Ongoing Learning

This weekend, a tweet by Gerald Marko at The Voice Gym in Australia caught my eye:

He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

– Unknown source

Wise words, and thank you for sharing them on Twitter, Gerald! Reading them made me think a bit closely about what ‘ongoing learning’ means.

Teachers and coaches are students too. Just because someone has a degree in singing and a teaching certificate, is certified in a certain method, has been teaching for an X amount of years, has an impressive singing career, or is teaching at a prestigious school, does not mean they are done with learning.

Why is ongoing learning important?

The obvious answer that comes to my mind is: because science, research and pedagogy keep evolving – and so does the industry. In order for teaching to make any sense, teachers and coaches need to keep up to date with the major issues and trends in the industry and field in which they are specialized. But there is more to learning than just staying up to date.

Learning does not only deepen our knowledge and give us an opportunity to develop our skills, it also gives us a possibility to reflect on our own pedagogy and teaching philosophy.

Perhaps we will get confirmation on things we find important. Perhaps we will discover a new angle for approaching a certain teaching challenge. It might be that we learn a new way to explain something. It does not mean the ‘new’ things have to replace everything we did until now, neither does discovering new things automatically mean we were ‘wrong’ before.

Perhaps we will encounter theories, approaches and thoughts that we disagree with. That gives us again the opportunity to reflect on our own teaching, and why we approach certain things in a certain way. Ongoing reflection is needed in order to form our own teaching philosophies.

Ongoing learning helps us understand our strengths and weaknesses. Professional strengths and weaknesses, including knowledge and mastery of subject that is being taught, pedagogical skills, ability to adapt in teaching situations (for example one-on-one versus teaching groups), and so on. But also personal strengths and weaknesses, including listening, thinking and communication skills, empathic skills, and awareness of how our own beliefs, attitudes, and acts affect others. Because in teaching, our personal skills count as much as our professional skills.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /


How do we keep learning?

  • By reading, attending workshops, and studying. Ongoing learning requires being interested in new ideas and approaches, and staying in dialogue with teachers of other methods and techniques than the one we teach.
  • By staying in dialogue with other singing teachers, and with other teachers and coaches in general. A singing teacher can, for example, learn a great deal about performance from a teacher in another field of music or performing arts. But we can also learn a great deal about the creative process from other creative artists, about pedagogy from teachers and educators in completely different fields, or about communication from for example an NLP coach.
  • By seeking feedback from our clients, students, colleagues and mentors. This includes feedback and evaluation on our work and services, supervision and intervision.
  • By doing, reflecting, adjusting, and doing again. Every teaching situation is a new learning situation.


I will wrap up my thoughts for today by returning to Gerald and his tweets. For me, communicating with other teachers, coaches and singers (on Twitter and outside of it) is one way of learning. Gerald’s tweet about ongoing learning released a whole trail of thoughts in me. Now, I am curious to hear what kind of thoughts you have on ongoing learning, and what kind of additions you have to my trail of thoughts!


©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

Originally published in Katja’s blog



Giving an A

Recently I started re-reading ‘The Art Of Possibility‘ by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. It is one of those books I would recommend everyone to read: teachers and students, bosses and employees, leaders and members of an organisation, choir conductors and singers, band leaders and musicians…

Rather than living in a world of measurement, where we know things by comparing and contrasting them, the Zanders invite us to step into a “universe of possibility”. The book presents twelve practices that will shift our view of life, and open up new possibilities and opportunities where we thought there were none.


Image courtesy of BJWOK /

Image courtesy of BJWOK /

The challenge of ‘giving an A’

One of the practices in the book, and the one I would like to challenge you to try out this coming week (or month), is the practice of ‘Giving an A’.

When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone. This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

In essence, the practice of ‘Giving an A’ means the following: when we assume that people will do well, and teach them how they can do this, they will. The Zanders remind us that practicing “giving an A” will not only transform the person receiving the figurative or literal A, it will transform the person giving the A as well.

Possibilities to live into. Reading these words made me think about how much faster people learn in a positive learning environment. And about how important it is to ‘reset’ and have a ‘clean slate’ every time we go into a teaching situation, and not to bring in any expectations or judgements based on previous experiences or on what we have read or heard about someone.

To whom could you give an A today?


©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

Originally published on Katja’s blog


If You Can Talk You Can Sing?

Some of you might know the Zimbabwean “If you can talk you can sing, if you can walk you can dance”. Is this true or is it one of these things that idealistic singing and music teachers post on their classroom and studio walls?

I have to admit: years ago, when I was teaching music in an elementary school, I too had a banner like that on my classroom wall… And my reasons for having such a banner in my classroom were mainly based on the idealism of a young, enthusiastic music teacher. Years have passed since I taught in that particular classroom, and in the meantime I have spent a lot of time studying the voice, the anatomy and the physiology of the voice, the principles of healthy sound production, and the techniques behind specific sounds. I’ve worked with singers of all levels, from children to adults, and from beginners and “tone-deaf people” to professionals and recording artists. So it’s time for a reality check. Would I still have such a banner in my studio?

Yes. But with a little correction. I firmly do believe that anybody with healthy vocal folds can talk and also sing. And…now comes the ‘but’: Singing is an ability that needs to be developed like any other ability. So let’s reformulate the proverb:

“If you can talk you can (learn how to) sing”.

I don’t believe anybody would come to think of asking a person (adult or child) to play a song or a scale on a musical instrument without having learned HOW to play the instrument first. Yet, when it comes to singing, an attitude is often assumed that ‘you either can do it or you can not’. And subsequently: if you can’t do it, you better shut up and let those who can, do it.

Singing in tune is often the main aspect we focus on when we define if a person can sing or not. I do agree that singing in tune is an important goal in mastering the ability of singing. But there are other aspects that need to be taken in consideration as well, even before we consider the aspect of singing in tune (and how it is done).

Just like we need to learn how to play a musical instrument, we need to learn how to play our instrument (the singing voice). In order to do this we need to understand how our instrument works so that we can work with it instead of against it. Understanding how the voice works will also help us understand what singing in tune is, how it can be done, and what we can do about not singing in tune. We need to understand the techniques behind the various sounds, so we can learn how to use our instrument, make different sounds with it and control it. We also need to develop awareness (and later on, control) over aspects such as pitch, melody, rhythm, dynamics, and so on.

The ability of singing can be developed with the right instruction, in a positive learning environment, through successful experiences, through trial and error leading to new insight, by practicing in the right way, and last but not least: by singing. The more time we spend exploring the singing voice and making music, listening to and learning from other singers, the more we learn about the language of music, the deeper our understanding becomes.

If you can talk you can (learn how to) sing…but not everybody will have careers in singing. And not everybody with singing careers will become famous singers. A singer can be famous in one country, and completely unknown in another. Some singers become world famous, but that doesn’t necessarily have to do only with their singing skills. Singing careers and fame belong in different discussions. But one thing is for sure: everybody has the possibility and the right to learn how to use their singing voices, to enjoy singing and express themselves through singing and music.

The subject of singing – how it can be learned, and how it is taught – is something that keeps my mind busy. So I will reflect on these things in future blog posts as well, let’s say that this was a beginning :)

by Katja Maria Slotte

  • why cialis might not work
  • Flutes are for girls and percussion is for boys?

    This is a chapter of my master thesis ‘Women in Salsa’ (2009). Are gendered instruments still a fact, and what are we music educators doing in order to break with this cliché?

    Gendered instruments

    First, there is an extensive range of studies analyzing the gender-stereotypes of musical instruments. Hallam (2008) conducted a research among British school children aged between five and nineteen years, where she studied which instruments are the most gendered, and illustrates some of the possible reasons for those differentiations. According to her findings, girls’ (and women’s too) choice for an instrument depends on such factors as the shape or size of an instrument, its pitch and sound quality, and the physical characteristics necessary to play the particular instrument (Hallam, 2008: 7). In accordance with her results, girls are more probable to play small and higher pitched instruments, as example the flute, which is one of the most gendered musical instruments.

    As Gourse writes in her study about the jazz scene, female horn players experienced insults, or were even occasional physically attacked. It was unacceptable for men to see a woman blowing an instrument, which let to comments such as “I hate to see a woman do that” (Gourse, 1995: 8 ).

    While today brass and woodwinds instruments are still extremely gendered, the saxophone is gender neutral. Amongst the various percussion instruments, there is a clear dominance of boys playing the Kit drums, whereas African drums are gender neutral.

    Those numbers are conforming to traditional views on gender and practice of music instruments. Nicholas Cook wrote that practically all of Jane Austen’s female characters played the piano (1998: 106). This female preference for the piano, or keyboard is still ongoing today, as the research of Hallam (2008) proves. Eklund Koza (1991) is noticing a comparable fact while examining the role of women in music as described in Godey’s Lady’s Book, popular in the nineteenth century. At that period, keyboard instruments were the most prominent among women, while men preferred instruments of the orchestral woodwind and string families such as violin and flute. The book does not mention any female musicians in connection with percussion or woodwind instruments (1991: 107).

    As Zervoudakes and Tanur (1994, cited in Hallam, 2008: 9) remarked, a change in girls’ choice for instruments between 1959 and 1990 can be noticed, and one realizes that girls are gradually opting for both, ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ instruments.

    It is important for girls or women to have role models. As Bruce & Kemp (1993, cited in Hallam, 29008: 9) found out, girls are more probable to choose a ‘masculine’ instrument if there are other female musicians playing that same musical instrument. This phenomenon has also been confirmed by Maite Hontelé, a Dutch trumpet player:

    Well, girls find it in general nice to see that there is a woman who gives the lesson. Then they see that it is possible for a girl to play the trumpet. What I do while teaching is to support the girls in their choice to play the trumpet. (Interview on July 6th 2009)

    She had two role models herself, from whom she could receive the confirmation that it is possible for women to play the trumpet successfully (interview on July 6th 2009).

    May Peters, while teaching at the Puerto Rican conservatory was interestingly not only a role model for girls but also for her male students.

    They [the male students] also tell me: wow, I think you are so great, Maestra! They even tell me that they would enjoy having a mother like me. This is for me the reason to be there; being a role model. (Interview on August 3rd 2009)

    A further influence is the social environment. Especially during the adolescence, peers have an enormous influence and one runs the risk of standing under enormous pressure if one is opting for ‘the wrong’ instrument (Hallam, 2008: 14). Again, the same occurred in the case of Maite Hontelé who found it extremely important in the early stages of her musical experience that female friends of hers played the trumpet as well (interview on July 6th 2009).

    If, on the one side female musicians are slowly accepted playing ‘masculine’ instruments, on the other side one is still making differentiations in performance practices of women. The most apparent example is the one of female percussion players. Waxer states that, while men are playing the congas or bongos (both Afro-Caribbean percussion instruments used in Salsa, next to the timbales) mainly being seated, women are expected to play them standing up, since it is considered “unlady-like for a woman to be seated with her legs spread around a percussion instrument” (2001: 242). She further mentions the female keyboardists, who also play standing up. The reason for this, according to Waxer, is the expectation that women show legs and dance while performing (2001: 242).

    By Jeanne Schmartz