Twyla Tharp has an excellent section of her book, The Creative Habit, in which she describes her morning ritual and how important rituals can be to living one’s most creative life. The famous choreographer and creator writes that she originally thought that her morning ritual was going to the gym and the workout that she completed there. Then, she gave it another thought. It wasn’t so much the gym and what she finished there but the simple act of her getting in the cab each morning. Once she did that, she was ready to take on the world. That simple ritual of getting in the cab to go to the gym signified that she was starting her day. We can take something from this concept and begin to ritualize lessons for our students to maximize their musical knowledge retention and application.
Creating Music Lesson Rituals
I have a few lesson rituals that I want to outline as a catalyst for thinking about the best rituals for your particular studio. Just like the anchor statements in the Free Fifteen Minute Meet & Greet, practicing these rituals in every lesson, with every student, helps to solidify some key points without having to explicitly explain them each time.
Ask About Them
This is an overly simplistic point but I have to include it here. I start every single lesson by asking my student, “Miss Violet, how the heck are ya? What is new in your life?” They usually look at me and respond, “Good. Nothing.” To which I say, “Ah, well, I don’t believe that. Who did you talk to today? What did you read? Anything fun happen today?” Then, they usually laugh and provide incredible responses about science fairs or gossiping friends and even first jobs. Because our lesson times are short, I try to keep this section brief but it is important for me to make my students understand that I care about them as whole people and that I don’t assume this is the only thing going on in their lives. I am an adult that they can trust and who listens to them. This quick confab helps open my students to the next ritual — setting intentions.
To be honest, there are quite a few “practice” concepts and conventions that I’ve openly stolen from yoga and used in my own studio. Setting intentions is by far my favorite. Promptly after our catch-up, I ask for two intentions. Setting two intentions is quite deliberate. Students usually know exactly what the first one is. Then, they stretch themselves a bit to figure out what the second thing is that they really want out of lessons that day.
I always explain to my students, “Now, these can be anything from working on specific technical issues to personal things like ‘feeling happy’ to repertoire requests. These are your intentions for our time together today. I know what I want to work on with you. This is your chance to tell me what you want to accomplish.” After too many lessons in which students drop an I-have-an-audition-on-Thursday bomb five minutes from the end of the lesson, you make sure you specifically ask at the beginning.
Also, this gives me a chance to provide loops during the lesson. “You told me that ‘building confidence’ was one of your intentions,” I say, “This technical exercise is specifically designed to make your vocal tone sound more confident.” It reinforces that you are helping them work toward their specific goals, while building on your overall pedagogical goals.
Ritualizing Technique Exercises
Finally, I always start voice lessons with technical exercises and I always start with the same technical exercise. I ritualize our descending, five pitch hum so that students are able to jump into the frame of mind of voice lessons right away. We do the exact same thing so that we let it become our chance to take an inventory of what’s going on that day. Students get used to checking in with their breathing and resonance from the get-go.
I encourage them during this exercise to think back on the ideas that they remember from our last few lessons. Furthermore, I prompt them to turn their attention inward and really focus on the sensations. Especially for younger or beginning voice students, building an awareness of singing sensations is an important principle and often brand new to them.
Demonstrating Habits of Success
My students may not realize that I am building rituals with them or teaching them how to set their own goals for lessons. But, it is a habit that I would like to pass on to them even if it is totally subconscious. Before you begin anything, you will accomplish more if you give yourself one or two objectives. What types of rituals do you enjoy passing on to your students? Which rituals help streamline your objectives in the studio? Which rituals do you have for teaching that go beyond the actual in-studio time? I would love to know your thoughts. Please comment below or share on your favorite social media platform. You can always tag me @mezzoihnen. Or, use #SybariticSinger.
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