Last Sunday, we had our teen-adult recital at AoSA Coffee House, and we couldn’t have been happier with it. Our students performed everything from Elton John classics, to modern pop and alternative rock, to Broadway show tunes. Many accompanied themselves on keyboards, guitars, and ukuleles, and every one of them was exciting to watch. The wonderful evening got me re-thinking about what it means that we call ourselves an artist development school.
No Pre-Packaged Program
First, it means that we don’t have a pre-packaged music program that we ram down students’ throats. The reason we had so much diversity up there and such a wide range of vocal styles is because our goal is to develop students in a direction they have some interest in. If they don’t have any interest in being classical musicians, we don’t create a program where they have to sing or play classical music and then get to do contemporary styles for “dessert.” I’ve always hated that metaphor. Singing and playing music of any style should be the main course and dessert all rolled into one. Whether you’re singing Katy Perry, Sondheim, or Mozart, it should be a lot of hard work, along with a lot of fun.
Encouraging Vocal Students to Learn Accompaniment Instruments
Many of our music students have previously taken instruments and given up on them. It’s easy to understand why: Learning an instrument is a massive time commitment, and many teenagers don’t want to spend the next year trying to learn how to sight-read “London Bridge.” But you can learn a chordal approach to accompaniment fairly quickly—no time-intensive sight-reading required. Don’t get me wrong. Learning to read music as an incredibly rewarding skill, but it isn’t necessary if all you’re looking to do is accompany yourself on contemporary music. Learning to accompany yourself is liberating, because it means that you don’t have to rely on other people or on pre-recorded karaoke tracks every time you want to try out or perform a song. It greatly lowers the bar for getting music gigs, and even makes learning to write songs much more intuitive.
Teaching Students to Interpret a Song
There’s more to teaching a song than making sure the singer is hitting all the high notes and isn’t straining. Singers should use their strengths to put their own unique spin on a song. Our teachers have taught the songs “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Hallelujah,” and “Feeling Good” to a countless number of students, and each one brings something new to the table.
Flexibility in What Each Lesson Looks Like
Once a student is advanced enough and doesn’t need to work on the basics at every single lesson, we try to be flexible in our instruction. One day a student may need help learning chords to a song for her next performance, while the next week, it makes the most sense to spend the lesson giving her a vocal exercise regiment she can use before performances. Of course, some students thrive on just having a consistent lesson routine that covers a little of everything at each lesson.
Giving Students Real-World Performance Experience
If you’re looking into getting into doing commercial music performance, chances are you’ll start by playing local venues, like coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. For our teen-adult performances, we like to find places like this so that our students get some practice performing at the types of places they’re likely to encounter while trying to “make it” in music.