crossover) with group classes being great for children below the age of around 5/6 years old.
We are a self-employed gang – and MUST keep on top of our finances. Having an organised approach spills into everything we do with regards to running our business – from protecting student’s data and sensitive information, to lesson diaries, and managing our work spaces. If we are scrappy and all over the place, it doesn’t matter if our content is gold; to a customer it looks like we don’t care. That’s all it comes down to. Organised and punctual = care.
After all – we expect our students to show up on time, pay their lesson fees and they very much deserve the same organisation and consideration in return.
10 tips from my journal:
Always be polite the sound engineer
Music gives us solace, purpose & adventure
It’s not the sound we make but the silence in-between that creates languages, songs and music
Singers get a bad red for being a ‘diva’ so learn the art of being a team player. Listen, give space and be part of the whole
The songs I heard as a teenager remain the biggest influence on the music I love today
At the time, I hated sitting for hours while Mary-Anne and Neil mixed songs in the studio, but looking back – those were funniest and greatest memories
Little daily habits seem to have shaped my career more than profound singular moments
You make your opportunities. You don’t find them, or get gifted them, or earn them – you MAKE them.
In the end; it’s not about the destination; It’s the fun we have along the way… but the destination gives us focus!
Give what you think is an incredible amount… and then, give a little bit more
Written by Laura Ratcliffe, Founder www.thesingersclub.com
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