Renowned vocal coach and rehab specialist Dr Jenevora Williams reveals the key ingredient to successful singing lessons.
When guiding a singer through a lesson or vocal rehabilitation session, there’s a lot to bear in mind. But Dr Jenevora Williams, teacher, author and respected voice scientist, says one thing is the most important of all.
In a recent interview with the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, Dr Williams says bringing a sense of play to sessions is crucial to delivering successful singing lessons.
She reveals that her teaching philosophy centres on “lots of games, lots of fun and getting people laughing pretty much straight up into the session. This helps students to loosen up and relax”.
The science of learning
As a renowned vocal researcher – Dr Williams was the first singing teacher to be awarded a PhD in voice science in the UK and co-founded Vocal Health Education – it’s not surprising that her approach is backed by science.
“One thing that is important for the rehab specialist or singing teacher is to make sure that the process of learning is pleasurable, and even fun, for the person they’re helping,” she says.
“By doing this, you’ll be creating a chemical path in the brain that is helping the memories to form.
“The kind of play that I do with people is experimental. I’ll try little things and see how the student goes. I use a lot of physical movement, particularly if somebody is a bit tense. I get them to make simple movements of the head or shoulders or to walk around the room. Any kind of movement will help to loosen up negative holding patterns.”
The holding patterns Dr Williams refers to can be traced back to our hunter-gatherer days when we had to be on guard against predators (fight or flight response). They can present as tension, tightness in the upper body, and restricted breathing – issues that can cause vocal fatigue and lead to voice problems.
Tailoring a lesson to a student
Some students will be more open to taking a playful approach than others. “It depends how easy they are with making those movements, whether they feel self-conscious or a bit silly, or whether they’ll really go for it,” she says.
“Some people are quite happy to be bent double, hanging upside down and singing out between their ankles. Other people wouldn’t be able to do that, so you might ask them to just walk around the room and sing.”
Young people, in particular, thrive when you create a sense of play. “I might throw and catch a ball while they’re making sounds with the voice or get them to blow something across the top of the table, like a ping pong ball. It gives them something to focus on but also provides me with information about how they use the breath.”
Teaching is a dynamic process
In the podcast, Dr Williams also reveals that when she takes on a new client, she doesn’t have a fixed set of questions that she asks them.
“It is an iterative process – there isn’t a set order for doing things. I start by asking some standard questions, such as why are you here? And what would you like to be able to do? But from that point onwards, each question depends on the answer they’ve provided me with beforehand.”
Listen to the full interview with Dr Williams to learn more about:
- The science behind how we learn and the best way to ‘rewire’ the brain.
- The importance of knowing when to refer a singer to a clinician for medical diagnosis.
- Her best-loved learning resources.