Why the student voice in music lessons counts!

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Having been a music educator for over 25 years it is of no surprise that I have taught hundreds of different pieces to my students. Whether that was in the secondary music classroom, in individual lessons or to members of my choirs, bands or orchestras. Yet, one of my favourite parts of teaching is when students find or suggest new songs that turn out to be fantastic pieces and join my ever-expanding repertoire.

I really do believe allowing students to have an input into the repertoire we learn is so important in music lessons. Let’s be honest – there are just thousands of songs out there, especially since the rise of Youtube and Spotify, that it would be totally impossible for one person to listen to them all, let alone find all the best pieces for students to perform.

Students having an input into the repertoire that they want to learn is a great way for me to help encourage them to find their own musical voice and sound. Truthfully, if you are learning a piece that you actually like you are more than likely going to practice it between lessons and spend the time to master the piece. This is a positive for everyone and there is always a new skill or technique in every piece to develop that helps the student grow and improve as a musician.

My other reason for allowing students to have a say in the repertoire that they learn is that I want them to practice and enjoy music making between our lessons. I know that I like certain music and will practice it more than other styles of music. Why would I not want to encourage that in my own students? Don’t get me wrong, we still cover all the basic repertoire, technical exercises and developing musical expression in our time together, but it is nice to not stick to one method rigidly and it keeps learning music fun.

And finally learning to pick music for yourself that matches your current ability is a skill in itself. There is so much music on the internet that can be downloaded for free that it can be easy to find a piece that is too hard or poorly notated for your current standard. This can lead to frustration and annoyance during private practice and potentially cause students to want to quit. By encouraging students to bring the music into lessons and creating opportunities to discuss the musical challenges in each piece will help remove some of those musical barriers and will certainly stop students wanting to quit. Having an opportunity to explore good places to buy music that is appropriate for your standard is a great learning curve in your musical development.

So here are a few of the songs that my students have wanted to learn this year that were great learning opportunities for us all!

Feeling Good – Muse

I really love ‘Feeling Good’ and think it is a great piece for an intermediate school band to learn and perform. One of my music exam classes did this piece as a band in Switzerland and did such an amazing job. Normally I would do the standard version of this piece or the Michael Buble version, however this time round my adult singing student wanted to have a go at the Muse version.

Firstly it is a very clever version of the original and has a great balance between being authentic to the original and being an original arrangement in its own right. I adore the dissonance in the ‘Birds flying high’ verse and you can have a lot of fun with this section, particularly if you want to create a rock vocal sound to it. The falsetto sections in the Muse version are so impressive and require a great deal of vocal skill and technique. It’s a great piece for developing vocal range and learning to control the air flow and tone through that final section where most of the song is in falsetto.

One Kiss from Descendants 3

One of my youngest singers loves the Descendants movies and asked if we could sing a song from the movies. What I love about this Disney song is that it is a great, fast song that has some great chest voice passages in the chorus where you can really have fun with the words and your rock tone. The beginning is also challenging as it starts just on the cross-over part of the voice between chest and head voice. In the original version the actress sings it in chest voice but allowing my student to decide the best sound for her voice was a good challenge, especially in that area of the voice. It was a great way of helping her to find her own sound for this song rather than just copy the sound of the original performer.

Lost Boy – Ruth B

A great, simple piano-accompanied song that has a lot of musical challenge. There are subtle time signature changes, a lot of chest voice work and a need to control the dynamics and musical expression at a slow tempo. This was a great choice by one of my students and it allowed us to explore musical shaping of not just each verse but the whole piece, particularly as there is quite a lot of repetition within the song. I was surprised at how many of my younger students knew the song as I had never heard it before. If you are looking for a great piano accompanied chest voice song this is definitely worth teaching your students.

Like my Father – Jax

Another beautiful piano-accompanied song that a student found was ‘Like my Father’ by an American singer called Jax. It is just such a pretty song with very sentimental lyrics that really does allow your students to think about the actual meaning behind a song and the importance of telling the story of the song authentically. It is a great song for developing musical expression and I love some of Jax’s parodies on her channel of older songs – they are very clever!

Summertime – Gershwin

This wonderful piece is a standard of the jazz song book and a great introduction for students to start singing musical theatre and jazz. Sometimes song ideas come from casual conversations in lessons about random things such as the weather and what makes a great summer song!

My adult singing student said that he loved this song and can we do it. In the end it actually led us into doing an introductory lesson into using jazz backing track play-alongs, improvising and scat singing. It was a great series of lessons on using the voice to improvise and to listen to the chords, learning to create good improvised melodic lines and exploring scat singing. We had so much fun and it really did help him grow in confidence in singing in a totally different style and using jazz backing tracks to practice with. I love it when a random conversation leads into such a fun series of musical creativity.

What pieces have you played this year that you found inspiring?

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