Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Teach your students to CENTER

CCM Bannder no dates

meditation-511562_1280When I am teaching lessons, there are often moments when the student is so close to getting the result we are working towards but they get frustrated and things begin to go downhill. I know this is happening as I watch their physical connection to their voice disappear, the voice usually gets tight, the breathing becomes panicked, and/or their larynx creeps up. At the moment I notice this happening, I make them stop and re-center themselves using an approach I learned from Dr. Bill Crawford, PhD. I have them acknowledge the problem while placing it in the past, and then have them make an affirmative statement in the present. We then sing the exercise again and move forward, almost always with great results. For example, I might have them repeat something along the lines of:

“In the past I could not belt a D, but now I am learning to do it”


“In the past I couldn’t sing quietly, but now I can with this new approach”

Author Eric Maisel has a variation of this approach in his book “Coaching the Artist Within” (p. 107-115). He offers six-steps to help students CENTER themselves:
  • Come to a complete stop
  • Empty yourself of expectations
  • Name your work
  • Trust your resources
  • Embrace the present moment
  • Return with strength

The student begins with slow, deep breaths – six counts to inhale, six counts to exhale. When they get settled into this pattern of breathing, cue them to silently repeat the brief statements below to themselves. The first half in ( ) should be on the inhale and the second half on the exhale. The statements are:

  • (I am) (completely stopping)
  • (I expect) (nothing)
  • (_____) (_____) name your work
  • (I trust) (my resources)
  • (I am embracing) (this moment)
  • (I return) (with strength)

Here are a few examples for naming the work:

  • (I am) (learning to sing legit)
  • (I am) (learning to riff)
  • (I am) (improving my pitch accuracy)
  • (I am) (memorizing this monologue)

The goal is to bring the student’s mind back to the task at hand. As they reaffirm what they are trying to accomplish, and thus acknowledge it is a work in progress, the frustration should subside, their body should relax, and their mind will be prepared for the task at hand.

There are a lot of variations of this kind of work. Getting the student to slow down, calm themselves, and try again from a centered place is critically important to their long-term development. If they keep repeating the same mistake over and over again while frustrated, their body is going to associate that action with that emotion and they will get into a cycle that will be hard to break out of down the road. By taking time to reset, the brain is more likely to memorize the new habits and leave the old ones behind.

Do you stop and have your students center themselves in their lessons? When and how? Please contribute to the conversation below in the comment section. If you are not already following the blog, please enter your name and email address below to be added to the mailing list so that you will receive a message each time there is a new post. As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful week of teaching!



7 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Teach your students to CENTER

  1. Bryan DeSilva
    September 10, 2018

    This is a beautiful approach. I’ll often have us stop, take a few breaths, and center our thoughts on the task, rather than the result. But I love the clear, purpose-driven method you’ve shared. Perhaps I’ll try it out today!


    • Matthew Edwards
      September 11, 2018

      Let me know how it goes! Hope your semester is off to a great start.


      • Bryan DeSilva
        September 24, 2018

        I’ve been using this A LOT since the start of the semester, and it really seems to help the students to refocus the unhelpful, negative energy they might be feeling as they “don’t get” something. A few have even shared that they’ve incorporated this into their practice


  2. Stephen
    September 10, 2018

    I use the Sierra Boggess saying “You are enough, you are so enough, it’s amazing how enough you are.” I remind the student we are in their musical sandbox right now (the studio) and just playing with different techniques and sounds. They are not here to prove anything just improve and explore the sounds they can create.

    I love this CENTER idea. Definitely going to try it out this week. I have some students I could see this helping.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jennifer D’Agostino
    September 10, 2018

    I ask that my students come to the music building before their lesson, about 10 minutes early, to fill out their lesson template. This offers an opportunity for them to reflect on their practicing, self-assess and center themselves before their lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melissa Gardiner
      October 15, 2018

      I would love to hear more about your “lesson template” and what that all entails!


  4. Melissa Gardiner
    October 15, 2018

    This sounds amazing! I will definitely be using this!


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This entry was posted on September 10, 2018 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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