I am a teacher to my very core. That’s what I naturally do. Anything that I’ve learned I will pass on–I can’t help it. I have been very blessed in my lifetime to know many “great” teachers: teachers that inspired me to do my best, and appreciate who I am, embracing both my strengths and weaknesses. They didn’t inspire me through any great speeches or Hallmark moments but they did, however, all possess three qualities that are essential for any effective teacher; especially in working with students who have disabilities. The first of these qualities is knowledge.

Knowledge? Isn’t that a no-brainer? Sure it is, but in reality, knowledge is the most time-consuming aspect of teaching. Teaching is being a life-long student. The best (music) teachers are those that are constantly searching out great curriculum, practicing and challenging themselves, learning from the experience of other teachers, and are willing to try new things. It is also important to know oneself and one’s students. I do not claim to be an expert, nor do I claim to have everything figured out. In fact, many times, much to my chagrin, the best way for me to grow as a teacher is to admit that I don’t know everything. Admitting failure (or lack of knowledge) is the hardest and most important thing for a teacher to be able to do. Those teachers that I have met who think that they have everything figured out, are usually so dependent upon one method, that when that method fails on one student, they blame the student’s lack of interest, motivation, etc…and never think of changing. Unfortunately, I have seen this happen far too often.

So how does a teacher’s knowledge tie in with teaching students with disabilities? To best teach students with disabilities, it’s most helpful to know what these particular disabilities involve; in essence, knowing the student well. Much of my knowledge in working with students with disabilities comes from personal experience and thanks to the wonders of the information super highway, I have found much helpful advice from other teachers and parents of students with disabilities who are willing to share their successes and failures and fresh ideas in how to best connect with their students. So much can be learned from other teachers! Below are a few forums and other websites that I have found to be both encouraging and insightful.

Music Forum
Teaching Helps

I have a student with Down’s Syndrome who loves music and has taken voice lessons for about 5 years now. The original idea was to use singing as a medium to improve speech clarity. And although there was some progress in his speech clarity, he made great progress in his overall musicality. His ability to match pitch, keep a steady beat, and understand basic music theory is amazing! Throughout the years, we have tried many different ways to integrate the rest of life into music since those are the things with which he connects most. At times, this has meant making up and singing songs about family members, sports, or using sign language (another part of the knowledge learning curve for me as his teacher), or making up dances to help him connect body motion to word memory. He loves reviewing things that we’ve learned previously as well as learning new things. He has now begun to read notes understand note duration by sight and is able to play both the recorder and piano. He is a joy to teach, and learning new ways to teach may sometimes be time-consuming, but completely worth it!

Although this student is just one example, knowing what motivates each student and understanding strengths and weaknesses is key. In the next part, I will be posting more examples and talk more about creativity in teaching students with disabilities. If you have any of your own teaching experiences of students, let me know! I’d love to hear!

“Scars” – Written and Performed by Anna Demme

This is a song I wrote about 3 years ago. I was on a long road trip on the back of my husband’s motorcycle. We were returning from seeing some people who we love very much, and were really having a hard time with life. I started singing and forming the phrases and tried to memorize every phrase. So by the time we finished our road trip, I had the whole song memorized and ready to write down. It’s mostly about how God takes the bad and uses it as a witness to His good.

Enjoy this little rough cut.

Many pop and country singers these days are using their belt voices. Unfortunately, many of them are using their belt voices incorrectly without considering the damage that they could be causing to their vocal chords. They may sound great now, but they might not have much of a voice later on. In my opinion, one such person who is wearing her voice out prematurely is Christina Aguilera. Aside from wrong words, notice in this clip how on several of the high notes, she is attempting to belt them and her voice has a very scratchy and oft times flat sound. In several instances, she makes it sound intentional by quickly moving from the note she’s holding (belting) by doing vocal flourishes. It may sound impressive, but it’s her voice’s way of telling her that it can’t keep this up.  If I was working so hard to make my notes sound good, I might forget the words too.

A good example of a pop singer who seems to be very talented with her belt voice is Kelly Clarkson. She seems to be in good control of it, and honestly, I hope that it lasts her.

Here’s a helpful article from Wikipedia for more information on belt voice.

This is a pretty rough recording of an old hymn I arranged. I was going through a hard time and the words to this song helped me, but the old tune didn’t seem to fit. Hopefully, this hymn can encourage you too 🙂

Though the angry surges roll
On my tempest-driven soul,
I am peaceful, for I know,
Wildly though the winds may blow,
I’ve an anchor safe and sure,
That can evermore endure.

And it holds, my anchor holds:
Blow your wildest, then, O gale,
By His grace I shall not fail,
For my anchor holds, my anchor holds.

Mighty tides about me sweep,
Perils lurk within the deep,
Angry clouds o’ershade the sky,
And the tempest rises high;
Still I stand the tempest’s shock,
For my anchor grips the rock.

Troubles almost ‘whelm the soul;
Griefs like billows o’er me roll;
Tempters seek to lure astray;
Storms obscure the light of day:
But in Christ I can be bold,
I’ve an anchor that shall hold.

Here’s a fun little song that I sang for my student’s at the spring recital.

So last time, we looked at several examples of fake vibrato and listened to them, so this time, I would like to share with you just a few examples of good “natural” vibrato and explain why people use it.

First, looking at an example from Opera. When people sing opera, they have trained their voices to sing over the sound of an orchestra, and although I don’t care too much for the large vibrato sound of an operatic voice, I admire their ability and understand why they do it. The reason they use such large vibrato, is because without it, they would be wearing out the vocal chords very quickly. Vibrato gives vocal chords a momentary relaxation. So if someone is singing loudly for 2 hours, they must have some kind of respite for their vocal chords.

Here is an example of a person with a naturally small voice, using her vibrato to make her voice larger and more easily heard, when needed.

Example #1 Kathleen Battle–Ombra Mai Fu

I love her voice because although she has a good bit of vibrato, she also has a very clear tone and terrific control.

For a non-operatic voice, using vibrato correctly, let’s look at another favorite soprano voice. She has more of a broadway voice, pure, and only using vibrato at times.

Example #2 Sissel–Lær Meg Ã… Kjenne

Now for a man’s voice, let’s use Josh Groban as our typical classical/pop example.

Example #3 Josh Groban–“Remember When It Rained”

How about a little Buble? A little more jazzy, a little less vibrato, but a great sound.

Example #4 Michael Buble–Come Fly with Me

Example #5 And the legendary Bruce Springsteen…A voice that has lasted him beautifully.

There are many others, but those are just a few who use their natural vibrato.

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