Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Survive the Summer Without a Teacher


By Tina Boosahda

You wait all year, and now, it’s finally here– Summer! It’s hot, it’s muggy, and you think to yourself, “Summer! Again? Already?!” Then, maybe some fear creeps in, clouding your excitement at the thought of the school year being over. Finally, you have some time off, but then anxiety sets in. You realize that you are now on your own: no teacher, no weekly lesson, no coaching. Whether you are doing a summer program or not; it’s hard for us to cut the cord with our beloved teachers that we have seen every week for the past academic year. Doubts arise, and you worry that your bountiful year of vocal advancements may fade away over the upcoming summer months… Do. Not. Panic! 

Summer is my favorite season because I have more "me" time. I make excellent progress vocally and learn the most about my singing and myself. During the summer, I reflect on the thoughts, concepts, questions, discoveries, and advances I made over the past year. I realize at the end of a practice session – good or bad– that the things my teacher and I have discussed over the school year were in preparation for our long break over the summer.

As you grow and progress vocally, it is important to learn how to progress independently. With this career, nine times out of ten you will be without a teacher or coach whether it is at a summer program, at home, or preparing new roles/repertoire. You will have to learn to trust your gut, know your instrument, and listen to what your body is telling you. At the end of the day you must take ownership of your own instrument and solve your own problems. How, you ask, can you accomplish this?

1. Be Your Own Teacher. I always have my teacher’s voice in the back of my mind guiding me as I prep a new role, aria, song, or focus on perfecting a new technical aspect within my singing. You know the answer to why that high note isn’t working as efficiently as you want to, or why your breathing is out of whack. In these moments, stay calm, recall how you and your teacher would talk about the issue, and troubleshoot the problem for yourself. Whether a pro, or as a student, trust the technique you and your teacher have built over time and trust that you can recreate it. When you practice, reinforce the good habits you and your teacher have developed and discussed. You should take time to listen – I mean really listen- to your recorded lessons. I acknowledge I can fix my own problems based on the knowledge that I have of my instrument. It feels wonderful knowing this – so liberating! It works for any singer at any level, from a freshman, to a graduate student, and every level in between. Also, don’t over-practice! I personally set three to four goals for each of my practice sessions. Once these goals are completed, that concludes my practice for the day. Focused practice, with precise goals, helps you function without a teacher! 

2. The Mirror is Your Best Friend! Do all of the above and practice in front of the mirror Really look at yourself. If you see it, you will fix it.

3. People You Trust. Have a support group of ears: coaches, conductors, trusted colleagues, and even a stage director or two that are in your corner – supporters of your talent and progress who are cheerleaders for your development and success. It takes time to find these people. Start looking and thinking about who those people are today. That way, when you are on the road without your teacher, you can go to those mentors and they can help you get through whatever issue you are having vocally, technically, or dramatically. 

4. Keep Yourself Motivated! Don’t go home or to that summer program and get complacent. This is your progress and your career. Ultimately, your success is in your own hands! Practice daily, learn a new role that is appropriate, prep your rep for your recital, and set achievable goals for your technique and repertoire development. Keep yourself busy. Learn this self-discipline now and in the future; it will pay off big time! 

If you are in a huge bind and can’t dig yourself out of the proverbial hole; use technology to get a hold of your teacher, coach, or a trusted colleague (Skype, FaceTime, call, text, etc.). Honestly, they haven’t forgotten you! They don’t want you to get rusty and will LOVE that you are proactive in your own personal development! 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at