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Revolutionize Your Studio: Provide Your Students with Useful Feedback

July 18, 2016

We currently live in a society in which most of the population believes that they can become famous singers. The formula, in most people’s minds, seems to be: have voice > go on reality show > strike it big > collect fat checks. As someone who has devoted their life to the study, practice, and teaching of singing, you know it isn’t that easy. But, when that is the widely disseminated view of singing, how do you provide useful feedback to your students? You must actively build trust with your students so that they believe your constructive criticism. Then, you have to give them actionable advice.

The formula, in most people’s minds, seems to be: have voice > go on reality show > strike it big > collect fat checks.Tweet:

Revolutionize Your Studio: Provide Useful Feedback to Your Students

The Critical Role of Feedback in the Voice Studio

Think back to your experience in undergrad or graduate school (be it days or years) and call to mind a student who you believed “didn’t have what it takes, vocally.” Everybody has an example of this. I know you do too.

I, personally, believe that everyone who can vibrate their vocal folds can sing. I do not believe that everyone can sing professionally. However, I do not think that everyone who takes voice lessons, or even majors in music, wants to sing professionally. Music schools need to be very clear about who they are accepting into which role and why. The problem is when music schools graduate students who have no idea where they fit into the field of professional singing. But, that is a topic for another post…

Music schools graduating students who have no idea where they fit into the field of professional singing is a problem.Tweet:

You will do your students a benevolent service by giving them critical feedback that motivates and encourages them to do better, systematically.

Become an Authority on How to Reach Singing Goals

You need your students to trust your advice and criticism. That means that you have to be a multi-faceted authority when it comes to singing. As a teacher, please stay in a curious and learning mindset as much as possible. Do new research on technique. Do spend time practicing your languages and how to teach diction to your students. Do spend time understanding the vocal/opera higher education landscape. Do spend time learning new audition and performance skills. The list goes on. The point is that your students will suffer if you, as a teacher, are disconnected and disengaged from the larger career field.

Your students will suffer if you, as a teacher, are disconnected and disengaged from the larger career field.Tweet:

Effective feedback requires that your students have clearly articulated goals. Your feedback takes into account their goal and uses that objective as a benchmark for their success. Here’s an example of giving goal-focused feedback:

You said that your goal was to get into honor choir this year (clearly articulated goal.) Here are the metrics that they judge in the audition (demonstrating authority.) Will you please rate how you feel on a spectrum of ‘just getting started’ to ‘advanced’ in these areas? You said that you feel confident about being advanced in your sightreading. I noticed that you correctly sightread 10 out of 20 measures (concrete metrics.) I would consider that intermediate. What do you think we can do to improve those skills? Here are some steps I would like you to consider (action steps.)

This example brings me to the feedback sandwich formula for giving constructive criticism.

The Feedback Sandwich

The feedback sandwich follows three components: these are the expectations you have met, these are the expectations you have not met, and here are your next steps to consider. Notice how we started with the goal in mind. I want my feedback to my students to be tangible and transparent. This is why I used the spectrum but followed it up with the specific number of measures completed correctly and how that relates to where you are on your journey towards goal mastery. After that we have a quick discussion about actionable steps from both parties.

The whole point is that you are actually teaching your students how to break down large goals into actionable steps. It is very easy to make this connection to the larger world. Make sure your students know that this is a life skill that they can apply to any of their ambitions.

Your Students Want to Know

Sometimes teachers avoid giving constructive criticism because they simply want to encourage students to stick with music learning. But, non-stop praise can lead to distrust and apathetic feelings toward goal achievement. It is important to be supportive. But, as every Soul Cycle coach knows, the best way to be supportive is to compel your students to be better than they were before and show them how far they have come.

Non-stop praise in lessons can lead to distrust and apathetic feelings toward goal achievement.Tweet:

Here are some things that your students want to know and ways that you can provide feedback:

  • “What did I do well?”

    • Students very rarely ask this question out loud. But, they are all thinking it constantly. Share with them examples of positive work. Be specific.
  • “What are specific ways I am meeting your expectations?”

    • “This is why I am having you work on this technique exercise, sightreading example, or repertoire. Here is how you are meeting my expectations so far.”
  • “What are specific ways I can improve (right now)?”

    •  Who isn’t interested in immediate results? Find ways to suggest to students what they can change immediately as well as over time.
  • “How do I figure out what I don’t know?” and “What is a model example?”

    • Obviously, students aren’t usually thinking this during lessons. But, you can open up their world tremendously by providing them with resource links, articles/readings, videos, and audio recordings.
  • “How do I compare with the average learner?” and “Am I an above average student/musician?”

    • Be very specific about what is average for this age, skill level, and goal level. Then, provide specific examples about what would be above average. Ask your students, “what is the difference between those two?” Follow up with, “what could you do to demonstrate above average skills?” Talk openly, but positively, about these topics.

Make it Normal

Your studio should be an environment in which giving feedback is a way of life. Remember to be compassionate and caring in the way you provide your evaluation of skills. You want to instill in your students’ minds that you give feedback because you truly, deeply care about their progress. Model to your students how to receive feedback by asking them for feedback too. “Were the topics we discussed today clear?” Then, listen to them. Ask for clarification. Show them that you can absorb feedback without being defensive. This is how we learn, after all.

Looking to Revolutionize Your Teaching Studio?

There will be more exclusive content sent via email list only covering things like:

  • What to charge?
  • How to release a student from your studio.
  • Asking for feedback.
  • Planners for voice teachers and for students.

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Revolutionize Your Studio: Ask for Feedback

July 14, 2016

Did you know that there is Sybaritic Singer content that is exclusive to the email list I affectionately call, “The Sybaritic Faithful”? Well, there is. If you are on the list, then you would have already received today’s post in your inbox. If not, you may want to take a moment to sign up or update your settings now! Click on the image below to go to the sign-up form. After you enter your information, make sure to select “Sybaritic Singer” under the “Pick Your News!” heading.

Revolutionize Your Studio: Ask for Feedback

Revolutionize Your Studio: Invoicing with Wave

July 13, 2016

Administrative tasks are the primary complaint among private music teachers. Bookkeeping, accounting, and invoicing can be agonizing for some. In fact, I taught for multiple music store/music lessons companies before starting my studio because I simply wanted someone else to deal with the money aspect.  That is why I am so thankful I found Wave when I did. Even if you are a whiz at accounting in your business, Wave can make it easier and more time effective. Isn’t that what we’re really looking for in all of our businesses?

Revolutionize Your Studio: Invoicing with Wave

Accounting with Wave for Private Music Teachers

One of the best things about Wave is the ease of set-up. You can be processing credit card payments as soon as you start! When I started the private studio, I was using Dwolla to process online payments. For one, I’m a big fan of supporting Des Moines-based businesses. Secondly, they have a fantastic rate for credit card processing. However, the functionality of Wave won me over in the end. I can use the one site for so many aspects of the business that ease of use brought me to using Wave solely.

Connect Your Accounts

Wave safely and securely helps you connect your business bank and credit card accounts. They import three months of data to help you do your projections, reports, and breakdown of expenses.

After you’ve connected your accounts, it is important to categorize your expenses. This really helps when it comes to tax time especially since you are running your own business.

Wave even offers a receipt scanning app in case you’re used to paying for things in cash.

Creating Invoices

With Wave it’s easy to create invoices from any of your devices. They’ve really thought all this stuff through so you don’t have to. You are able to customize your invoices at the outset with things like a company logo, various products (or services) offered, and pricing structure. I have a number of products saved such as “Piano Lessons – 30 Minutes”, “Performance”, and “Blog and Social Media Services.” These populate a drop-down menu when you go to create a new invoice or you can add a new products while you make the invoice. You can also add customers before creating invoices or add new customers as you create the invoice.

Wave allows you to customize your invoices with company logo, various products offered, & pricing structure.Tweet:

In my private studio, I always invoice at the beginning of the month. I make it clear in the policies that invoices are expected to be paid by the fifth of every month. That means that I’m sending out invoices before the first of every month to make sure my clients have a chance to pay by their preferred method by the fifth. Wave allows you to add a deadline to the invoice so clients are reminded and you can easily see that status of each in your invoice list. I also get an email each time a client pays online so it is easy for me to update my schedule and payment spreadsheet.

Raking in the dough with Wave Accounting… figuratively speaking, of course. Tweet:

Then, poof, the payments from your clients appear in your bank account! Isn’t technology swell?

Scheduling Information Delivered with Invoices

As an active performer, it is essential to communicate scheduling information each month. My studio families all know to look to the invoice at the beginning of the month for that information. I make sure to put it in multiple places. I detail which days of the month we’re planning on to having scheduled lessons in the services item description. Such as, “Violetta July Lessons (7/6, 7/13, 7/20, 7/27.)” Then, I make a note in the footer of the invoice and in the email note when I send the email.

You can never be too clear or over-communicative when it comes to outlining scheduling details.Tweet:

In the email note with the invoice, I make sure to include two details: a short progress note for each student and a request that they let me know about any scheduling issues they may have in the coming month. I’ll write more about the short progress report in an upcoming post. The second aspect is just a helpful reminder to get families to communicate their schedule changes with you as early as possible.

Wave Makes Financial Reports Easy

One of the aspects that I like the most about Wave is that it offers me excellent reporting capabilities. I’ve been able to use my reports for financial applications because they are clear and professional. I’m able to keep unambiguous records for tax time and that is a real preventative for emotional distress.

There are plenty of online resources that offer similar business offerings. Wave just happens to be the best one for my studio. Let me know if there’s another service that you’re just over the moon about. I’m curious to know!

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Revolutionize Your Studio: Offer Pricing Tiers

July 12, 2016

People invest in services for different reasons. Some families want to give their children music lessons because they think that learning how to play an instrument is simply “what one does.” Other families believe that their children have a real desire to go on to become a professional in the field. There are even families who are begrudgingly committing to music lessons because it is required by their child’s school. Because each family and each student has a different reason for trusting you to provide excellent instruction, it is important to base your prices on benefits, not just your costs. (We already covered “what to charge” in the special email content. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, sign up now and it’ll be winging its way to your inbox in no time.)

Be prepared: some people will always think that the price is too high no matter what you charge for lessons. Sadly, what works for Wal-Mart will not work for you. You are not a big box store. You are a boutique operation devoted to individual instruction. That is a rarer commodity these days than you think. Did you know that offering a narrow range of prices can actually help you bring in more students to your studio?

Sadly, what works for Wal-Mart will not work for you. You are not a big box store. You are a boutique operation devoted to individual instruction. Tweet:

Revolutionize Your Studio: Offer Pricing Tiers

Multiple Pricing Tiers for Music Lesson Studios

This is not a foreign concept to most studio teachers regardless of academic institution-based or private studio. Students are usually charged different prices for certain blocks of time like 30 minute or hour-long lessons. Those prices are determined in the “what you charge” phase. This post is more about how a range of prices can increase profitability for your studio as something of a messaging/marketing tool.

Before we get to the options, you must decide what you want as your backbone option for the studio. Into which lesson option would you like most of your clients to land? For my studio, I want the bulk of my students to be in 30 minute lessons. Business-wise, it is best for me to maintain the schedule and the bottom line of the studio with that being the backbone option. For others, they want to only teach hour-long lessons. If that is the case for you, you will want to structure your options so that looks like the best option for most people.

Option 1

Listing your prices for lessons based on blocks of time – 30 minutes or an hour – presents the choice to your clients as “What do you have time and budget for now based on your limited knowledge of the benefits of voice lessons?”

Option 2

When you start to provide a range of options, you are able to direct your clients to what would be best for them and use their desires to help your income. Furthermore, with this range of options, you are able to lead their eye to your backbone option. That is the one that keeps your studio at an even keel.

Here’s an alternative to option one that helps with your messaging (keep in mind these prices are made-up numbers used as an example):

Diva Town Voice Lessons

  1. Group Lessons (group lessons offered by voice part, once a week, day TBD from 6:00-6:30pm, ideal for beginning voice students.) – Price: $15 per lesson
  2. Individual Voice Lessons (30 Minutes, once a week, ideal for early high school students.) – Price: $30 per lesson
  3. Advanced Voice Lessons (60 Minutes, once a week, ideal for HS junior and seniors and other advanced students.) – Price: $60 per lesson
  4. Select Voice Bootcamp (1 week of exclusive, daily lessons; ideal for advanced students with busy schedules) – Price: $350 per week

With this type of breakdown you are able to message to your budget buyer as well as your premium buyer. When they are able to see a range of prices they can gravitate to the option that best fits their needs without being confused. Notice that I didn’t just list the time blocks and the price.

With this tiered pricing system you are able to message to your budget buyer as well as your premium buyer. Tweet:

By adding specific information, I’m guiding them to make decisions based on age, skill level, budget, schedule availability, and more. At this point, you are definitely beyond asking them if they want voice lessons and you are into asking them which level of voice lessons they need. You aren’t pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Your clients are going to be aware of your marketing but they will be more appreciative of your ability to direct them into the right option for their child.

Subscription Add-Ons

As a lesson teacher, you are essentially creating a music education subscription service. The idea is that you want them to keep coming back for lessons month after month. Having a solid idea of how many subscribers at each level you need each month will make your teaching income more reliable and give you some data when it comes to marketing to new clients.

As a lesson teacher, you are essentially creating a music education subscription service.Tweet:

After you’ve established that base of recurring clients, you may be wondering how you can possibly improve your revenue without raising your prices. An extremely happy client is likely to buy other things from you. Important note: before you consider marketing complementary services to your studio, make sure that you are providing a top-notch service to all of your students. It is imperative that you treat each student like your “best” student before encouraging them to sign up for other offerings. Once you have done that, do some brainstorming around what extras your students need. Can you offer a Show Choir Audition Bootcamp? Would they benefit from a Banish Stage Fright Workshop? I am certainly not advocating for any snake oil salesperson here. Sometimes there is simply not enough time to cover all of these things in a 30 minute lesson. This is an opportunity for them to focus on one goal in a concentrated setting.


Experimenting with price is one of the easiest ways to create better sustainability in your income and overall business. You will want to do some of the experimenting behind the scenes and in a “testing” capacity so that you are not changing prices on your clients too often. Even changing prices annually can make some clients jump ship. Before you go toggling prices haphazardly, experiment with offering more options and see if that gives you the bump you need.

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Revolutionize Your Studio: Language Bootcamp

July 11, 2016

Language learning is a must for the classical singer. Being believable in multiple languages can be the deciding factor in an audition. Giving your students a real advantage in the world of classical singing can truly come down to your ability to unlock these types of learning capabilities. As a teacher, you do not have to be fluent in every language (though it helps) but you must be fluent in giving your students the resources they need to excel.

Not every one of your students will be able to jet off to Middlebury for a summer immersion experience. What can we do to provide our students with language learning essentials to help them with their repertoire? Let’s revolutionize our studio with a language bootcamp!

Revolutionize Your Studio: Language Bootcamp

Teach Your Students to Sing in Multiple Languages

Learning languages for singing is more about a deep understanding of the pronunciation and sounds of the language. As your students progress, you will encourage them to develop a better understanding of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. However, for studio purposes we start with diction. This is great. Every language hacker recommends starting with immersing yourself in the sounds of the language before going on to things like learning colors and verb conjugations. It is also important to note that our primary singing languages for the voice studio are Italian, French, German, English, and Spanish (although Spanish is not always considered in the traditional list.) This is simply a starting place. Clearly, there is a wealth of repertoire in languages other than those already listed. We would be remiss to not assign that repertoire to our students as well.

A Quick Note from Megan: There are affiliate links in this post. When you click or buy from them, you support the blog and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thanks!

Getting Used to the Sound of the Language

Aural skills for singers is not relegated only to identifying intervals and cadential patterns. Aural skills can also be applied to picking up sounds of different languages. During your language bootcamp, it is advisable to brainstorm as many ways to listen to the language as possible. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Repertoire Recordings

    • Encourage your students to find recordings of their repertoire and to take notes on the pronunciation specifically. If your students are younger or just getting started, they may not know about the resources that you know about. It is okay to suggest different platforms, beyond iTunes, wherein they can find recordings of classical music.
  • Internet Radio

    • Listening to radio stations from around the world can help language bootcampers become more accustomed to the sound of different languages and different accents. There are plenty of internet radio apps that provide access like Isn’t the internet great?
  • Films

  • Language Learning CDs

    • My go-to crash course in listening to another language has always been the inestimable Pimsleur audiobooks/cds. Buy your own or borrow them from your local library.

International Phonetic Alphabet – IPA

International Phonetic Alphabet (or IPA) is the saving grace of classical singers learning how to sing in a foreign language. A healthy and robust understanding of IPA can cut down on time spent teaching, learning, and re-teaching/re-learning pronunciation in the studio because it offers clear guidance on how to produce different sounds.

When working on a short lesson schedule, it can be difficult to squeeze in teaching the introduction to IPA. I highly recommend finding a resource that you like and assigning your students to watch/absorb it outside of lesson time during their regular practice schedule. Here’s a very basic video series that I find helpful:

Most of us also have multiple diction textbooks from our undergraduate and graduate school experiences. Keeping them handy and assigning worksheets from those textbooks can be very valuable. Obviously, English diction worksheets are just as important to classical singing as the worksheets in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Some of the texts that I prefer are:

Take Your Language Learning to the Next Level

To really bootcamp the bejeezus out of your languages, you will want to move beyond training your ear to hear the sounds of the words. You, and your students, will want to learn basic vocabulary words and into an understanding of the grammar. When I explain why it is important to understand grammar and sentence structure to classical singers, I remind them that we don’t react to a joke unless we’ve reached the punchline. Do not be the one singer on stage who doesn’t get the joke.

There are so many resources when it comes to language learning, it rather surprises me that we’re not completed surrounded by polyglots. We can continue to use textbooks and workbooks from our classroom days. But, we can also use apps and websites with built-in gaming functions to turbocharge our relationships with languages. Here are some you should investigate:

  • Duolingo
    • Duolingo is language learning backed by the power of gamification. Listening, reading, speaking, and learning. It’s all here — for free.
  • BBC Languages
    • Whatever your learning style, you can find something in BBC Languages that will help you with your language learning. BBC Language resources are available in over 30 languages for learners of all levels, and BBC News is also provided in multiple languages.
  • Memrise
    • Their tagline is “Learning, made joyful. We make learning languages and vocab so full of joy and life, you’ll laugh out loud.” How can you turn that down?
    • Beginners’ lessons use flash cards for learning new words and phrases, but advanced lessons involve writing and answering questions that will be reviewed by native speakers on the site.
  • Open Culture
    • This is goldmine of resources for language learning. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.

The DIY Language Learner

The power of flashcards compel you. There are so many resources out there and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. However, the best resource for language learning is the one that is the most compelling to you and/or your students. This can be as simple as writing out the text of your repertoire, the English translation, and the IPA onto a flashcard. It doesn’t have to be flashy graphics and gamification unless you want that. When making a bootcamp schedule for yourself or your students, pick the things that will move the needle the most.

One more thing…

I wanted to share this Art of Charm Podcast episode with you. Featuring Gabriel Wyner, the Art of Charm guys cover some great language bootcamp stories and hacks in this episode. It is well worth a listen.

Structuring the Bootcamp

I love a good bootcamp. How would you structure your ideal language bootcamp? For you? For your students? Tell me all about it in the comments below. Plus, feel free to add any resources that you find particularly useful that didn’t make it into this post. I am always curious! Love short and sweet answers? Tweet me your thoughts @mezzoihnen.

Looking to Revolutionize Your Teaching Studio?

There will be more exclusive content sent via email list only covering things like:

  • What to charge?
  • How to release a student from your studio.
  • Asking for feedback.
  • Planners for voice teachers and for students.

Sign up now and make sure to select the Sybaritic Singer news option!

Revolutionize Your Studio: Using Smartphones in Lessons

June 30, 2016

There’s this widely repeated myth that you’re never more than three feet away from a spider at any given moment. While that causes my skin to crawl, it made me think that we could update the phrase in regards to cell phones. You’re never more than a foot away from a cell phone. And, you can bet that your students are even closer to theirs.

Instead of lamenting this fact, I choose to make use of it at every possible turn. Smartphones give us unparalleled access to technology in the voice studio. How can their ubiquitousness be to my advantage as a teacher and the advantage of my students?

Should I Allow Smartphones in Voice Lessons?

How to Use Smartphones in Voice Lessons

My phone is always out and on top of the piano, face down, because I use it as a timer for each lesson. During our Meet & Greet or first lesson, I always tell my students that I’m never checking my phone and it is always on silent during their lessons. Let me insert a reminder here that every studio should have a clear cell phone policy for both students and parents or guardians. Many teachers have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to those handy devices. Can we find a way, however, to word the policy without losing the benefits of the technology? I like something like this:

Students are encouraged to have their phones with them during lessons but they will remain in silent/airplane mode and out of sight unless being used in the lesson.

Smartphones as Recording Devices

The hands-down best functionality of the smartphone in the studio is the ability to record quickly. I always encourage my students to record their lessons so they can remember the technique exercises we worked on together and why I chose those exercises for their vocal development.

Sometimes students are shy about recording their lessons. I try to break this fear down by creating “practice tracks” with them for some of their technique exercises, scales, and repertoire, as needed. This gets them into the habit of recording in the studio and actually listening to their recordings during practice sessions at home. Once they start seeing/hearing results, they’re hooked.

We will also audio/video record when preparing for auditions so that students have a chance to truly get a sense of their performance and give themselves feedback before the big day.

Here are some other apps that I find useful in the studio and in my own practice.

  • Intonation & Aural Skills

    • Pitch Pipe – “Pitch Pipe Now is a “No Fuss” pitch referencing tool in the keys of C & F (chromatic scale). Just tap the icon and you are ready to set the pitch for your performance. Build chords by choosing any number of Note Buttons.”
    • Tunable – “Tunable is a chromatic tuner, tone/chord generator and metronome that helps you learn to play steadily, in tune, and on beat. Featuring a unique “tuning history” display for visualizing pitch over time, Tunable is the perfect toolkit for professional and beginning musicians.”
    • Cleartune – “Cleartune is a chromatic instrument tuner and pitch pipe that allows you to quickly and accurately tune your instrument using the built-in mic in your iPhone or using an external mic on your 2nd or 3rd generation iPod Touch.”
    • InTune – “InTune is an outgrowth of 25 years of intonation research by Daniel Kazez, cellist and professor of music at Wittenberg University. The concept began as a method to test pitch discrimination, the ability to differentiate pitches that are close together. But then in a research study, Dr. Kazez discovered that students’ listening improved the more often they played – at triple the rate of those who did not.”
  • Rhythm

    • Metronomics – “Meet Metronomics HD, the full-featured big brother of the popular iPhone metronome Metronomics — the perfect practice tool for everyone from beginners to seasoned professionals needing the most complex rhythmic options. The Metronomics apps are the only metronomes that give you complete control over how subdivisions are played — use custom subdivisions (such as 5/7), custom samples, preset patterns, random intervals, sequenced grooves, silent measures, or anything else you can think of to help drive your practice routine.”
    • Ludwig Metronome – “With the Ludwig/Musser Metronome, you can dial in the tempo of the piece you’re practicing or just tap along to let the app find it. Customize the time signature, visual indicator and sound options to your own preferences. You can even change the interface based on your personal
      taste or to match the wrap of your instrument. Best of all, it’s free! “
  • Listening

    • Spotify – “Spotify is the best way to listen to music on mobile or tablet. Search for any track, artist or album and listen for free. Make and share playlists. Build your biggest, best ever music collection.”
    • SoundCloud – “From major artists to upstart indies to your friend’s bedroom recordings, listen to your favorite music and discover new audio that you can’t find anywhere else.”
    • DownCloud Lite – “Search and play your favorite songs on your iPhone/iPod/iPad anytime and anywhere.”
  • Research

    • Composer of the Day – “Read concise, one-sentence biographies of classical composers, one per day, on the composer’s birthday. Learn why Igor Stravinsky was important, what inspired Robert Schumann, what major works Aaron Copland composed, and much more.”
  • Teacher-specific apps that make my life better…

    • Google Drive – “Get started with Google Drive for free and have all your files within reach from any smartphone, tablet, or computer.”
    • Dropbox – “Dropbox is the place for your docs, photos, videos, and other files. Take Dropbox with you and stay on top of your work while you’re out and about. Share files with your team, get feedback on your work, and even make edits right from your iPhone or iPad.”
    • Genius Scan – “Genius Scan is a scanner in your pocket. Quickly scan your documents on the go and export them as JPEG or multi-page PDF files.”
    • Doodle – “Doodle is the world’s most popular group scheduling service. Find the best date for a business meeting, outdoor adventure or your next party with friends more than 2x faster. Stop email ping pong or WhatsApp waterfalls and experience the power of social scheduling for free.”
    • Invoice by Wave – “Free professional mobile invoicing. Create invoices, accept credit cards, and see when invoices are viewed, paid, or overdue, on the go. Made for small businesses, freelancers and contractors.”

What other ways do you use smartphones in lessons? Do you have any apps that you can recommend that make your teaching life better, your students progress, and the studio run smoother? Please share with me in the comments. Or, if you feel like you can squeeze your recommendations into 140 characters, hit me up over on Twitter – @mezzoihnen.

Looking to Revolutionize Your Teaching Studio?

There will be more exclusive content sent via email list only all month long covering things like:

  • What to charge?
  • How to release a student from your studio.
  • Asking for feedback.
  • Planners for voice teachers and for students.

Sign up now and make sure to select the Sybaritic Singer news option!

Revolutionize Your Studio: Teaching Practice Strategies

June 29, 2016

You know I’m not above starting this post with all the corny practice axioms I can muster. However, efficiency is sometimes better than repetition.

When I hear parents tell me, “My child just hates to practice,” I will often assume that they don’t hate it as much as they say. Unfortunately, it is much easier to say, “I hate practicing” than it is to say, “I don’t know how to practice.” It’s more freeing to say, “I don’t want to do this” rather than, “Can you help me?”

How to Teach Your Students to Practice

How to Teach Your Students to Practice

I consider lack of practice to be the symptom of a void in teaching. What do you hear time and again in your Meet & Greets when you ask, “Why do you want to take private lessons?” They always respond, “Well, I really love singing.” Invariably, their parent always backs them up, “She sings all the time. She’s just constantly singing around the house.” If your student is already constantly doing the activity, practicing shouldn’t be a hindrance to her progress.

Practice “Small Wins”

I know what you’re thinking. Students who constantly sing around the house aren’t practicing. Practicing is hard work. We all have students who are incessantly vocalizing. But, they never crack open their repertoire books between lessons. Let’s challenge the notion that practicing has to be hard work. Let’s think of practicing as “small wins.” Collect as many “small wins” as possible and they lead up to “big wins” otherwise known as accomplishing your singing goals. When you ask your students about their goals for the year, it is important to break those down into a list of “small wins” with them so that they understand the work that it takes to accomplish those goals. That is true for every skill level present in your studio.

Show; Don’t Just Tell

Teaching practice strategies is different from simply telling your students different practice strategies. It is one thing for me to tell a student to practice with a metronome. It is very different to show them how it works, use it in the studio together, and teach them how to practice with it on their own. Once I take away any misunderstanding of how the practice strategy works, then the student is much more capable of trying it on their own. I know this seems simplistic, but it is incredible how many teachers “tell instead of show” when it comes to practice techniques. For maximum return on investment when teaching practice strategies, employ Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience.

I highly recommend making your own list of practice strategies. Then, write them out on popsicle sticks and keep them in a jar in your studio. Ask your students to randomly draw a practice strategy as often as possible. Here is a list of strategies to get us started:

Notes and Rhythm Learning

  • Read over the score silently before you begin. Look for patterns.
  • Lip buzz/tongue trill the vocal line for mapping the breath over the course of the phrase. Mark the breaths sooner rather than later.
  • Solfège – fixed or movable do, la-based minor, etc. Conduct the piece while you sing the vocal line. (Identify key signatures.)
  • Clap and count the rhythm out loud. (Identify time signatures.)
  • Countsing the vocal line. Sing the pitches of the vocal line and replace the words with counting.
  • Clap and count the rhythm with a metronome.
  • Countsing the vocal line with a metronome.
  • If any of these rhythms are difficult, use that practice stand-by of slowing down and incrementally speeding it back up to tempo.
  • One way to practice ornaments or particularly florid lines is to break it down and sing each pitch on its own number. Then, see if you can break the whole line into smaller groupings and string them together. This cuts down on losing steam or getting lost in the middle of the line.
  • Individual vowel – sing the vocal line on [du] or [to] in an effort to practice consistent resonance.
  • Sing the individual vowel with different articulations such as staccato or legato.
  • Vowels only. This one is tricky and takes time. But, it offers a huge payoff when added to regular practice. Only sing the vowel sounds of each word in the text. No consonants.
  • Sing on the text.
  • Conduct the piece while you sing the vocal line.
  • Make several audio recordings of yourself. Listen for different elements each time. Take notes.
  • Finally, listen to someone else’s recording.


  • Write in the IPA.
  • Write in a word-for-word translation.
  • Speak the text poetically.
  • Speak the text in rhythm.
  • Sprechstimme the text. Or, “sing-song” text. Speak the text in a sing-song voice that is close to the actual pitch of the vocal line. Listen for consistent resonance throughout the phrase. Think of this as the link between speaking the text and singing the text.
  • “Text Three Ways”
    • Write out the text word-for-word while looking at the text in the music.
    • Practice writing the full text from memory.
    • Just write the very first word of each phrase (textual or musical) from memory.
      • Now, practice singing the whole piece from these handwritten pages.
    • “Text Three Ways” is one of my favorite memorization techniques as well.


  • Practice playing your pitches at the piano.
  • Practice with a tuning fork only.
  • Practice singing the intervals between pitches. For example, sing the words “minor sixth” as you vacillate between the two troublesome pitches.
  • Practice against a drone pitch. Have a consistent “home pitch” for a section of the piece? Set your tuner app to play a drone (or sustain) on that pitch and sing the section while tuning each interval to the drone.

Body Technique – AKA facial expression, eye contact, and body language

  • Speak the text with different body language to emphasis the character of the text and the musical line.
  • Write in different emotion cues to the score.
  • Sing a memorized vocal line while practicing keeping your eye contact steady or looking at different fixed points. Or, practice starting over every time you look at the floor.
  • Take a video while practicing. As you watch it, take notes of what happened and what didn’t happen. Give yourself feedback for the next run-through.
  • Practice playing off-type with your body technique. If the text/music is happy, can you practice giving an opposite emotion with your body? How does that help or hinder the performance? Can you practice layers of meaning?

Troubleshooting Tough Sections

  • Chaining – this is our “play a part and add little by little” practice suggestion. Start with the few notes that you can sing confidently. One by one, add another note to the phrase until you feel confident singing the whole phrase.
    • One way to practice chaining for singers to use the forwards/backwards devise on solfège. Let’s say that the phrase is Do, Mi, Sol, La, Re. You would then sing: Do, Do-Mi-Do, Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do, Do-Mi-Sol-La-Sol-Mi-Do, Do-Mi-Sol-La-Re-La-Sol-Mi-Do.
  • Isolation is pretty self-explanatory. When you know that there is a section of the music that gives your trouble every time, that is the section that deserves the most practice attention. Use some (or as many as possible) of the other practice strategies listed above to conquer that trouble spot.
  • Ask for help in making a practice track.

It is my goal for this list to simply be a jumping off point. I would love for you to add to this list. What other practice strategies are a go-to in your studio or in your own practice sessions? Got a practice suggestion that fits into 140 characters? Tweet it to me over at @mezzoihnen.

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