As a professional singer and experienced music teacher based in Quebec, Véronique Duguay has a lot to say about how to help young people learn to sing well in her private lessons on Outschool.
We recently talked with Véronique about her success as a voice teacher on Outschool. Insights she shared include:
- Create space and support to build learner confidence in singing
- Make time for music theory and technique
- Offer students choices about what they want to learn
We’ll dive into how she creates a space that helps students learn about music and use their voices to express themselves musically.
Help students build confidence in their singing
If a learner isn’t ready to sing, Véronique may choose other class activities until they feel more at ease.
During the first class, “I will happily do most of the singing, offer multiple examples, and offer key notions for most of the class time rather than push a learner to sing when they’re not ready,” she says. “My job is to make them feel safe and inspired, not to stress them out.”
Singing can be a vulnerable experience, so you have to allow time for people to feel comfortable singing for a teacher or anyone else, Véronique says. “It’s quite something to sing in front of someone.”
She’s had learners start class crying because they were stressed about singing publicly. She just listened to them talk about how they were feeling and why they were anxious.
Her advice for supporting young people through these fears? “You need to go slow,” she says. “If they need to spend 30 minutes telling you how stressed out they are, then you let them do that.”
Sometimes a learner who’s been stressed and crying will open up at the end of class, once they feel secure and heard, Véronique says. She’s had learners like this who then book another class and are ready to sing!
Overcome an internet lag
Véronique likes to play chords on a keyboard for her learners to sing along with instead of complicated instrumental accompaniments, but internet latency or time delay can make collaborating musically challenging.
“When we simplify the instrumentals, it’s easier for the learner to find the right note,” she says. “One of the challenges of online singing is latency. Over the years, I’ve learned to play ahead of my students so it doesn’t affect their learning.” She compensates by keeping her beat very steady when she hears the learner singing after she plays.
If Véronique was teaching a group singing class online, she would get around the internet time delay by having one person sing at a time.
Take time for foundational music skills
Véronique spends about a quarter of each class, about 10 minutes or so, sharing musical theory and language. She says that these topics are not always highlighted in voice lessons, but she thinks they’re an important part of learning any musical instrument.
“Singing and understanding scales and chords improve pitch accuracy,” she says.
Learning theory also helps students understand music better. Many of her learners, she says, have experience playing the piano and can start to see the connection between voice and piano. “I teach them a little bit of music theory,” Véronique says, “and they go, ‘Oh, is it the same thing as in piano?’ “
Coach proper singing posture
Singers need proper “muscle anchorage and breath support,” Véronique says. “Proper body alignment helps with most challenges a beginner might be facing.”
If she were teaching in person, she would observe learners and help them adjust their posture and breathing to optimize their sound. Véronique would also show them how she stands and breathes to get her best singing voice.
When teaching learners online, Véronique says, “I’m a little more lenient because I understand that they’re home and sometimes sitting in their bedroom.” So what she does instead is share videos and other information to show her learners correct posture and breathing.
Dive into what students want to learn
Véronique has a basic curriculum and general timeline of topics, but she wants to hone in on what students need and want to work on.
“Having a learner-led class is super important,” she says. “Students don’t have the same priorities. They don’t have the same needs. Sometimes there’s an audition coming up, and sometimes they’re just trying to sing for fun.”
One of Véronique’s first questions is what a learner feels confident about when it comes to singing, or what’s their strength as a singer. Then she asks them what they want to work on.
“Oftentimes, their answers are complementary. They’ll say they have a stronger lower range and want to improve their higher range,” she says.
Some of her learners are singer-songwriters and so they prioritize that in lessons. Véronique’s background in jazz gives her broad musical experience to coach learners in singing popular music, which is what interests many students.
Make sure students have an early accomplishment
Centering classes on learner goals first “gives them a win” right away, Véronique says, which boosts their motivation to continue voice lessons.
“Singing is a skill. It’s not something that you inherently have,” she says. “It’s something that can be developed and goes in pair with your hearing.”
Véronique feels that regular positive feedback helps learners to progress and boosts their good feelings about their growing skills. “So if they’re off pitch, I’m not going to say, ‘That was terrible,’ “ Véronique says.
“I’ll be like, ‘Oh, it’s a little higher.’ Try to keep it positive. Try to keep it bright. Try to keep it bubbly, and give them opportunities to succeed throughout the class.”
Keep learners coming back to sing
Véronique has worked to keep the learners she has returning to her classes. She mainly teaches one-time private classes, and students just sign up for the next class that is convenient for them.
“I know the ongoing format is not great for everybody,” she says. “Not everyone has the same schedule every week.”
One way she enriches her classes is by sharing materials that reinforce lessons. “I have a file with about 35 different warm-ups that work on different aspects of the vocal technique,” Véronique says. “Depending on what was taught during the day, I can always send them one or two warm-ups that are related.”
Other activities that Véronique may pass along include:
- Videos of herself singing the exercises
- Songs in the appropriate key for the learner’s voice
- A karaoke or instrumental version of the song for accompaniment
- Relevant worksheets
Véronique keeps track of the songs students are learning plus their general progress through private learner notes on Outschool.
“Eventually you know your students so well that you know what song they’re working on, or the element they’re working on, because you see them so often,” she says. “I have students who’ve been with me since the very, very beginning.”
To watch the whole interview with Véronique, check out the video below.