Where’s Your Notebook?

As a voice teacher and coach (for My College Audition) I am consistently surprised by the number of students and clients that DON’T WRITE anything down in their sessions!!!

While some students RECORD their lessons, there’s a lot to be said for physically writing down notes to yourself as reminders, memory jogs, lists of music to listen to, artists to explore, songs to interpret, research to be done, questions to be answered.

Because we come from an educational system which relies on the ‘Tell me what to do and I will do it,” mentality,  most young singer’s inquisitiveness is never tapped at any profound level. They are not trained as a default to ask questions and explore their own unique curiosity.

There are several TYPES of notebooks that all singers should keep throughout their work:

  • The lesson notebook: This notebook covers what was worked on in the lesson, notes for the next lesson, research that should be done in-between lessons, things to listen to, notes on THIS lesson, goals for next week, strategies in practice sessions, recommendations from the teacher/coach.
  • The song notebook: This notebook should contain the text of EVERY song (IPA if necessary) and any notes on musical structure and interpretation that should be explored. The student should apply an acting process to this book, using the “Six Steps of Uta Hagen” as a jumping off point. There should also be in-depth research on the character, the musical, opera, or art song. If I ask the student, “When in the show does the character sing this?” or “What has happened in the MOMENT before this song starts?” the student should have a solid idea and be able to nail these questions EVERY TIME.
  • The audition and performance notebook: This is the audition book for notes on their auditions and performances. Recording useful information such as: Where did I audition/sing? Whom did I sing for? What did I wear? What time was the audition? What did I sing? How did I feel? What did I learn as a result of this audition/performance? Giving yourself a record of your auditions and performances allows you to be your own teacher as well. It gives you a place for reflection and analysis of your work from an objective place. I recommend that all students keep this in perpetuity as a helpful reminder.

As far as the particular type of notebook, that is personal to the student. The student should buy a BEAUTIFUL notebook that will be inspiring to USE regularly.

You can find really lovely notebooks at Barnes and NobleMoleskine has gorgeous notebooks (sold in packs) that are small and can be thrown into a music bag for lessons, auditions, and coachings. Also, for higher-end, you can check out Levenger notebooks. They are refillable and can be really elegant for those wanting to have something really nice.

For those that are really tech oriented: TAKE PICTURES of your notebooks, and put them into the cloud. Services like Evernote are fantastic for just this type of record keeping and can be retrieved ANYWHERE.

I also recommend for song interpretation that singers create a Pinterest board of all the images and ideas that come to mind while they are researching their song. For example, if you’re singing “Die Forelle” by Schubert, maybe you look up paintings of streams, photos of trout, pictures of rustic and pastoral scenes that will stimulate your imagination when creating the song in performance.

Scientists keep notebooks of EVERY LAB experiment that they do. Singers should get into the same habit in their work. Give yourself a ‘paper playground’ to explore, question, and get greater clarity on your art.

Now, where is YOUR notebook?

3 thoughts on “Where’s Your Notebook?

  1. I used to leave the matter of writing things down as a matter of discretion on the part of the student. No more! I now routinely tell them: “Write that down! Now! What are you going to do if I get hit by a bus?” My, but that gets their attention. This is an important post! Do you know how many students donate their lesson notebook to libraries? Precious few! I can count the number on one hand, which means that our knowledge of how important voice teachers taught is very poor indeed.

  2. This is a great piece, Justin! As a strongly auditory learner, it is easy for me to forget the value of writing notes. I do tell singers to write down things occasionally, but your more thorough system is excellent.

  3. Very important post.
    I don’t know why, Justin but, even though I am not your Consultant, i always picture you being the patent holder of forms and sheets that register processes connected to singing and performing.
    You wrote some pretty specific questions on the Audition and Performance spreadsheet. Why don’t you start designing a digital template? It would be valuable to your clients if they could just download it and fill it in. These kind of products are becoming very popular in the Knowledge Industry (or Knowledge Business).
    A Song or Lyrics beat-sheet may be more complex to design, but it should contain at least the top-five threads you find important in interpreting a Song..
    The Lesson sheet may also be designed around your own instructional style and may actually facilitate the processes that occur in your studio, It can clarify pedagogical strategies and save lots of time and energy. Lesson-sheets i make for myself allow me to be very free, focused and creative in the training process because the important chores are already organized. Even problems presented themselves with clarity because a consistent pedagogical order guides you into making informed decisions. On an off-day just a quick look at an empty Lesson-sheet can jolt you into gear.
    As a language teacher i designed similar sheets for foreign-accent training. Accent training is a fairly new discipline, so the Cultural Center i worked for eventually decided not to adopt the sheets as part of the language training-program. However, my growth in the discipline of Diction and foreign languages in general just sky-rocketed beyond expectation. And the growth in your own discipline is something no one can take away from you. I would heartily encourage you to design sheets for your own management and to include them in the digital archive of every Client/Student.

    You have some darn good ideas about diagnosing the status of a voice in a new client (e.g the [a]-vowel). Design your Intake sheet, I guarantee you that this will pay off in terms off business and personal growth. It won’t cost you a cent. Just continue doing your job. You will be implementing your own experience and strategies of writing things down. You’ll be increasing the individual quality of your Studio’s output as a matter of routine. And maybe even offer a product-line of spreadsheets. The time-management routine-change you invest in the start-up will pay for itself. The added value is just an organizational challenge. it does not cost anything because you already have everything you need. Just start thinking like a Producer (mind-shift to Quality Management). Good Luck.! 😉

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