Zoom Tip!

My colleagues, including the brilliant Ian Howell, have been working to explore platforms that minimize the delay (or latency) with online voice lessons. Meanwhile, I wanted to share a little tip that I've found helpful for optimizing lesson time and creating a more continuous experience for the student. Some teachers send accompaniment tracks of exercises to the student ahead of time, which can be helpful; however, I've found that one often needs to be able to customize an exercise for the student during the lesson based on a specific scale pattern and/or range needed.

When working vocal exercises online, the delay creates a situation where the student typically has to wait to listen to the next chord or pitch change before singing again. I've found that this delay, albeit small, can create just enough time for the student to become less engaged in the actual "doing" of the exercise, and more engaged in listening, waiting for the chord, judging themselves, overthinking the specific directive, becoming distracted by the cat, etc. Instead, with this tip, the student does the exercise, observes, self-assesses, and adjusts continually without stopping, making each iteration better than the last.

First, demonstrate the exercise for the student and give the student specific goals for that particular exercise. Have the student try it a few times while you give a specific direction, listen and watch, and give specific feedback (related to the direction given).

Second, after the student has a firm grasp on the goals for the particular exercise, begin to play the exercise continuously without stopping. Due to the latency issues, the teacher will hear the student delayed and not in sync with the accompaniment, thereby making it very difficult to play and listen as the student sings. At this point, you can either (a) take off your headphones, so that you only hear the piano or keyboard, (b) turn the output volume down on your computer/audio interface so that you no longer hear the student, or (c) learn how to play the exercises in real-time, without stopping, while also partly listening to the student (a difficult task, but it can be achieved with practice).

During this time, the student can practice without stopping, and works to do the task given, observe, self-assess, and correct on their own. I've found this creates a flow state experience for the student and helps them perform more repetitions of the exercises in the lesson, thereby achieving greater mastery of the skill, and more "light-bulb" moments. Even though you won't technically be listening to the student during this time, you can watch the student while playing the exercises, thereby picking up on any visible inefficiencies that may need to be addressed.

When you are ready to actively listen to the student again, simply say "by yourself," play the chord, and listen. You can seamlessly go back and forth between the "real-time," continuous feel, and the traditional, slower, listening, and providing feedback feel.

Using this tip in a virtual voice lesson can be extremely helpful for students who tend to stop, listen to themselves, and judge every sound made, and for students who might just be hesitant to sing by themselves. Once the student fully understands the technical goal of each exercise, this tip also gives the student the ability to observe and self-correct before the teacher provides feedback, a skill necessary for successful practicing.

A caveat: Typically, when teaching in-person voice lessons, I do not play all of the pitches with the student in order to be able to listen more closely as the student sings and to foster pitch matching, independence, etc. However, with this particular tip, you will need to play (or audiate) each pitch in the exercise, in order to keep a consistent tempo for the singer.

Thanks to Maddie Hughes for helping me demonstrate!