Adventures with a voice student and an ENT!

Last Thursday was my 25th birthday, and I had a very exciting experience – I went with one of my singing students to her appointment with an ENT (Ear, Nose, & Throat specialist).  

This student has been taking lessons with me since February, and is similar to me in that she is an energetic, outgoing, and outspoken young lady (she is about 14 years old).  Previously she had never done any singing training, but enjoys singing and has a lovely strong voice, particularly in her lower range (thick folds).

However, I did note that she found it quite difficult to go up into her higher range (thin folds/stiff folds); she has improved somewhat with exercises designed to help tilt the thyroid cartilage and go into “thin folds”, however still often had a breathy or croaky/crackly sound in her higher range and definitely found it challenging.

She also had the kind of speaking voice and vocal habits in speech that reminded me of other people I have known who have regularly lost their voice or had voice issues; outgoing people who talk loudly around their friends or when they get excited, tend to shout a lot or have to talk in loud environments; I could hear from her speaking voice that she could easily lose her voice if she pushed it too much.  While I have worked with her on retracting the false vocal folds to avoid vocal trauma, I felt there was potentially something going on which I didn’t have a solution for.

I am not a speech pathologist, so I do not have sufficient knowledge/qualification to diagnose a student with any kind of vocal pathology; but if I hear something in a student’s voice that seems to be something other than just lack of control, I will always recommend that the student see a speech pathologist or ENT to check that there is nothing potentially dangerous going on (like vocal nodes or nodules) or any other kind of vocal pathology or speech habit that needs special training.

My student has had some sinus issues as well, so when she went to her GP to get a referral, they recommended that she see an ENT.

There are only two ENT’s in Hobart, so there was quite a long wait, but finally we went in to see Dr. Nusa Naiman.

I was like a kid in a candy store – nerding out about voice stuff gets me very excited, and while my student and her mum were happy to have me there to help describe the issue to Dr. Naiman, I was also extremely happy to have the chance to learn what was going on with my student’s voice (for future reference) and potentially see her vocal folds!

Luckily for me, after asking some questions, Dr. Naiman went straight to getting an endoscope in to see what was going on.  It’s a painless but apparently slightly uncomfortable procedure; my student first had a couple sprays up her nose from a bottle of local anaesthetic spray, waited a few minutes, and then Dr. Naiman inserted a very thin tube with a tiny camera on the end.  The camera tube goes up the nose and down the back of the throat, into the airway just above the larynx (voice box) so we could see her vocal folds.

What we saw, and Dr. Naiman pointed out, was some irritation/reddening around the arytenoids (cartilages at the posterior end of the vocal folds) and the end of the vocal folds themselves (probably, I am guessing, due to some pushing/constriction of the false vocal folds when shouting/singing/speaking too loud).  And when the student attempted to demonstrate what I had noticed – the breathiness/crackling/difficulty in the higher register – Dr. Naiman pointed out that the vocal folds did not close completely in this higher register – the technical term for this is “incomplete adduction of the vocal folds” which creates a breathy sound as air escapes through the gap or “chink” where the vocal folds are not closing completely.

I was pleased to know that there were no vocal nodes/nodules or anything that serious going on with my student’s voice.  Dr. Naiman recommended 2 weeks of vocal rest (no shouting, whispering, or singing; just minimal speaking) to allow the redness to subside, followed by some sessions on some exercises to help with the incomplete adduction, from a speech pathologist who specialises in voice.  Luckily, I had just recently met one:  Helen Sjardin, who has moved back to Tasmania in the last couple of years and knows Dr. Naiman.  There aren’t a lot of speech pathologists in Tasmania (or, apparently, elsewhere either) who specialise in voice, so this is lucky for us!

I’m looking forward to attending some sessions with Helen and my student, and learning some more about incomplete adduction and exercises that can help with fixing it.  I had a very enjoyable lunch conversation with Helen the week before, and hope to maintain regular contact with her and work together to best serve our various clients and expand my knowledge about the voice!

My next post will be about the relationship between the different kinds of voice specialists – from voice coaches, to speech pathologists, to ENTs – so stay tuned!  

The voice affects the mind: Two little spiels about me and my business, now and into the future

Below is a recording of my 3min spiel from the Festival of Voices and UTAS’ Entrepreneurship and Leadership In Practice unit,  about the way I plan to change the world through vocal coaching!  Click here to go straight to my part or skip to 24:37 below –  or read my spiel typed up just beneath it.

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“Like many people, I want to make a difference to the world.
I’m concerned about the state of the world, particularly issues such as sustainability, the environment, and human rights.
And like many people, I often feel powerless to make a difference in these areas.
I have friends who are passionate and active eco-warriors, but I get exhausted just looking at them – I know that is not my fight.  I listen to and support them, but I am not a protestor, a signature-gatherer, or a tree-sitter.

But I heard a quote recently that really opened my eyes –
“We don’t have an environmental problem; we have a consciousness problem.”
I think this is a profound and significant statement.  Change the life of the individual – open their eyes, increase their consciousness – and you can change the world.

My fight, my passion, is with people; on an individual level.  I love people, and I LOVE seeing my work make a difference to others’ lives, whether that’s through my music, writing, and art, or whether it’s through teaching them how to sing, how to move past the frustrations they have with their voice, or how to improve their ability to communicate and express themselves effectively in their speech.

I am branching my business into serving clients from big business, politics, law, and similar industries, with which I am not familiar; it is populated with people who are different from myself in their experiences and lifestyle.  At first I felt insecure about this; unsure as to whether I could connect with these people, unsure as to whether they would be open to what I had to offer.
But having now worked with some clients from these sectors, I have quickly realised that of course, there is a common thread that runs through us all:  Humanity. We all have the same fears and the same desires.  We want to belong; we want to be loved; we want to feel comfortable in ourselves and our lives.    And we want to connect with others.

I have seen my work change people’s lives, improve their physical and mental health.  This can help them become more conscious of their body, their habits, their physical and their mental tensions, themselves and the world around them.
When I teach people to use their voices to communicate better but also use their ears to listen…  on an individual level, change their consciousness, and the rest will be taken care of.  When the change in the individual occurs, they will make the change in the world.
For the first time, recently, I have hope for our world… and I don’t feel powerless anymore.

Finally, I am passionate about Tasmania, festivals and events, and I love the Festival of Voices.  I have been involved with it in numerous ways over the years, and while I do not have – yet – a clear idea of how exactly my work and my expertise is going to fit in and serve the festival, but I am certain that together we can create some innovation, some joy in people’s lives, and some change in the world.  Thankyou.”

Do something you suck at!!!

Today I want to share this excellent blog by the excellent folks over at Nerd Fitness – “Do something you suck at!”

My favourite quotes from the article:

When was the last time you did something you absolutely suck at, purely for enjoyment?

Today, I’m issuing a challenge. I want to see how much you can suck at something that you enjoy.

We see people that are masters of a particular craft, and we only see that end result: level 50 mastery, perfection.

We tend to forget when they began that activity, they also sucked at it!

It was only because they enjoyed doing the activity so much, despite sucking at it, that they worked hard at getting “slightly less bad,” and then “not terrible,” followed by “just okay” before eventually it became “hey, pretty darn good.”

I’m pretty sub-par at the guitar, not half bad at the piano, and a terrible singer.

However, over the past two months, I’ve leveled up in all three skills (from level 1 to level 1.5 or 2.0), because I was MORE THAN OKAY with sucking at each of them!

Why?

BECAUSE I ABSOLUTELY LOVE TO PLAY MUSIC!

Nothing makes me happier than playing along with some of my favorite songs (or struggling for weeks to learn how to play those songs).

This guy has THE RIGHT IDEA!

I want to reach out to those of you who, like a student I saw today, might start learning a new vocal technique (or anything else) and think AUGH THAT SOUNDS HORRIBLE at first. Yes! That’s because you are new at it! Keep doing it more and it will get better. If you give up straight away because you don’t sound amazing right off the bat, you will never improve!

Be okay with sucking! EMBRACE THE SUCK! This is good advice for life in general, and very applicable to singing and music.

Read the Nerd Fitness article above, enjoy his video of him sucking at violin, and GO ENJOY SUCKING AT SOMETHING!

Bec out.

Should a teacher ever tell a student to give up?

This was prompted by an interesting article by Stephanie Eslake titled “On Being Told To Give Up”.  Click to read the original article.  In it, Eslake discusses other articles that advise teachers on how to tactfully advice students that music is not the right career for them.  She challenges the notion that it is a teacher’s place to tell a student to “give up”.  My thoughts are below.

(I apologise that this post is long and rambling… it could do with some editing, but I have spent entirely too much time already on it so I am just going to leave it here!)

As a voice teacher, who loves my job, music, and my students, I would never tell someone they had abilities which they didn’t, or try to pump them up and feed them unrealistic expectations.   But my pet peeve is when students tell me of some teacher in their past (usually a primary school or highschool music teacher running a choir) told them not to sing, or that they COULDN’T sing.  GRRRRR.  This makes me so angry.

This article is speaking mostly about this in the context of a student having a dream of a successful full-time career in music.  How would I approach this?  To be honest, I don’t think I would encourage ANYONE, no matter how amazing they were, to expect that a full-time career in performing is a definite possibility.  It’s a very difficult dream to achieve and hinges on luck and business smarts (and a multitude of other factors) as much as talent or skill.  I would encourage any student to have multiple strings to their bow, figure out how they can serve others (find out what people need and sell them that) keep learning, have a plan B… but never would I recommend that anyone give up on their dream.  Doesn’t matter who they are or how good they are or aren’t, I’d give them the same advice – to be an optimistic realist.  Something could take off or it could be a complete flop, and it often doesn’t have anything to do with how good you are.

But if you LOVE singing/playing/learning music, I don’t see any reason to ever stop!

For me, teaching singing is just as much about the enjoyment of the act itself as it is about reaching a particular standard –  everyone comes to lessons with different aims, all want to improve, some have lofty goals and dreams but others just want to sing because they enjoy it, and want to sound as good as possible while doing so.  I have never yet come across a student who could not improve their singing at all with what I have to offer.  If I couldn’t help someone improve, I would refer them to a teacher with greater skills than me or who might be more suited to that student’s particular style or needs.

Every student is going to come to me with different goals in music – just enjoyment, some improvement, basic performance, career, world class ability, etc.  Every student is going to have different levels of experience, natural ability, motivation to practice, desire to improve, and ambition to achieve at higher levels.  All those factors at different levels in each person will contribute to how fast they will progress, and the nature of the way a teacher should teach them.

There is perhaps a point at which lessons potentially become pointless – I have one student in particular who has been coming to me for some time now, I have taught them all the mechanisms and techniques which I know will improve their singing in the ways they want to improve it.  We went from weekly lessons to fortnightly lessons… and now at this point I am starting to feel that a lot of the time I am just repeating the same instructions to them over and over.  They know the 5 or so mechanisms they need to practice and keep an eye on in order to maintain their good vocal strength, range, versatility, etc.  They are not looking to become world-class or megafamous, and their goals for their singing mainly involves doing shows around town in various styles, performing their originals as well as covers, and developing unique sounds.  They don’t have specific performances they are preparing for or specific repertoire they are looking to polish to perfection.  In a short time from now, they might start to get bored with lessons with me and I might get bored of teaching them and saying the same things over and over.  At that point, if they want to continue having lessons, I will suggest they try a different teacher to see if a different perspective could offer them some new insights and greater improvement.  With students who are in that middle ground of having brought their voice up to a very decent level of ability and control, but don’t have a desire to be exceptional, there comes a bit of a stalemate like that.

With students who have loftier goals of world class performance/fame/specific productions or performances they are rehearsing for, I would take my teaching to a deeper level, focusing heavily on individual phrases of each song, crafting them in an artistic as well as technical way, challenging them to work harder and practice more.  But if a student is not inclined to that much precision, doing this kind of work would be a bit pointless perhaps, and probably boring to them.

If I had a student who was really abysmal at singing, and was showing no signs of improvement after many lessons… (to be honest I would be extremely surprised to meet such a person…) and if I could not help a student improve at all I would think it much more likely it was a failing on my part than on their part, or a fundamental incompatibility between us, and again I would send them on to a different teacher.

If a student was practicing enough and being taught useful stuff (i.e. genuinely good technique based in scientific knowledge and experience), and not improving, that would be surprising… and also probably pretty disheartening/de-motivating, so I would expect it would cease to be enjoyable, and at some point they would probably give up of their own accord.

My bottom line here is: I would never be dishonest with someone and tell them they were amazing if they weren’t, try to pump them up or give them false expectations.

BUT It doesn’t matter how “bad” someone was;  I would never recommend they give up music.  If they don’t improve with my lessons, I would send them to someone I thought could help them better.  If they don’t improve with any lessons, they could join a choir or something in order to continue to enjoy music in a casual context.

And if they have bigger dreams than simply enjoying doing music for its own sake –  it doesn’t matter how unrealistic their dreams seem to be to me; I would never recommend they give up their dreams.  Who the heck am I to claim to be the all-seeing wisewoman who is certain they will fail?  Pffff.  I would give realistic advice on how to ensure they were not wasting their time and could look at many different ways of fulfilling their passion for music.  I would encourage them to have other plans to fall back on.  I would tell them honestly my thoughts on how difficult their dreams may be to accomplish.  But I would never say, “sorry, I really think you should give up on this.”      In my opinion, as a teacher, that is definitely not my place.

What are your thoughts?

The Value of Coaches

Quick note before this blog:
YES, I do offer vouchers for singing lessons, if you would like to buy a session for someone near & dear as a last minute/late Christmas gift!  
Email me at info@bectilley.com to get yours!  🙂

Now, about the value of coaches…

My job has various titles.  You could call me a “singing teacher”, or “voice tutor”, or, the one I like the best, “vocal coach”.

I have enlisted the help of coaches in varying areas of my life, with great results.  If you want to get good at something, if you want to get results, you need to learn from the best.

I have my own vocal coaches in Melbourne, Stephanie and Gerald of The Voice Gym, who have taught me vocal physiology & anatomy through the Estill Voice Training Model.  Of course I’ve had many other vocal teachers throughout my life as well.

I’ve taken advantage of coaching sessions from productivity/life coaches, as well as top notch relationship/authentic relating coaches, and unmasked hidden patterns holding me back in all areas of my life.  I’ve joined an award-winning local “group personal training” fitness group called Booty, run by a totally awesome personal trainer (who I plan to get a one-on-one session with when she has space available).

All of these sessions have completely skyrocketed my productivity, wellness, motivation, knowledge, and abilities in all areas of my life.

Most of the new students that come to me are complete beginners, or singers who have had little to no formal training.  They all get excited by the great results they feel and hear after just a little while of working together; and the knowledge they gain in each and every session.  Of course I love working with singers from all backgrounds and levels of experience!

But I want to reach out now to the more experienced vocalists – singers who have been singing for years, maybe with training at an institution from great teachers, maybe self-taught but with years of experience.  Singers doing gigs, recording albums, moving forward with their passion.  These singers might tend to rest on their laurels a little.  I know; I was the same.  You’ve had a few teachers, perhaps, and feel like you’ve kind of heard it all before.

How many times can you be told to “breathe to your diaphragm”, “place the sound forward”, and open your mouth more?  

One day, a friend told me about The Voice Gym teachers and highly recommended I go see them.  I am usually very careful/stingy with my money, but I happened to be going to Melbourne anyway and took the plunge.  I am SO glad I did!  I learnt more about how my voice works in that first hour session than I had learnt in almost 20 years of singing lessons, including during my Bachelor of Music.  I quickly signed up for the week-long Estill Level 1 & 2 course they were running in Sydney in January 2013.  It was no cheap feat to attend the workshop, spare the time, and fly to Sydney.  But it was SO, so worth it.  Learning this stuff changed my life as a singer and as a teacher.  I continued to study for the rest of the year and in September took and passed my Estill Ceritificate of Figure Proficiency Test.

I have taught Conservatorium graduates who were studying at the same time as me, and had great feedback about the work that we do together.  I have taught singers who have been gigging for years and seen the excitement in their faces when they realise the simplicity behind moving past that one area of their voice that has been bugging them for so long.

Getting a coach is VITAL to success and pushing past the barriers that are holding you back.

To illustrated this point, below I have pasted a recent email from Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich and general  well known expert-on-awesomeness.  It landed in my inbox today and really made me nod my head in agreement.

Check it out below, and you know where to find me, fellow singers, if you want to increase your awesomeness in 2014 and put yourself firmly on the path to greatness!

————

What do Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have that you don’t?

No, not $100mm. They have something you could get today. But curiously, almost nobody does.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon and staff writer for the New Yorker, posed a fascinating question:

“…I watched Rafael Nadal play a tournament match on the Tennis Channel. The camera flashed to his coach, and the obvious struck me as interesting: even Rafael Nadal has a coach. Nearly every élite tennis player in the world does. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be.

But doctors don’t. I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?”

Why do the world’s top athletes, singers, and entrepreneurs have coaches…and we don’t?

STOP! Notice how we automatically get defensive when we try to answer that question:

  •  Well, they can afford it”
  • “It’s their job to be the best, so a coach makes sense”
  • “Maybe later in my career, but I’m not ready for that”

In fact, it’s exactly the OPPOSITE!

The world’s best didn’t become that good on their own. They had help, lots of it.

This is the same as people who say, “I can’t invest until I get rich.” WRONG! You get rich BY investing.

How could a coach help you? Let me give you a few unconventional examples (the word “coach” can be applied creatively):

High-end hairdresser: A highly skilled hairdresser might cost 3x (or even 20x) the normal price…but can show you why a certain look suits you better than the normal Supercuts look you’ve been getting. (Btw, see what I mean? Would you have ever thought of a high-end hairdresser as a coach?)

Personal trainer: When I used to work out on my own, I would go to the gym, do a bunch of random machines, and wonder why I wasn’t getting results. The first time I worked out with a trainer, he showed me how to improve what I’d already been doing. This has been one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

Stylist: I have a stylist friend who says, “Of course I’m better at this than the average person. It’s not that I’m a genius…it’s that I do this all day, every day.” I’ve seen her before-and-after work, and it totally transforms the person.

Business coach: I paid a business coach tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of flying from NYC to LA, once/month for 15 months, just for 45 minutes of his time. It was another one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Not only did it pay for itself (many times over), I’ll keep the knowledge I learned forever.

Other examples: Language coach, cooking instructor, relationship/dating coaches, and many more!

The very best coaches can spot your problem areas and, since they’ve worked with tons of clients just like you, they can gently recommend strategies to help you overcome them…skyrocketing your success. I’ve seen it myself MANY times with MANY different experts I’ve worked with.

HERE’S THE POINT: You can do it on your own — and you should! But at a certain point, you’ll want a little extra help to become the very best. I remember scoffing at paying for SAT tutoring back in high school. I said, “I can just read the books.” Until I finally got one and I saw what a big difference it makes to have someone there, working with you day after day.

So, I want to challenge you: What’s ONE area where you could use a coach?

Eliminate your barriers (the #1 barrier is about cost: “I can’t afford $100/hour for the next 10 years!”) and strip it down: What if you just hired a coach for 2 sessions? Could you ask for a longer payment plan?

I changed my perspective from

“I have to do this on my own” + “people charging are just trying to scam me”

-to-

“I need help, and I’m willing to invest in myself to be the best”

And it has been absolutely pivotal in my success. If I can share just one thing with you today, it’s this: Be willing to invest in yourself, even for $20. Know that someone out there has seen your problem and can help you solve it.

That’s my challenge to you: Find ONE person you invest in, even for $20, to tackle your biggest goal for 2014.

-Ramit

Singing lessons are serious business

Singing lessons are serious business

Myself and my excellently talented student Aleks, who also has excellent taste in goofy glasses…

Why I Admire My Students

As a teacher, I find myself incredibly proud of, and in awe of my students, on a regular basis.  I have found myself two times in the past week telling people just how much I admire my students, and why.  I thought it was a worthy topic for a post.  I like to show my appreciation for the people in my life whom I admire; and my students are definitely no exception!

My students can be grouped in many different ways, and are from many different age groups, backgrounds, and levels of experience.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll (over)simplify it down to two groups:  Children/school-age students, and adult students.

My school age students, ranging from primary school to college age, are joyful to work with.  They usually have numerous commitments both at school and extracurricular.  They may have health issues, or a stressful school life, social life, or family life.  And yet they practice.  They show up to their lessons with energy and determination.  They listen patiently and they try what I suggest to them, even when it’s outside their comfort zone.  They laugh at my terrible jokes.  If they don’t have the energy or haven’t practiced, they are honest with me.  They know I won’t guilt trip them, be angry, or give them disapproving looks.  They just do their best with what they can and what they are in that moment, and I dig that.  They love music, they love singing, whether they’re singing confidently already or just starting out.

And their families; ever supportive, encouraging, facilitating the education of their kids in more than just the status quo way.  They are definitely worth a mention too.

As for my adult students… they are the ones that really blow me away.  They range in age from just-out-of-college, to in their 20s starting/developing their careers, to people in their 30s/40s/50s/60s and up!

Some of my students are accomplished singers already, professional performers, university-level conservatorium students, fellow singing teachers… who want to extend their knowledge of the physiology of the voice, understand their instrument better, try many methods and many teachers, to be the best vocalists they can be.  I very much admire & respect this determination… and identify with it, as it is the same fire that burns inside me.

In addition, many of my adult students are folks who are singing for the first time!  I have many adult students for whom singing in front of someone is a huge fear they are facing.  They start out quiet, breathing shallow, nervous, constantly self-deprecating and refusing to attribute to themselves the label of “singer”.  They say, “I’m probably going to be the worst you’ve ever heard,” to which I smile, and tell them I doubt it.  I see them work hard, persevere, swallow their fears, make small improvements, get excited about them.  I see them grow and become more confident, more comfortable, more relaxed singing in front of me, more excited about music.  I see their eyes light up when they “get” something for the first time, and I love celebrating with them!  That’s a truly exciting moment for me as a teacher – and I feel privileged to be able to witness and be a part of it.

Maybe they have a strong and passionate love of music and would love to be an active part of it, maybe write a song, maybe jam with their musical friends.  Maybe they want to blow everyone away at karaoke – or just not embarrass themselves!  Maybe it is a “bucket list” item they want to tick off.  Maybe they know the boost to their self-confidence it will provide when they face this fear, look it squarely in the face, and say “I don’t care what you say – I’m going to SING, dammit!!”  And THAT is one of the most admirable things I have seen my fellow human beings do, over and over again.

I’ve been singing all my life – it’s difficult to get me to shut up, to be perfectly honest.  Since before I could speak, I was singing, making up little songs to myself in my cot.  I was an irritatingly precocious show-off of a child who loved performing and jumped up on any stage available.  This is just part of the make-up of who I am, for me it comes easily (though there are ALWAYS nerves about performing; I prefer to call it “excitement” rather than “nerves”.)  So when I look at my students, who do not share this annoying personality trait of being an insufferable show-off… who have not been performing their entire lives… but for whom singing is a genuinely SCARY and boundary-pushing activity… I have an incredible amount of respect and admiration for them and what they do.  They face their fear head on, and it bowls me over every time.

Not only that, but many of my adult students may be university students, just starting out in the workforce, or starting out as freelancers or running their own small business.  They don’t have a lot of expendable income, and yet they come and lay their money on the line for the desire to better themselves. I have so much respect for that.  Self-improvement is something I am passionate about and identify strongly with, and all of my students are working hard, and making sacrifices, to become the person they want to be.

And those, my friends, are a few reasons why I admire my students.

Stay fabulous guys!  Thankyou for bringing joy to my life 🙂

Bec

How does a music teacher pick their pricing?

I would like to take this chance to thank everyone who spared some time to take my Lesson Pricing Survey!  As my regular students may have noticed, the pricing of my lessons has indeed changed (though you can still get the original price lesson if you pay in advance) and the way I offer discounts/rewards for multiple purchases in advance has changed.

As part of the Small Business Management course I am currently undertaking, of course we have been looking at pricing; different methods of pricing, offering discounts and packages, etcetera.

Pricing one’s lessons is a really difficult task!  As teachers (and other small business managers who offer their time & expertise for money), of course, we want various things:

– We want clients (students and parents of students) to want to get lessons with us.  (Therefore, not scare them away with exorbitant prices).
– We want to not undercut other people in the same kind of business (i.e. if every other teacher is charging $60, charging $40 to appear cheaper and get more students is not ethical business practice!)
– We want our clients to value their time with us; and for teachers, that means if we don’t charge enough, students simply won’t practice enough/do the work!
– We want to be able to cover our costs of running a small business… as well as hopefully make some kind of profit and enjoy life!!

I had a fellow teacher (who is also a student of mine) contact me for advice the other day.  She had contacted parents whose payments for lessons was overdue, and received a reply which included this statement:
“… $1 a minute, wow, wish I could earn that much.”

…Well then.

First of all, I suspect that this person does not understand what it is to be self employed/run a small business.  I can’t help but wonder if they have a full-time job employed by someone else?  Do they get superannuation?  Sick leave?  Paid holidays?  Insurance, OH&S costs, travel costs, are these covered by their employer?  Because we don’t get any of those things from some magical higher power.
The costs of running your own business are high, the work hours are more than 9-5 (usually more like 9am-10pm), and you don’t get any benefits other than occasionally being able to work in your pyjamas (less so if you’re a teacher).
We don’t just work while we are teaching the student for that 1 hour.  We prepare material for them.  We type up lesson notes.  We find them new music to listen to.  We email and call and text and manage our calendar and our accounts.  We might organise a yearly (or more often) concert for our students.  We pay studio rent, we buy computer and sound equipment, we get it tested & tagged, we pay public liability insurance.  I’m not saying that being a full-time employee is not difficult/hard work; I’m just offering a contrast for those who may never have thought about what it takes to run your own small business.
And for music teachers – we also continue to study our craft.  We go to professional development events, get training, and often are performers as well, writing songs, paying for instruments, playing gigs late at night.

My friend was offended and felt like she had to justify her prices.  I have had a similar response from some parents, who have said they “questioned the price as being not the norm”.

Fun Fact:  The Tasmanian Music Teachers Association’s recommended fee for a one hour, one-on-one lesson with a fully qualified teacher is $66 per hour.  (In Melbourne or Sydney, the going rate is often easily around $70 or more.)

I charge only slightly less than that, because my pricing is based around “competitor-based pricing”.  I do not want to undercut other teachers by charging less than them.  However I also don’t want to charge MORE than other teachers because I am also aware that, from a “customer-based pricing” viewpoint, Hobart being what it is, my clients will most likely not be willing to pay more than $65.

The going rate in Hobart as far as I’ve seen with other instrumental & voice teachers is between $50-60 an hour.  If someone considers that to be exorbitant, I would consider that person to not really understand the value of the service a music teacher offers, and the expenses we have in running our own business.

And as for me specifically: I charge $65 for pay-as-you-go, $60 if you buy 4 lessons in advance, and $55 if you buy 10 lessons in advance.

Why?  This is a premium price for a premium service.  If you want to learn vocal technique that will get you fast results and no trial-and-error faffing about; if you want the best in voice coaching for yourself or your child; then the price should be a no-brainer, to learn valuable technique from a knowledgable teacher which will help you achieve your goals in singing and success in your music career.

In my recent pricing survey, I had a suggestion from an anonymous parent to offer a discount rate for younger students, as they have many extracurricular activities which can get expensive.  I understand that completely as I used to be one of these kids doing ten million extracurricular things!  I do wish I could offer something like this, but honestly I cannot afford to charge less than my 10 lesson discount rate of $55, for all the reasons listed above involved in running a small business.  If this means more casual singers who are just doing singing as a bit of after-school fun can’t continue… that is sad, but something which I am willing to risk.  Lessons with me are, I hope, enjoyable, fun, and musical; however, the information I am teaching about the voice is also of high quality and quantity.  I currently have casual students from the age of 12, as well as professional vocalists and current UTAS Conservatorium of Music students.  Casual singers are always welcome as my students, of course!  But I am still teaching the same information, which is very valuable and will give your child knowledge on par with my professional and tertiary-level singers.  If your child has aspirations to be a professional vocalist, then I believe this is essential learning!  If not… I promise we will still have a great time and their confidence in themselves will soar as they feel and hear themselves improving in their sound and their control and understanding of their voice.

So what is different about my lessons?  Here’s where I toot my own horn:
– I am Bachelor-level educated. (Bachelor of Music, and Diploma of Music Performance in contemporary voice)
– I am the only person in Tasmania (and one of only 7 in Australia) who has completed the Estill Certified Figure Proficiency Test and, as far as I know in Tasmania, the only one who has studied Estill Voice Training in depth.  I continue my study of vocal physiology and attend regular training to improve my craft, and intend to undertake the Certified Master Teacher training as soon as possible.
– And, if I may say so myself, I’m a pretty darn good teacher (as I have heard in feedback from students, parents, and the level of student retention that I have).  And I CARE.  I really WANT to be a good teacher.  I love teaching.  I am not jaded and disillusioned and just doing-it-for-the-money.  I want my students to improve, I want them to be proud of themselves.  I am a friend, a mentor, a counsellor for many of my students as well as a teacher.  And the same can be said for many other music teachers I know.

I also endeavour to add as much value to my services as possible for my clients!  Information about the different perks I offer for my regular students can be found here… and I am ALWAYS open to more suggestions about how I can add value for my students.

Please consider all of the above when looking at a teacher’s cancellation policy, too.  You are not just paying us that money for that hour, but for all the other hours of work we put into being the best teacher we can be for you/your child, and running our business in the way that will best serve you.  We have rent to pay, we need to eat, and you cancelling a lesson and not being able to reschedule later in the week is not our fault.  It affects us a lot more than it affects you.  Regardless of who you are buying lessons from, whether it is from me or another vocal tutor or an instrumental tutor, keep this all in mind! 

And remember that we love you!  We value you!  We appreciate that you have chosen us to teach you or your child music, and we are indeed thankful to have a job that we don’t hate.  Let’s work together for a culture of mutual appreciation between music teachers, students and parents, and enjoy the magic that is music together!

Singing Chords with Lalah Hathaway & Bobby McFerrin

So this video has been making the rounds, and I figure it really needs to be on this blog.

It’s a great video of a live performance by Lalah Hathaway and Snarky Puppy.  Featuring some incredible musicianship all round, and a very groovy song (this is definitely one of my favourite styles of music) this is worth listening to all the way through.

While I’m not usually a fan of excessively long virtuosic or “show-off-y” vocal solos, this is pretty tight and delicious.  Not to mention she sings chords.

…Yep, you read right.  Lalah manages to sing two notes at once.
Start watching at around 6:00 

My favourite part about this is that the band FREAKS OUT, haha.  It’s super cute… but they keep their heads and manage to come in again with the groove super heavy and funky.  Professional musicians at their best.

The best theory for this I’ve seen going around is that she has learnt how to shape her vocal tract to bring out the harmonic overtones in the note she is singing.  Whenever you sing a note (or play it on the guitar, or piano, etc.) there is the “fundamental frequency” – which is the note you intended (hopefully) to sing… and above it are the harmonic overtones which are part of that sound.  I am capable of bringing out harmonic overtones in my voice when singing lower notes, starting with a perfect fifth above the note, then an octave, then a third above that octave, then the next fifth, and so on.  I adjust these by changing the shape of my mouth and the position of my tongue. But when I do it, it almost sounds like… a whistle?  Or it just sounds like a harmonic overtone, but it doesn’t sound like I am actually singing two notes with my true vocal folds, which is the impression that Lalah’s awesome party trick here gives!

As far as I can tell, true vocal fold body/cover condition wise, she is singing in Stiff folds (that airy, breathy tone).  But that’s about all I can really gather about what she’s doing!  This is some next-level stuff.

I have seen someone else do this kind of thing before (though using a different technique) and that of course would be the true vocal master, the incredible Bobby McFerrin.  If you only know Bobby for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”… prepare to have your mind blown.
If you watch from about 2:00, you will hear him create two notes at once.  He does it again at the end of the song… but the whole thing is amazing and worth a watch!

Again, there’s a lot going on here (and he has the mic to his neck, and his lips are buzzing too) so it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s doing, but I’m guessing it is a similar bringing out of the harmonic overtone by shaping of the vocal tract.  It also reminds me a bit of the overtone singing or “throat singing” one often hears of being practiced by Tibetan monks.  I did wonder when listening to Lalah and Bobby, and also to various cultures’ overtone singing, if the false vocal folds come into play at all – if constriction is used as a technique to create extra sounds.  According to the wikipedia page on the larynx,  “The false vocal folds are not responsible for sound production, but rather for resonance. The exceptions to this are found in Tibetan Chant and Kargyraa, a style of Tuvan throat singing.”  So perhaps it is possible McFerrin has mastered a similar false fold control!

Fascinating stuff!  If anyone has any more examples of singing two notes or more, please feel free to share!