This past summer, I had the opportunity to teach far outside of the box. There were several students that expressed a desire to learn to play the piano and were all very eager to do so, the only difficulty was, most of them did not have hands or had only partial hands. This was a new challenge that I had not previously faced, but was excited about this opportunity nonetheless. Thus, with insight from their mom (who said that her children were inspired by this man), we found an adjustable stool, I rearranged and wrote new music to make it physically possible to play, and they learned to play with their toes. It was wonderful to see how much progress they were able to make over just one summer!
So what is the point? It took extra time, me getting over my dislike of feet, and learning to understand how much each student could be pushed and what was actually possible. I had to be flexible and willing to delve into the territory of the unknown (creativity). This is not to toot my own horn, but simply to say, if you are willing to try something new, wonderful things can happen.
Many times, I come across students that have no “disabilities,” but are just as handicapped by their lack of self-confidence. This is one of the most common things that I see as a vocal teacher. How you think, affects how you sing. If you think you can conquer a high note (that is of course, within your range), than it’s much more possible to do that. Many times, students look at a note and because it looks high on the staff, they can’t seem to reach it because they don’t think they can (even though they warmed up much higher than that minutes before). Thus, part of my job as a teacher is to be the cheerleader, the counselor, the coach. Sometimes, lessons end up being more of a pep talk than anything else. And if I’m willing to be flexible with the time, and am willing to set aside goals for the lesson, sometimes those pep talks are the turning points for students. With those students that tend to be high stress, it helps to be silly, joke, and do lots of breathing, stretching, and relaxation exercises for they even play or sing one note. It takes time from the lesson, but it’s very important.
A good example of this is an adult student that I taught. When she first began taking voice lessons, she was not able to sing above an F4. She had a big personality, and a big speaking voice, but her range was very, very small (less than one octave) and singing anywhere above F4 was very quite and barely audible. After a few weeks of trying out that new higher part of her voice, and after much encouragement, she was able to use it. It took many times of my saying, “You may not like the sound at first, but keep using it and it will get stronger and stronger.”
To conclude, if you have the opportunity to work with someone that has a physical or mental disability, or if they are just “stuck,” don’t be afraid to try new things. Good luck!