At the end of a voice lesson today, one of my young students asked me if I had a couple of extra minutes to spare. It so happens I did, so she asked, “Can I sing Halo to you real quick before I go?”
It’s safe to say that unless a student possesses prodigious amounts of natural talent, Beyonce’s songs are not the kind that you sing “real quick” in a voice lesson. The melodies and riffs are often complicated, the range spans really low to really high, and the amount of vocal power required to render them can be exhausting. It’s no small task to sing most of Beyonce’s songs; it’s also no small task to teach a singer how to sing them well. Especially when the student has only just begun with their vocal training.
I smiled. “You know, that song is pretty hard to sing, even for advanced singers,” I said to her.
“I know,” she said, grinning. “But it’s just so much fun to sing!!”
She understood it would be more difficult than what she was ready for at this time, but she wasn’t concerned about sounding good. She just wanted to sing it for me because it was fun.
One of the things I’ve learned as a vocal instructor is the difference between adequately challenging the student versus presenting unrealistic expectations. Part of that is knowing when to switch gears with their vocal exercises, when to give the voice a rest, and also when to say that a song is out of their league vocally. Good vocal instructors should challenge their students, but not to the point where the student is given a goal they can’t possibly reach. That kind of approach will result in a student who, instead of feeling motivated and inspired, will feel discouraged and insecure. That’s a backwards step in their vocal training, and the mental setbacks are often harder to overcome than the physical ones. Because of this, I’ve been very careful to always challenge but not to overestimate or overwhelm my students with a goal that they can’t reach or a song that I know they won’t be able to successfully sing.
But today, I learned that you can sometimes make exceptions to this rule. If the student can accept that the song is a bit disproportionate to their abilities, and if they understand it might not sound as good as they hope or imagine that it would, sometimes it’s okay to let them sing it anyway – as long as they are having fun with it.
There is a bit of pressure that comes with vocal training and performing, both on the part of the student and the teacher. There’s pressure to improve, to reach expectations, to impress the audience. There’s pressure to be effective, be efficient, be controlled. This is mostly a positive thing, because it is what drives singers to always get better, to aim for perfection. But for most of us, singers and vocal instructors alike, this quest for perfection wasn’t what got us singing in the first place. We started singing because we enjoyed it, loved it, and lived for it.
As singers, we can’t be so wrapped up in wanting to be perfect that we become afraid just to enjoy the music. Sometimes, we just need to sing the songs we love, to feel the beat inside our chest, the humming between our ears, the resonance inside our heads. It’s not enough to master the techniques if we forget to sing from the heart, and to take pleasure in the act of singing. If a singer can do that with a song that they sing well, then that is when magic happens. But if a singer sometimes does that with a song that is a bit out of their league, that’s okay, too.
Every now and then, it’s important just to sing the song that your heart wants to sing. Even if it’s just for yourself.
Even if it’s out of your league.
And who knows? If you’re taking voice lessons now, maybe it won’t be out of your league forever. 🙂