If a singer has a lot of technical issues to improve upon, a majority of the lesson, or often entire lessons, will be filled with exercises. Getting the voice untangled, strong, flexible, and more highly functioning is very important, moreso than adding repertoire.
However, a singer needs to sing! Even if they are “not ready for repertoire”, they still need to sing for fun occasionally. So what should they sing?
- No previously-learned repertoire for a long time during major technical work.
- Song repertoire that is limited in pitch and dynamic range, but not in musical quality.
- Songs in languages that the singer is comfortable singing, emphasizing their native language.
Some examples of these for an English-speaking student would be:
- Folk song settings of Britten
- American folk songs with simple accompaniments, or a cappella
- Dowland lute songs.
- One Hundred English Folk Songs ed. Cecil Sharp
- The Big Book of Folk Songs pub. Hal Leonard
- Early Italian songs that are not from the “24 Hits” (if they are comfortable in Italian)
- Folk song settings of Brahms (if they are comfortable in German)
Let the student sing these with whatever voice they have at the time. Even if the singing is rough, the singer will still have the positive experience of doing something with music, and not feel completely stifled during a period of technical overhaul. It would be best for students to limit or stop public performances while making big technical changes, since that can be overwhelming or confusing.
If the singer’s soul says to sing, we need to let that happen, as easily and reasonably as possible. And then in the studio and practice room, we work, work, work toward better singing.