Taking off the training wheels

Voice teachers, you are probably play the piano too much. When you are accompanying your student on exercises, are you playing every note with them in unison? Some of the time? All the time? Most of the teachers I have observed play all the notes all the time. Why is this normal?

The only teacher whom I have heard talking about this is Jeannette LoVetri. In her teacher trainings she told us to stay off of the sustain pedal and play fairly quietly. This is hard to do. I tend to want to play all the notes, connect each iteration with the pedal, and help the student to fill up the room with a constant sound. When I pull back, however, I think more learning happens.

When I play softer –

I can hear the singer better.

The singer takes more reponsibility for how much sound is in the room. This is when you can encourage the singer to sing out, fill the room with their own sound, or let them sing intimately without rudely banging on the piano, if that is what is desired.

The singer has to concentrate more on pitch. Here’s an example. The exercise is even moving notes on these scale steps, probably the most common pattern we use: 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1. Try playing all of the notes the first two times with the student. Then tell the student you are just going to play the 1 and the 5, either sequentially or holding them during the iteration. Boy howdy, do you get to the point immediately of “half steps and whole steps”! If they have been matching pitch well when you play all of the notes, but step 3 is flat on the way down (very very common), you have an opportunity to teach them how to listen for that and it gets fixed quickly. THEN contrast major with minor scales. This tunes up a singer quickly and is very, very handy for anyone who sings harmonies ever.

A cappella practice is an ultimate step in taking off the training wheels. It keeps the teacher sharp too. There is a kind of learning in voice-to-voice teaching of patterns that is a little different from directing everything with the aid of the piano.

In a string studio, you might go for 10 weeks straight of lessons with no piano reference at all. That would be a little extreme for singers, but it’s food for thought. Check in occasionally to get your pitch, and then get on with your vocalization by your own self!

2 Replies to “Taking off the training wheels”

  1. I realized my students were way too dependent on the piano during the last 2 years of virtual teaching, when I couldn’t play along with them and they had to do the exercises a cappella. Their musicianship soared during the pandemic. Now that we are (mostly) back, I am trying to keep my hands off the piano and not fall back into old habits of playing everything.

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