If you’re a teacher, then you know how much you learn on the job every day, both through the act of teaching itself, and also from working with your students. I wasn’t really aware of just how true this was until I began teaching voice lessons. I am so thankful for the solid technical foundation that I received in my collegiate training, which has given me so many great tools to use in my teaching. However, this training was only the beginning. Now that I have been out in the real world as a teacher and a performer, I feel as though these tools in my toolkit have gone from being shiny, brand-new, and untouched to being well-worn and familiar. And yet, even with the comfort of this familiarity, every so often I make a new discovery, or have a new insight. It’s like finding out some new use for a tool I thought I knew really well. And sometimes, I even find a new tool that unexpectedly shows up in my toolbox, and then it’s my job to figure it out.
These tools can show up in any number of ways, sometimes when I’m working on my own projects, and sometimes when I’m working with my students. Sometimes when I’m practicing, a particularly difficult passage might reveal some incomplete technical idea, and then I go down that rabbit hole until I figure out the problem. It often comes down to some basic simple element of technique, and it really is a light bulb moment once I reach the answer. Once I have this epiphany, any lessons I teach that week will usually contain some piece of this new idea–I’m excited to discover it, so I am equally excited to pass it along to my students.
When I have such a breakthrough in a student’s lesson, it usually comes by way of coming up with a new analogy or description of a process, or uncovering some new insight on a piece of music over the course of a discussion. The constant reminders of basic technique can also be a great source of inspiration–if you spend every day telling your students to breathe and engage their bodies in their singing, you can’t help but take that away and apply it to your own singing! Again, any epiphanies I have in one lesson can often spill over into other lessons. Knowledge, once gained, is meant to be shared!
The key is to be open to the inspiration that reveals these insights. If I enter every practice session or lesson with the idea that I am the wise all-knowing master, I am in essence closing my mind to the possibility of learning something new. That’s not to say that you need to enter a lesson without a plan, or that you need to always question everything you know at any moment. It’s just important to keep listening and exploring, and not just assuming that your “normal” approach will always work and has no room for tweaking. Both as a singer and a teacher, it is always a balance between trusting your existing knowledge and seeking new input. You have to have a foundation that is strong enough to sustain you, but be flexible enough not to break as you explore problems. If you let it, teaching can make you a better singer, and becoming a better singer can then inform your teaching.