If you have been studying voice, or spent time around other vocalists, you may have heard them refer to their “book”. This book refers to a singer’s repertoire. What a singer chooses to study and perform is hugely important. It frames your identity as an artist and the way you are presented to your audiences.
Who should pick my music?
Who should be responsible for picking repertoire? Should students be making these important decisions on their own? Is it wholly incumbent upon the teacher to forge the musical path or is there some compromise at which maximum benefit is achieved? While a teacher should be designing the most advantageous path for their student, the most successful philosophy combines technique, artistic joy, and achievable challenges. As a teacher, deciding what pieces a student should sing involves multiple factors.
How do I decide what to sing?
First and foremost, a student must connect with the piece. There is far too much music for a student to ever sing something that does not resonate with them. If a student can’t relate to a piece, it is the teacher’s responsibility to find another piece that will accomplish the same vocal goals. This involves investigating a student’s musical and thematic preferences. A student can find connection to a song through its lyricism, musical style, or even another inspiring musician who has previously recorded the piece.
There are various reasons why a student and teacher might pick a song. The two main reasons for repertoire are either to learn a new technical skill or because the piece will highlight an aspect of the student’s voice in performance. Should a student want to sing a piece that does not fit into one of these categories, there needs to be an evaluation of this choice. What will be the benefit of working on this piece? A song that is lacking purpose can be damaging to a student’s development. If a song will not support the student’s vocal talents, working on the piece can engage a sense of doubt and negativity that will halt progress. Better still to shift focus toward a motivating challenge in other repertoire that will encourage positive growth.
Technique vs. Joy
When looking for a piece to help develop technique during your voice lessons, there needs to be a balance of joy in the work. Technically focused work need not exist without emotional connection. While a student might find frustration in mastering technical abilities, the continued link to their artistry is crucial. Let a student in on the goals you are working towards so that this process remains a journey explored together.
Repertoire meant for performance should work toward the student’s strengths. As mentioned at the top, there are far too many options for a student to be singing a piece that does not paint them in the best light or illustrate their strengths. It is important to work within these strengths to use the repertoire to explore pushing the boundaries of their ability. This might mean an acting challenge, exposure to a new genre, exploring new composers, or an advanced musical skill.
Teacher encouragement is important
A student should feel that their artistic vision is encouraged during their vocal lessons. This is important when looking at the repertoire they want to sing. If a student is determined to sing a piece but the teacher does not believe a song has merit for the student, there are a few options available. Can the song be transposed or reformatted so that the student will be able to glean benefit from it? Is the teacher able to find a replacement option that still qualifies similar aspects of why the student wants to sing the piece? This can be anything from musical style or range to thematic topics of the piece.
Depending on the student’s reasoning for rejecting a piece, there are times when a student and a teacher might work together to hear a piece differently. Again, the reason why a teacher might decide to engage in this kind of persuasion could be varied. If a teacher has been working with a student for an extended period, they will reach a level of trust. This trust will allow the teacher to push the boundaries of a student’s musical preferences. A newer student will need to connect to both the music and the teacher before this sort of work can begin. Poetry can be explored and explained. A younger student may not want to sing songs about romantic love, even if age appropriate. Connecting these themes to other kinds of love – love for a friend, pet, or family member – can illuminate other paths to connect with the words emotionally. Exposing the student to recordings that might include expanded orchestration might illustrate a musical soundscape that the student couldn’t envision with only piano accompaniment. The dynamic capabilities of an orchestra or a respected artist may change a student’s perspective of a song. While a student may have an artistic vision, it is important to communicate when a song is just not suitable for the student. A teacher might offer a landmark that would make the choice viable or a reason why they believe the piece is truly harmful to the student’s growth.
Whether as a teacher or student, it is critical to understand and embrace this complicated dynamic. The results yielded will grow both the artistic capabilities of the student and the integral relationship between teacher and student. And once again, there is SO MUCH music out there! Continue to reach and explore, making musical connections and nurturing the artist within!