Monday, April 3, 2017

Beginning Voice Students, Part 2 - Adult Students

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Here's part two, adult students. There are a few "brands" of adult students, so to speak. I am not going to address college students - these are "kids over 18" in my opinion. The adult beginning voice student - called by my local NATS Festival "Late Bloomer" category, can be comprised of older, retired adults, adults who study after work for fun, those trying to get into a community choir, or feel better about church choir, and you may have that adult who is longing to perform on America's Got Talent. They will have varying needs and you are going to need to understand how much of their lesson is recreational and how much is serious.

Private Students and Music Theory

When we want to introduce theory to adults, how do we do this without 1) seeming condescending, or 2) taking time from vocal technique, which is WHY they came to you in the first place. I have found that when adults begin taking music lessons, it is because they really love music and singing, and are trying to get over a technical hurdle that prevents them from fully enjoying singing. More often than not, these are the students you may need to guide through practicing. Occasionally they will have done some music in their youth, but maybe not. They may have rusty music theory from piano lessons, or not have any background with music theory whatsoever.

So, do we recommend that adults take outside piano lessons? Do we introduce theory as we go along? Or do we pick our battles? I tend to recommend self-study. I understand for adults it is often a struggle just to get to voice lessons, practice those songs, and go about daily life. But some, like retirees with a little extra time, want to soak up everything they can. I think a great self-study book is essential. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the same book to some of my adults that I use with kids.

Theory and Sight-Reading for Singers has been a great find for my studio. It introduces basic concepts chapter by chapter, and for my young girls and teens, we sing through the sight-singing exercises and they can ask questions, but it is truly designed as a voice lesson supplement. Teacher guidance with this book is extremely helpful, and there are two part exercises to practice singing harmonies.

Alfred's Essentials - Self Study: If you know your student is going to work on things on their own, you can recommend a self-study theory book. Even with the best students, I think without guidance it can easily get put aside. But, I was impressed by how much ground the Alfred Self-Study covered. If they are serious, taking piano and voice, and want to understand, this is a good avenue. It has the CDs, workbook pages, and in the back there is a full answer key.

Group Lessons/Choir Music Literacy

I direct an adult church choir, and this is a challenge. I have a retired choir conductor and retired professor who can sight read anything, some men who play piano and guitar, and a handful of adult singers who would rather have a lyric sheet. My first step to get evryone up to speed is to offer three introductory theory sessions. JUST basic notation and some simple sight-singing. I feel like those who don't need it shouldn't have to do these exercises, and I'm on a limited amount of time for teaching theory for the majority of the liturgical year, because we must sing anthems for church. Luckily, after Easter it gets a lot quieter and we will be winding down for summer, perfect time to give them something new to do!

We are going to work through Alfred's Music Theory, Book 1. I liked this book because it's straightforward, cut-to-the-chase, and cheap enough to buy with my church music budget for whoever needs one. I was very impressed with the depth of the self-study book for private students, so I decided we will try the class book for choir. The lessons are almost identical, the only thing about the Book 1 is that you don't get the ear training CDs or the answer keys, so if you don't plan to spend much time DURING lessons on theory, then talk your student into the more expensive self-study so that lessons can be focused on technique. For classroom teachers, I LOVE that this book has a teacher book of reproducibles. When I worked in the classroom, it would have been perfect when needing a sub! Middle school and up could handle it. :)

I am also a former student of David Xiques, and will be using some of his ear-training exercises in his book Solfege and Sonority. He published this book several years after I graduated, and I giggled quite a bit because it was like being in his choirs and his classroom. He teaches through Kodaly, but also brings in his many years of experience as a singer and conductor, so there are glimmers of Robert Shaw counting, Vance George's musical expressiveness, and much much more to value as a conductor. This book is really optimal for middle and high school choral directors (even community college or extra-curricular university choir) who need a place to jump off with theory. My church practices in the sanctuary, so some of the written exercises can't be done properly - hence the separate class for introducing notation and vocabulary. The step-by-step directions on introducing musical movement (step-skip, etc) were extremely helpful when I was in the music classroom. 

(Private students could gain from either of these books, but they may not necessarily benefit from them for long. The Alfred book is easy to work through, but there is a collection of Books 1 - 3 available, if you choose to go that route.)

Hybrid - Piano/Voice for Adults

It's taken a little while to get this part of the article up, as I have been scouring piano libraries for appropriate choices for adult learning. 
David Carr Glover Adult Piano Student (published by Alfred). I tend to drift toward these for voice students because they put reading the staff before developing hand techniques (They DO develop hand techniques, don't get me wrong). Your student will see clear explanations of following skips versus steps - much like David Xiques' book - which inevitably will help your singers. Because Glover was a jazz pianist, his methods may be a bit more suited to the aurally inclined student needing to understand the written notation (I can't say for certain, that's just my guess). His forward openly expresses that he is trying to move slower than other Adult Piano books.
Alfred Adult Piano Course gave me one concern: they print the note names on the notes, even in the "grown-up" book. I feel like we should try to introduce moveable notation, not get hung up on C. Patterns, in my opinion, are important to develop for sight-reading. Some adults may find this much more straightforward and helpful though. Very simple stuff. Has songs that could be sung in lessons such as Raisins and Almonds (if you don't know this lullaby, go look it up... gorgeous). Right hand is introduced, then left hand, then grand staff. Moves somewhat slowly, had students chording relatively quickly. For the advanced voice student/music ed major preparing for teaching, this could be very useful. 

Bartok Mikrokosmos would be ideal for a student who has already studied music notation, has no fears, and is willing to dive into musical techniques. Mikrokosmos follows parallel motion and develops finger skills. Bartok's introduction stated that is was intended for a student to have aural skills before beginning this course of study. Students who can handle this will have some introduction to solfege. I think it's great for adult learners ready for piano who have already either played an instrument other than piano, or sung in choir for a long time and have a good grasp of musical line and ideas. 
As with anything else in the music world, these are not the only options. I did not get my hands on a Bastien, for example, but would like to see what that had to offer (although I believe they move VERY fast, so you need dedicated daily study with those). 
Never forget that your voice and piano students need to have fun when learning. Even adults like games and flashcards, so encourage playfulness in the lesson!! 
Comment below if you have a favorite theory or piano book you like to use for adult students!

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