All of us at VIDLA try our utmost to stay right at the top of our game (I won’t have on the team anyone who doesn’t have that mindset!), and that means constant professional development, both in terms of teaching and singing technique and our own performance or music careers, should we have that to do as well. As far as I’m concerned that’s as it should be, so all’s right and proper in the world.
But in spite of every best intention, sometimes we don’t notice ourselves becoming lazy in some areas. We don’t realise that we’ve dropped into a habit of always doing the same things, because we know those things, because we understand that we get great results that way, and because nobody needs to fix something that’s not broken. It’s human nature – and of course, constant and precise repetition of something usually means that you end up being damn good at it!
The hidden dangers of this were brought home to me yesterday when I was giving a Skype lesson. I’m very used to teaching via Skype, and the student is very used to learning that way. All was going well until we lost video. I was left in a situation whereby I could hear my student but not see her, and she could hear but not see me. Of course we both checked the settings, re-dialled to try to establish a new connection, but no luck. It was at that point that I realised how much I rely on being able to demonstrate visually when teaching – a mouth shape, a stance, a way of lifting through the lower spine, the angle of the chin – you name it, the list is very long.
I was thrown back into my teacher training days from years ago, when in one of the more fun, engaging lessons, we were set the task of sitting back-to-back with a partner and having to describe a complex drawing in such a way that our partners could reproduce the picture for themselves. The lesson was that visual information is more powerful than verbal information, but that verbal information has to be precise, detailed and relevant in order for it to be effective. A great lesson, as it turns out. (And yes, it was followed up with the lesson that nothing is as powerful for a student as doing it themselves)!
Back in the now, for the rest of that Skype lesson, my verbal information had to be ultra-precise, detailed and relevant. Audio information was no problem. A good teacher can hear constriction, can hear a mouth shape, can hear poor posture, laryngeal height, tight massetters, or whatever it might be. But I realised that I had come to over-rely on visual cues when showing a student what something new looks like. I’d become lazy, in that sense.
Losing visual contact made me re-assess my teaching, ask myself questions and remind myself that however experienced any of us might be, however ‘good’ we are perceived to be by others, we all can improve, we all can – and should – go back to basics, and we all should be asking ourselves if we have fallen into lazy habits. A timely reminder: it doesn’t matter what it is or how many times you’ve done it or how great you are at it, from peeling a spud to driving a car, you can be better. Have you checked your fine self recently?