Studio Time

| March 21, 2011

I am currently involved in a project with my brother in which we are writing our own music (mostly R&B and pop music). Last week we went into the studio to record the music, using singers who we’ve met over the years, as well as demo-singers.  I found that our work in the studio had parallels to private instruction and even classroom work.

We had sent each person the songs and music two days before their session (we were editing up to the last minute) and while we expected the music to be well known, we didn’t expect mastery.  On Monday, our singer walked and exuded confidence. Even though she wasn’t 100% sure on the music, it was clear that she believed that it was completely within her ability to give a performance that my brother and I would be satisfied with.  While it took her some time to deliver, she did eventually get there.

One Tuesday,  the woman we worked with was “cooler than the other side of the pillow.”  Her confidence lay in the fact the she had in fact MASTERED the music, and she had been in on numerous sessions. It took her roughly an hour and a half to nail the song that we had scheduled 4 to complete.

On Wednesday, we did some mixing and resumed on Thursday with a woman whose raw voice was absolutely incredible. She, however, was so nervous that she was having trouble even thinking.  When we asked her to repeat the chorus, she began repeating the verse. She instantly ran out of breath on 4 bar phrases that were at a fast tempo.   She continually missed words on the phrase, forcing us to throw away takes that would have otherwise been fine. She was a disaster.

What I think the instructive thing about the situation, however, was how we (my brother and me) dealt with the situation.  When it became clear that she was nervous, we tried to calm her down by telling her to take deep breaths. We reminded her that we were her friends (I had known her in college) and that we knew she was an excellent singer. We went over the music countless times, and even turned off the lights  to allow her to be comfortable and relax into the session. We allowed for breaks for her to leave the studio,  and even allowed her girlfriend to come in and root for her. While her recording at the end was considerably stronger,  she never did reach her full potential during the session.

In the music classroom, we will all have moments like this, particularly in private instruction. Despite coaxing, rehearsing, practicing, and urging, a student might not reach the level that we expect of them.  What do we do then? Do we give up on them and resign to their “ineptitude” ? Do we get frustrated and start screaming at them? At the end of our 6 hour session, we had completed the bare minimum of a song that, had my friend been relaxed, would have taken her 2 hours, maximum.  I don’t know if there is a generic answer for dealing with this situation in the classroom. Ultimately, it is our job as educators to try to make students comfortable. As was evident from my session, NO amount of talent can overcome paralyzing anxiety.