I have been a piano teacher since I was 15 years old. Safe to say that my first students had to deal with my teething problems. But thankfully when I graduated school and moved, they graduated me, and got the variety we all need for a good music education.
One of the regrets I have from that time is that I did not sing with my first students. Instead, I taught the way I had been taught, by playing scales, exercises and pieces.
Now, more than a piano teacher, I consider myself a music teacher. Whenever you have a student, you are teaching the whole child. They might end up specialising in the instrument they happen to be studying, they might switch musical specialties, or they might pursue an entirely different career. So the question that needs to be asked is: what skills do you want to leave them with?
That brings us around to singing. Apart from the fact that aural skills are part of every music examination, they are also an indispensable musical skill. And the wonderful thing is that children are excellent listeners. I’m not saying they are good at listening to you; we all know that’s not true. But they are constantly learning new sounds, and music is no exception.
Music is the creation of sound. We learn that that picture on the page means that we make a certain sound. That when you move your hands a certain way, you can make the sound that is being requested. The mistake that is often made here is a reliance on muscle memory instead of auditory memory. Rather than learning that middle C sounds like middle C, we learn that middle C is that note on the piano, or that finger on the violin, etc. And while muscle memory is useful, by itself it limits you to your one instrument.
So, we sing. At the start of every music lesson, instrumental or classroom. And for my instrumental students, I expect them to sing as part of their practice time. I do not create virtuosic singers. That’s not the point. But over time, they notice their mistakes before I tell them. Because rather than just remembering how their hands move, they know what sound to expect next, because they have practiced it in every way that they can.
This can seem daunting. You’re not a vocal teacher, why would you sing with your cello student? Start simply. Sing a major scale. Sing a minor scale. Sing intervals. Sing chords. You will be amazed by what your students can do, and how it develops both of you as musicians.
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This post was originally published August 20201.