Category Archives: Teaching

End of 2016 Wrap Up!

To all my students (and parents) from 2016:

I just want to say thankyou so much to all my students this year.  You’ve worked hard, and when I talk to my friends who are instrumental music teachers complaining about how their students never practice, I always gloat, coz mine DO!  Mwhahaha.  And you are all sounding awesome and making great progress on all your very different vocal & musical journeys.

As a teacher  & musician I have also learnt & grown this year.  In January I took my second 5-day Level 1 & 2 Course in Estill Voice Training, and passed my written exam towards becoming an Estill Certified Master Teacher.  I then put my preparations for the practical exam somewhat on hold, when I decided to make my own music and creativity my number one priority for this year (and probably for all years to come)!  I finished a group of 12 new songs, recorded home demos, and am currently in discussion with a few different producers, to find a person or people to work on what will probably be 3 new EPs released under my solo stagename.  I’ve resumed practice of my jazz repertoire, with intention to start doing jazz gigs again after a long break, and began working on some funk material with a friend with view to starting a new band next year!

Now that I’ve gotten my creativity & own musical practice firmly back into my routine, I can put some focus back on my Estill practice.  I’m hoping that with regular practice I’ll be able to be ready for the practical Estill CMT exam by halfway through or the end of next year (it involves some very challenging fine isolated control of the vocal mechanisms, some of which are going to take a while) after which I’ll become a CMT “candidate” and then have to have my teaching observed on each mechanism & section of the work twice each by two different teachers before I finally qualify!  Phew!  It’s a long process, and I’m not in any rush, and prioritising my own creative work over my vocal coaching qualification has improved my quality of life & mental health out of sight.  

Sometimes it’s important to check your priorities!

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped studying & learning about the voice and how best to serve my students.  I’ve had some one on one and group sessions with my mentors Steph and Gerald at The Voice Gym; and have taken or referred a few of my lucky students to sessions at The Voice Gym too. I’ve learnt a lot from sitting in on or listening to recordings of my students’ sessions with my mentors and in discussion with them afterwards.  I’ve accompanied one or two students on a trip to visit otolaryngologist (ENT) Dr Amanda Richards at Pinnacle Surgery for a vocal health checkup, which is always fun, to get to see the vocal mechanism in action on camera!

Through these things and also just the practice that comes with teaching the mechanisms over and over with each new person, I have felt my understanding of these exercises & mechanisms become much deeper during 2016.

Which brings me to my new focus for 2017 as a teacher:  to go more deep and work with everyone a little more slow & focused.  

In the past, I’ve often had a subconscious fear of my students getting bored – as the anatomy-based approach can sometimes be quite involved and although it can elicit exciting changes quite fast, it is really a “long distance” run rather than a sprint, requiring dedicated work to make small changes to your vocal habits in order to arrive at the sound you are wanting. 

And there is so much to get through, and so much to learn!  A one hour session often hardly seems like enough!

So in the past I have perhaps burned through the different techniques & mechanisms quite fast with everyone, instead of taking a long time on each one, in an effort to make sure everyone stays interested.  It’s a great thing to have a general overview awareness of all the different mechanisms and what they do and are useful for, especially as they are all obviously connected and affect each other!  But it’s also important to do slow, focused work on the areas which are most important to you and your goals, and for some of you (especially those at a more professional level), this is where I’m going to focus in 2017.  The plan will vary greatly from person to person of course, relating to their individual goals and needs, but I will be for everyone, as a teacher, consciously taking things a little slower and working a little deeper on each mechanism, working on the important exercises with you until you have really got them under control.

Of course I still want it to be fun!  That’s always been my M.O. as a teacher, having heard so many horror stories of people giving up singing or music because they were made to sing songs they didn’t enjoy and do pointless exercises that made no sense. 

I will still be making sure we sing actual songs, and songs that you enjoy!  And linking the exercises as always back to their relevance in the song you are wanting to sing.  And as always, you are the client, and I am here to serve you.  If you feel that how I am structuring the lessons is not working for you in any way, you can always bring this up with me, and we will adjust to suit your needs.

Phew!  Okay, thanks for reading this far!  Here’s some quick important stuff:

Three things for my students to do:

1.  If anyone hasn’t yet joined the Facebook group I run for all my current & past students, feel free to do so at the below link!  Mostly I use it to occasionally post some interesting video of someone using their voice in an interesting way so we can analyse it together, and you’re welcome to share anything else you like there too, or discuss anything relating to singing & your practice:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/396830587109253/

2.  If I haven’t yet given you a copy of my first album (recorded back in 2012, pre-Estill!) remind me next time you come in, as I give a free copy to all my voice students, just for fun.

3.  Plan for your singing journey in 2017!  We will have already gone over this a bit in our final sessions of this year, but it’s important that you in yourself have a good strong idea of what direction you want to go in, what you want to achieve, and have a reasonably clear plan (this is the main part I can help you with) of what steps will get you to your goals.  

Set aside 15min to sit down with a notebook, and ask yourself:

a.  Do I want to perform in 2017?  Where and when, to whom, and how often?
b.  Do I want to do any recordings?
c.  What’s something I haven’t done with my singing yet that I’d like to?
d.  What am I proud of from my work in 2016, or what am I really enjoying about my voice right now?
e.  What about my vocal technique could use some improvement, what do I want to work on more in 2017?

My Main Practice Tip For The Holidays is:

LITTLE AND OFTEN is better than HEAPS HARDLY EVER.

The way our brains work, it is much better to do 3 minutes of practice, 5 times a day, than it is to do 5 hours of practice once a week!

I’m constantly thinking about how I’m using my voice while i’m speaking, I practice my onsets while I’m cooking, I do sirens while brushing my teeth, I practice FVF retraction at traffic lights.  This is the best way to develop your control, rather than blocking out some huge amount of time only once a week.  

Keep singing your songs for fun as well as doing serious practice, PLAY with your voice, and get curious!  

Finally, don’t forget to make sure we have sorted out when we are starting up again, how often and how long your lessons are going to be, and what payment plan you’re going with.

I hope you have a restful, fun, musical and safe festive period, and I look forward to seeing you in 2017!

Much love and keep singing!

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Joyful Singing – Strong Speech – Vocal Health
http://bectilley.com/
info@bectilley.com
0408 504 599

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.”

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?

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!