Specializing and good teachers

Let’s pretend that, in order to be a voice teacher, there are 100,000 possible facts to know. Let’s say that there are five kinds of these facts, divided into groups of related knowledge. Groups 1 through 5 contain 20,000 teaching facts each. In this experiment, let’s say that a “good teacher” is one who knows at least 20,000 of these facts, spread across the five groups. If you’d like to give the groups descriptive names, how about 1 = physiology of singing, 2 = vocal acoustics, 3 = selection and interpretation of repertoire, 4 = music literacy and music theory, and 5 = psychology of learning and learners. We could easily have several more groups, such as knowledge of a market segment, performing experience, time management skills, ad infinitum, but let’s stay simple for now.

THREE TEACHERS – WHO IS BEST?

Teacher Kyle knows 40,000 facts (twice as many as the average teacher, what a smarty!), but they are all concentrated in Groups 1 and 2. He seems incredibly smart and impressive when discussing anything related to these. He is so far ahead of the pack in these areas that he speaks at conferences frequently and is rewarded as an example of exceptional scholarship by the institution that employs him. Impressive!

Teacher Sofia also knows 40,000 facts, but they are spread evenly with about 8,000 facts in each group (what a well-rounded pedagogue!). She has no national fame, but her students sing well overall and she “gets her students into” good productions, programs, and schools. Impressive!

Teacher Pat also has 40,000 facts in the toolkit, but mostly in groups 3 and 5 (what a great people person!). Pat’s students adore their teacher, hanging on every word. Some are high achievers while others don’t seem to improve much, but they love lessons and are eager to share, performing frequently at community events and senior care homes. Impressive!

Who is the “best teacher”? The one who makes people feel good? The one who can explain how it all works in detail? The one who can find repertoire that fits like a glove? The one who sends students through the industry pipelines efficiently?

Saying “a good teacher must _____” is risky at best. There are teachers who are way out on a limb doing strange things in the studio, who have a few famous successes, and there are teachers who have simply helped hundreds of amateurs sing better, and by extension made their communities better, who never broke into the big time. Some advertise themselves, some are quiet, and some luck into or out of situations that make them seem a certain way. Fame does not equal anything, although reputation can make or break a career. Confusing fame and reputation is a problem.

Almost every teacher tends to specialize, whether they admit it or not. Some specialize because of the knowledge they pursue, some by attracting a certain kind of student that they click with, others by assigning certain kinds of repertoire that they are the most comfortable with, and others by targeting a market demographic that makes sense for their business plan (if they have a plan).

Can we fault a teacher for having a specialty, and then attracting students because of that specialty? Can we fault students who stay because they like what they are getting? How the heck can you judge? And why are you judging?

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

13 Replies to “Specializing and good teachers”

  1. And is a good teacher even someone who knows a lot of facts? Does it profit a teacher to know many facts, but lack empathy, or the ability to break down and organise facts into a lesson by lesson, week by week curriculum? Also, what the client brings to the lesson is important. If the teacher knows lots of facts, but the client is unmotivated.

  2. The best teacher is the one best for you. Two of the best teachers I worked with had no degrees at all. Another was amazing all the way around and very well known. One was someone almost no one had heard of before. They all gave me tools I use to this day and I would have been missing parts of the big picture had I not worked with each of them. What’s important to me is that the teacher gives you what you want and that they take you to a place that is better than where you started and give you more confidence and joy in singing than you had before. Since we are all unique, the “right teacher” will vary from person to person. I would not be the teacher I am without every single one of my teachers and I know my students will not reach their full potential without working with teachers other than me. It takes a village. Excellent article!!!

    1. Thanks, Matt! It sure does take a village. And we teachers need to encourage our students to get out there and ask for what they want, and if they don’t know yet, to ask for help with identifying what they need.

  3. I appreciate this post. My heart is with those who feel shame around their voices, who have been silenced due to both internal and external factors. There are times I struggle with this calling, though, because the list of high achievers in my bio isn’t long like others. Thanks for acknowledging a love for people and desire for them to find their voices and overcome their fears as a skill worthy of a good voice teacher.

  4. Thank you for sharing this perspective. I hadn’t really thought about our voice “facts” and areas of expertise in this way. I love that you call out the various the combos as being impressive. Sometimes we fall into over-honoring one teaching skill set over the other, and that does leave people out (students & teachers) who are doing “impressive” work.

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