The ONE Word that will make your Students Sing Better

In private music lesson instruction, students participating in technical exercises are quick to “zone out” or go on “auto pilot.”  Sometimes singers are distracted by random thoughts, or the student has heard the instruction so many times that it has become meaningless. Distractions are common when singing or playing repetitive melodies. By mindfully using language that is positive and inviting can bring them back into the present moment. 

More importantly, we need to be watching our students carefully to see if our instruction is understood. Often a correction is given, and yet nothing changes. Why is that? Did they hear you? Did they understand the direction? Are they holding back? Are they in the room but not really “in the room”?

Truth Bomb – Sometimes it is the teacher that is zoning out and giving instructions on “auto pilot” – I know I am terribly guilty of this on days when I am physically or mentally tired.

When directions become repetitive – they are ignored. The words become meaningless. A perfect example is the word “relax.”  We are told to "relax" so often that the word sometimes has the opposite effect. (When my husband tells me to relax I get so ANGRY!)

Sometimes all you need to do is choose a new word. Instead of "relax" I use “soften.”
Not a direction for volume – but a very effective cue for releasing tension in the body. 
As in:

Soften your jaw/shoulders/eyes/knees
Soften the inside of your throat” (this works well for me)


“Soften” is easier to understand for younger singers and less insulting to our adults. Try it! You will see the student let go of unwanted muscle tension, and you may also notice that a deep breath accompanies the correction.

So what is the magic word?

The one word that can make a difference for your music students is EXPLORE
As in:
            Let’s explore what happens when we use more breath.
            Let’s explore what happens to the sound of our voice when we do ________.
            Try exploring the use of different dynamics in this song.

Why is this word such a powerhouse?

  • The word EXPLORE gives students the permission to try something else.
  • Explore removes the RIGHT or WRONG mentality.
  • Explore gives permission to make mistakes.
  • Exploring is fun and students discover what happens when they try new things.
  • Exploring leads to more focus on the whole body rather than just focusing on the voice
  • Explore is more of an invitation rather than a command.
  • Exploring opens up more dialogue, more questions for both student and teacher.
  • Exploring is a polite way to get your students participate.

Students who are comfortable with “exploring” will be more comfortable trying new things, learning new songs, making mistakes and taking chances. (win-win-win-win)

"Exploring" is good practice for any physical activity. It brings us back to the present moment and connects us with the messages our bodies are trying to tell us. Try using this simple instruction and see how your students engage in the lesson.

Now, go and relax.

Is there an instruction, cue or word that you use with your students that help them to be present in the lesson?  
Please post below and share!