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Especially when you’re new to the world of teaching, the first voice lesson can be scary.
It is setting out on the pursuit of a new relationship – you have to get to know them, they have to get to know you, and you have to start working together towards a common goal.
On top of that, you have business to take care of. It is common to forget some important conversation points if you haven’t already established a rhythm for those oh-so-important first voice lessons.
I’ve been doing this for a little while, and have come up with a system that I really like, and that definitely works for me. Below, you’ll find an outline of how I structure my introductory voice lessons – take what you like and what works for you, and use it to build your own lesson plan that you can take into all of your first voice lessons with new students!
Getting to know your student
Ask “getting to know you” questions
The teacher-student relationship is just that – a relationship. Just like with any other relationship, it takes some work, intentionality, and planning. This first voice lesson is an excellent place to start building the foundation of trust on which successful teacher-student relationships are built.
I’ve found that many students are nervous during their first voice lesson – which is completely normal! It’s a new skill they are learning with a new person, I know that I am nervous in those kinds of situations! Starting the lesson out with some “small talk” helps the student to relax, as well as helps you gauge their maturity level and get to know them a little bit.
I like to have many of my “getting to know you” questions serve a dual purpose – questions that give me insight into how the student learns, what kinds of things they like to learn, and difficulties we may encounter down the road. Here are some examples of my favorite questions – use them to make your own list of questions! Of course, tailor them to the age of your student.
- What is your favorite song right now?
- What kind of music do you like to listen to?
- What is your favorite subject in school?
- What is your favorite book?
- What is one good thing that happened this week? (this is my favorite one! I ask it at the beginning of every lesson.)
- If you could be any animal, what animal would you be, and why?
- What is the thing you are best at?
… and so on! Seriously, be creative with this one and let the conversation flow – even answer the questions if they ask them back! Your relationship needs to have a back-and-forth in order to build trust.
Ask about their goals
I like to ask the student about their goals separate from their parents. Especially with kids, the parents can be an unhealthy driving force (this is not always the case, but it is unfortunately something I see regularly). It is so important for the student to take ownership of their musical journey and have their own reasons for studying music. If they are not bought in, every lesson and every practice session will be a struggle, and the student will get burned out.
So I like to cover the goals right away, and set a few for them to work towards, starting out. That may be a song, it may be extending their range a certain number of notes, it may be learning a certain amount of theory or pedagogy… coming up with an attainable goal to work towards is a great way to focus practicing, lesson planning, and lesson time moving forward, that’s why I love setting some goals during the very first voice lesson.
I personally use a goal planner for my business and personal life (It’s the Cultivate What Matters goal planner, and I ABSOLUTELY love it), and it inspired me to start some of my students on their own goal planner.
I have them purchase this goal planner and practice tracker and bring it to the first lesson (or second, if they forget), and we use it to set goals and practice steps to implement those goals.
Covering the Basics
This is going to be an overview of the basics I cover in my first voice lessons – if you’re looking for a more in-depth look at these, visit this Singing 101 post!
Shake off and stretch out those nerves! Getting the blood flowing and being a little silly is great to help the student relax and get ready to focus. I do it with them, too – it’s good for everyone.
Body alignment and anatomy
Then I cover the basic alignment – feet shoulder-width apart, back nice and straight, shoulders down and back, and hands at your side. I also cover the vocal anatomy during this section.
Breath, as I’m sure you know, is vitally important to healthy singing. Right after I cover body alignment, I jump straight into belly breathing – take a look at our Beginners Singing Exercises post for some ideas on how to introduce the concept of belly breathing.
Getting to know your student’s voice
The voice is an incredibly personal instrument, not only because it’s a part of us, but because each one is unique to us! No two people have the exact same voice, and that makes it so much fun to work with, but also a little bit more complicated to teach than other instruments, like piano or guitar.
Your first lesson with a student is an awesome opportunity to get to know their voice, and the best approaches to use in their lessons.
Have them sing a song of their choice
This is probably my favorite part of the first voice lesson. I get to hear them sing for the first time, help them work through some nerves (sometimes I put this part off until after warmups, if they seem exceptionally nervous), but also get to know their favorite singing style and favorite genre of music!
Pay attention to the kind of song they choose to sing for you – how wide is the range? What are the words about? How emotive are they while they sing? Is it fast? Slow? Major? Minor?
Listening for technical aspects of the song they choose can tell you a lot about what they think sounds good, what kinds of songs they feel like they sound good on, and where their “comfort zone” is. As teachers, we want to push those boundaries out gently, but to do that, we need to know where their comfort zone lies.
Test their range
Putting their song choice can give you a starting idea of where their comfortable range is – some guidelines to help inform your choices.
Beyond that, I typically just have them match pitch on an “ah” up and down the piano, note by note. Keep the vowel the same so you can listen for tension and ease, breaks, and power spots.
Make sure to take note of their range – I put it in their google classroom so I don’t forget.
Now that you have an idea of their range, you can start your warmups! We, like most teachers, have our own set of warmups that we like to use. In the first lesson, we will introduce one or two, depending on how quickly the student understands and is able to execute them. This will look different from teacher to teacher, and even student to student. If you want some good starter exercises to add to or begin your collection, let us know! We are more than happy to send you ours.
We like to say that one of the biggest reasons relationships fall apart – especially teacher-student or teacher-parent relationships – is undefined expectations. No one can be held accountable to what they do not know, so it is important that you take the time in the first voice lesson to go over your expectations with both the student and their parent(s). Honest communication on both your part and the part of your students and their parents is the key to fruitful and lasting partnership.
How often should the student practice?
Ah, the age-old question. Some teachers think you should practice for hours per day, some think longer chunks with more break days, and others think small amounts every day.
The real question we need to be asking is, how much practice will this take to effectively learn?
We’ve learned that practice times will change from student to student, depending on age, ability, and capacity to focus. It will even change and grow as the student progresses through their studies.
For a good baseline, I like to give my students goal-oriented practice. In other words, instead of a time constraint, I give them goals to work towards. When they have reached that goal for the week, it’s just a matter of keeping it fresh in their mind. For each student, the timeline on that will look different, and I am willing to work with them to come up with a realistic practice timeline that works for them.
Lesson Etiquette and Required Books
How do you expect them to act in lessons? Behavioral things will again differ from age to age, but respect, focus, and full attention are the bottom lines in my studio.
As far as books go, I am far more flexible with my singing students than my piano students. Which books I teach out of completely depends on the student’s goals, but I usually include some theory and/or sight singing, some pedagogy, and a few different repertoire books. Some are from my own library, and some I require them to purchase for themselves. If you want some ideas to start, check out our list of my favorite voice lesson books in each category.
Go over Policies and Payment
Every studio and every teacher runs their business a little bit differently. Things like a makeup policy, late payment policy, any contracts, or payments will likely be new to your student or their parents (if their parents are responsible for payment and getting them there on time), so it is important make sure you are all on the same page by the end of the first voice lesson.
We here at C&S Music like to use SquareUp for managing our studio – it has been a GAME CHANGER for us. It sends reminder texts to appointments, we use it for recurring and one-time invoices, and best of all, it sends our terms of service contract to every client with their first invoice, so they can easily read and sign our terms before we even start the first voice lesson!
Whatever program you use – or if you like to use paper copies – it is important to go over the terms in person, to avoid any misunderstandings. When lessons will be, when they will qualify for a makeup lesson, when you will be charging them, payment options – all of these are important topics to cover in person and have signed record of.
Phew! We made it. I know that it can feel overwhelming when onboarding a new student sometimes, but the firmer foundation you build up front, the stronger your relationship will be and the better you will be able to instruct them, without having to worry about the nitty gritty stuff we talk about in the beginning!
Covering all your bases in the first voice lesson will allow you to focus on growing the singer down the road.
Like I mentioned at the top, take this outline and make it your own, and let me know in the comments what works and what doesn’t work for your studio. Happy Teaching!