One of the most vital parts of teaching the singing voice is the demeanor and behavior of the teacher at the piano.
Jeanie LoVetri calls this “Pianoside Manner,” a term that I find myself very much drawn to. Who likes a doctor with bad bedside manner? No one.
This might go without saying, but many voice teachers possess grandiose personalities and enormous egos – SURPRISE!
Whether from their own star students, the celebrated teacher that they worked with (and whose teaching they are allegedly passing along), their own glamorous performance resume (I find it disturbing when voice teachers plaster photos of themselves all over their voice studios à la Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard), or their high level educational experience, the attitudes and behavior of the voice teacher play a crucial role in how the vocal training program is going to proceed.
What many of these grandiose teachers may not realize is this: FEAR is the 900 lb gorilla in the room.
Yes, ego-centric teacher, your students are afraid of you.
I have heard many successful teachers bemoaning the fact that many of their students can’t seem to find the freedom in singing that they want them to have. The teacher becomes more and more upset at jaw tension, tongue tension, and other manifestations of effort that JUST CAN’T SEEM to go away. They see their students become entangled in physical and emotional knots in lessons trying to ‘get it right.’
Could the common factor in all this inability to find freedom be the FEAR of the teacher?
It is very hard to get physical freedom in singing when you are afraid of the person at the keyboard. Muscles, which should be loose and supple for movement, become rigid and tense, preventing free organic movement. Release of constriction is impossible if fear is present.
People cannot learn when they are afraid or fearful.
The fight or flight response.
These students are in literal survival mode, though they may not even realize it. They’re afraid of being yelled at, scolded, reprimanded, failing the teacher, punishment, or patronization. And the teacher may never be aware of it because they’re too busy thinking about their agenda, wondering why they can’t seem to accomplish anything technically with their students, and missing out on the very reason their students are stunted technically.
Romantic ideas of vocal studios where the masters berated their pupils are unfortunate remnants of a time gone by. Psychological abuse is NOT okay, and is an ethical violation of the teacher’s role. Sadly, many students will play into these teachers’s hands in an effort to get a credit on the resume, or make a connection. Sad.
When you have a number of singers in your studio that just can’t seem to ‘get it right’ or ‘do what you ask,’ you might want to take a very good look at yourself.
After all, YOU are the common factor in the equation with every single one of them.
2 thoughts on “When Students Fear the Teacher”
Excellent post, Justin. Yes, I have seen the 900 lb. gorilla create havoc all too frequently. That’s why I have made a conscious effort to replace him with the 275 lb. Teddy Bear – that would be ME. Btw, one of my favorite sayings is “Students don’t care how much you know, so much as knowing how much you care.” And another quote I have says in effect that change (growth) is more likely to occur in response to encouragement and love, than to pressure.
What a beautiful comment. Thank you for it Roger. I feel the exact same.