Natural Born Singers? How to Assess Your Students From the First Consultation

Mar 17, 2017

by Susan Eichhorn-Young.

Natural Born Singers? How to Assess Your Students From the First Consultation

No matter the age group you specialize in, whether you work with emerging and developing professionals, seasoned professionals or even absolute beginners, that initial consultation is valuable to both singer and teacher.

My studio has morphed over 30 years and I now work with emerging/developing professionals and working professionals. However, I have worked with young singers and beginners as well.

As teachers, we must be aware of the physical function of the vocal instrument in order to assess what is possible and not possible at certain ages, and what occurs at certain with physical development — and when that occurs. We must be able to diagnose physicality and what it could mean to the development of breath, support and resonance, as well as sustainability!

A first consultation, no matter the age or development of the singer, is always a surreal experience. Singing in front of someone new can often be a nerve-wracking experience.

I have explored more of a diagnostic approach that focuses on the physicality of the singer’s instrument, not the sound, per se. It allows us to observe more tangible elements and comment on how these issues can enhance or impede the development of the voice.

The voice develops so much later than most singers realize (and if you deal in tweens and teens, their parents as well) and speaking about that clearly is a helpful place to begin. When speaking with young singers, and new to study singers, it is important to speak to them about the development of the voice: it will develop! What you have today will grow and change with time and study.

Observing the singer, not just when singing, is crucial for your diagnosis and how you will develop a course of study that has a physical function direction.

Here are some jumping off points to consider:

1. Body posture

How does the singer simply move? How do they stand or sit while speaking with you and not singing? Is there hyper-extension? Is there slumping? Is there compression? Are their joints locked? Is one shoulder higher or more forward than the other?

2. Energy center

Where does the energy seem to radiant from? Is it high in the chest wall, is it collapsed through the solar plexus? Is it pressed into the pelvic girdle?

3. Head/Neck/Jaw

We deal with what has been referred to “text neck” as a general issue in our current smartphone society. Is the head balanced on a long neck or does it push forward? Is there chin tucking? Is the jaw tight in the speaking voice? We can observe all of these even before we start singing with a potential singer!

4. Singing posture

As you begin to vocalize a singer, does their posture change? How is the alignment? Does the head/neck/jaw change?

5. The breath

How does a singer breathe and engage their breath? Do they know where their lungs actually are? Do they know the difference between breath and support (depending on their development thus far)?

6. Body basics

Is the body tight and compressed or gaining more elasticity when breath is taken and engaged? Is there sternum length or collapse?

**7. Voice **onset

What happens on the onset of the voice? Is there an indication of fold balance or is there a glottal pressure or a breathy onset?

8. Physical responses

Is there an “age appropriate” physical response to register shifts or is there sub-glottal pressure? Is there laryngeal squeezing or tongue engagement to make register shifts instead of breath and support coordination?

These are just a few of the basic observations we as teachers can respond to during a first consultation with a singer. You can use these steps as a guideline as you observe and begin to develop a course of study based on a singer’s physicality and response to that physicality.

In the study of voice, one size does NOT fit all. We must be diligent to discover what a singer brings, and what a singer needs in order to continue their progress in a healthy and authentic way.

By giving them an opportunity to observe their physicality and how it responds to breath and vibration, they begin to recognize the habits and behaviors that may not be conscious.

This recognition of consciousness gives them an action, and in doing so, creates a clearer behavior that allows them to pay attention in a new or different way, which takes away the initial criticism of their sound.

That initial consultation can reveal much to a teacher who is truly paying attention and discovering what a singer brings in unconsciously, as well as consciously.

Susan Eichhorn-Young is a voice teacher, singer and actor, based in New York City. Her blog “Once More With Feeling” can be found here:

< Which Billing Model is Right for Your Studio? What To Do When a Student Wants to Quit >