Onboarding StudentsApr 26, 2023
Onboarding students is one of the first skills you will need to develop. It is a gentle balance of getting to know one another and assessing your new student’s goals and current skill set. I think the most important thing to do from the start is to put them at ease. I like to have a get to know you sesh where I ask about their musical history and their musical goals.
When it comes to singing, many students are nervous and in fear of judgement. Be careful to read the students' body language to make sure you aren't intimidating or overwhelming them in what is often a frightening first step. One helpful strategy I have found is to acknowledge the potential awkwardness and let them know I have been there and that this is a safe space.
Some teachers choose to audition their prospective students. Each teacher must make that choice for themselves, but for me I feel like only being willing to work with naturally gifted or already advanced students robs you of the chance to build a voice from the ground up and, more importantly, denies the people who need you most from the instruction they crave. I do not hold auditions. So, when onboarding a new student, it is easier to create a safe space because they aren’t being judged. I do want to know what their range is so we can select appropriate repertoire. I also want to know about their alignment, breath engagement, tensions, etc. We can use this initial assessment as a pre and post-test to measure progress.
Another important part of onboarding a new student is to see if this is a good pedagogical fit and if you can have the necessary training to help your students reach their goals. If, for example, they want to sing a style in which you are not trained, it is in their best interest for you to refer them to another teacher in your NATS chapter (or area) who does teach that style. Sometimes teachers require their students to sing whatever music the teacher knows or prefers rather than honoring the goals a student has for themselves. In my opinion, a teacher's musical preferences should have no bearing in the selection of styles or repertoire on which to work. We should be guiding the students to the accomplishment their goals.