Private Vocal Lessons: A Curriculum



The curriculum will focus on the individual needs of students (Froehlich, 2006).  Focusing on a student’s individual learning preference is one of the main aspects of critical pedagogy (Abrahams, 1997).  Teachers using this curriculum will plan a series of musical activities that are unique to each student.  This follows McCarthy’s (2000) belief that there are different learning styles and therefore each student will learn in a different way.  Once a curriculum is developed that better suits student educational needs, students will feel that they are important and respected (Abrahams, 1997).

Curriculum Reasons and Rationales

The curriculum will be flexible and student-centered in order to best suit student needs.  Because of this, the curriculum map will be separated into six sections (Appendix B).  The time it will take to complete a section will vary based on the student’s ability to grasp new concepts, the amount of time the student spends in lessons and the amount of time the student spends practicing.  The curriculum map will outline which concepts should be taught together and in which order these concepts should be taught.  The curriculum also will allow time for interruptions such as a student preparing for an audition, a student with a sudden interest in a song or a student who decides to sing holiday music instead of the chosen repertoire.

Because the curriculum will be student-centered, concepts will be listed, but specific activities will not be pre-developed (Froehlich, 2006).  The concepts presented in one section will not be mastered by the end of the section.  Therefore, the concepts of previous sections will continue to be practiced even when the student starts learning new concepts in later sections.  Although concepts will continue to need practicing, mastery of these concepts should occur throughout the curriculum, or at least by the final section of the curriculum map.  Both the teacher and the student will assess student progress and mastery of concepts through discussion and activities.

Each of the learning objectives outlined in the curriculum map will be equally important for students to learn.  Activities will be developed to teach the concepts presented in each learning objective.  In the following paragraphs, I will discuss the importance of each learning objective, explain my reasons and rationales for including these learning objectives in the curriculum, present suggested activities or exercises and discuss the concepts that will be learned in each section of the curriculum map.


Students should learn vocal and breathing techniques because if students sing without understanding these techniques vocal issues could arise (McKinney, 2005).  Vocal problems such as muscle tension, over singing, pushing air through the vocal chords and nodules can seriously affect a student’s vocal health (Mathis, 1990).  In some cases these issues can be handled with vocal and breathing exercises (Cahill, 2010). Learning vocal and breathing techniques can also strengthen the tone of the voice, extend vocal range and allow students to sing longer phrases (Sipley, 1993). This objective will be included in the curriculum because teachers have a moral obligation to make sure that student needs are met (Froehlich, 2006).  Healthy voices that will allow students to continue singing throughout their life are necessary and therefore, vocal and breathing technique will be required as a learning objective in this curriculum.

Technique will be taught through vocal and breathing exercises.  Exercises can be modified to suit individual student needs, but the concepts listed in the curriculum map will be taught to every student.  Students who follow the curriculum map will learn new concepts in each section.  In the first section, students will learn how to take low, relaxed breaths.  Relaxation and meditation exercises will help students loosen up the tension they have when they breathe (Fett, 1993).  Students will develop their ability to match pitch and develop their vocal tone by singing ear-training exercises that require students to match pitch with an instrument or voice (Moon, 2006).  The second section will involve students developing and extending their vocal range by practicing vocal exercises of more than one octave (Cahill, 2010).  Students will also focus on using the diaphragm to control the breath.  There are many breathing exercises that will allow students to see the movement of the diaphragm when breathing (Gackle, 1987).  In the third section, students will learn about the different dynamics and will practice singing their chosen songs at different volumes (Hilty, 2011).  Students will continue to work on taking low breaths controlled by the diaphragm and also will practice taking quick catch breaths when singing their songs.  Concepts taught in the fourth section will include singing in the head voice, chest voice and mix voice and singing melodic phrases.  Students will practice melodic phrasing in their songs by changing dynamics, adding slurs or other phrase markings and planning where they will breathe.  In the fifth section, students will practice switching between the three voices by singing vocal exercises that have large ranges.  Students will learn how to breathe in preparation for long phrases (Cahill, 2010).  In the final section, students will sing vocal exercises that allow them to experiment with different vocal tones (Laukka, 2003).  Students will continue to practice their diaphragm breathing until it becomes second nature.  By training the voice and body in these ways, students will gain control over their vocal technique and be able to sing more difficult musical pieces without harming their voices.


Students should learn how to improvise because studies on improvisation suggest that a link exists between improvisation and creativity (Campbell, 1998; Harwood, 1998; Marsh, 2008).  The development of creativity is essential for all musicians because it allows them to express themselves in original ways (Simonton, 2000).  Because creativity is a student need, there is a moral obligation to include exercises that teach creativity in the curriculum (Froehlich, 2006).  Students should develop their creativity through improvisational exercises (Nettl, 1998; Pressing, 1998).  Improvisation consists of simultaneously performing and creating music, which may aid students in discovering their own creative abilities (Nettl, 1998; Pressing, 1998).  Including improvisation as a learning objective follows a praxial philosophy because improvisation exercises lead to critical thinking and creativity (Barrett, 2009).

This curriculum will include improvisation activities in order to help develop more creative musicians.  In the first section, students will create and sing their own melodies without accompaniment.  During these improvisation exercises, students will express their emotions vocally and practice using different rhythms (Kiehn, 2003).  In the second and third sections, students will create and sing their own melodies along with a chord progression.  Students will also practice singing along with the piano using different dynamics, trills and rhythms.  In the fourth and fifth sections, students will no longer sing with a chord progression, but rather they will improvise over a piano accompaniment.  This will challenge students to hear two melodic lines at the same time (Beegle, 2010).  In the final section, students will improvise harmony along with another voice.  They will also practice singing a main melody with harmony in the other voice and vice versa.  By participating in these improvisational activities, students will practice being creative.

Listening and interpreting.

Although listening can sometimes be overlooked in a music program, students should practice listening to songs in order to interpret song meaning, to hear major and minor tonalities, and to listen for dynamic changes (Elliott, 1995).  Teaching listening skills will allow students to better appreciate the aesthetic beauty of music (Reimer, 2002).  This appreciation for music will allow students to advocate music education throughout their lives (Cite).  For this reason, listening and interpreting exercises will be included in the curriculum.

Including listening exercises in the curriculum follows an aesthetic philosophy (Reimer, 2002).  The exercises presented in the first section will allow students to learn music by ear (Lim, 2011).  Students will listen to recordings of their song selections and follow along with the sheet music.  In the second section, students will practice listening for dynamic changes in their music (Hilty, 2011).  Students will listen to multiple versions of a song and compare differences in tone, dynamics and emotional expression.  In the third section, students will practice exercises that teach students how to recognize major and minor tonalities in a song.  In the fourth section, students will practice recognizing emotional expression in different songs (Ware, 1997).  These listening exercises will help students figure out song meanings.  In the fifth section, students will discuss musical genres and their major differences.  They will use their knowledge of listening to discuss differences in tone, style, form and expression.  In the final section, students will listen to recordings of their own songs.  They will interpret song meaning and analyze dynamic changes in their own song recordings.  These practices will help students better understand the aesthetic beauty of music and will increase student’s musical appreciation.

Song selection.

There is a disconnection between songs taught in schools and songs learned in everyday life (Mills, 2010).  Many students identify with music they hear outside of the classroom, but not with most music taught in schools (Schmidt, 2005).  It is important to allow students to choose their own songs in order to develop their own musical identity (Hargreaves & Marshall, 2003).   For this reason, students will be allowed to choose their own songs with teacher guidance.  By allowing students to make musical choices, teachers will allow students to have a certain amount of power in the studio (Abrahams, 1997).  When students feel that the teacher respects music of “their world”, they will be more willing to learn about other genres of music that are a part of the teacher’s musical world.  This mutual respect will lead to real learning for both the students and the teacher (Abrahams, 1997).

In the curriculum there will be three opportunities for students to choose new songs to sing.  In the beginning of the course, students will choose songs from their favorite artists.  These choices will need to be approved by the teacher.  Later in the course, students will be able to choose from a selection of songs that the teacher has pre-selected for the student.  This will allow the student some control over which song they sing, but also will allow the teacher to broaden the student’s musical horizons by selecting songs from different genres that best suit the student’s unique voice (Abrahams, 2005).  These songs will be related to the student’s favorite songs, but they will be of a different genre.  At the end of the course the student will be able to select one song that they want to sing and one song that the teacher has pre-selected.  The student will then have complete power when selecting which two songs to sing for the ending recital.  By selecting their own songs, students will develop a sense of their musical self.


Performance practice will be included in the curriculum because it helps students conquer anxiety and positively affects student’s self-efficacy.  Students who perform regularly will become more comfortable in front of a crowd and their anxiety will begin to fade (Tobacyk, 1986).  When students begin to feel comfortable performing, they will feel a sense of accomplishment and will be encouraged to continue performing. This will increase the student’s self-efficacy (Joet & Bressoux, 2011).  Self-efficacy is “the measure of one’s own competence to complete tasks and reach goals” (Ormrod, 2006).  Increased self-efficacy and lack of anxiety when performing are two extrinsic benefits that music students will gain when they participate in performances (C. Phillips, 2012).  Therefore, performance is an integral objective.

In order to best suit student needs, there will be a few performance opportunities in the curriculum.  The first two opportunities will be small scale, in studio performances.  Students will perform for a few family members or just for themselves.  These performances will be recorded, so students can listen back and analyze their performances.  At the end of the course, a recital performance will be given by all of the students.  This will be a large-scale performance because all students will gather and share what they learned in front of other students, parents, siblings and close friends.  By participating in these performance opportunities, students will gain increased self-efficacy and will therefore no longer be plagued by performance anxiety.

Music theory.

In order to pursue lifelong music making, music students should understand basic written notation including rhythm, note movements and sheet music orientation (Usher, 2012).  In order for students to follow along with some of the songs selected in class, they will need to have a general understanding of how to read sheet music.  While these songs could be learned by ear and memorized, students who read basic sheet music will be able to quickly refer to sections of the song during lessons.  In many cases, in order for students to participate in community music making, students will need to understand basic notation (Usher, 2012).  Because participation in community music will be encouraged, based on a critical pedagogy philosophy, including basic music theory in the curriculum will be necessary (Abrahams, 2005).

There are a variety of music theory exercises that will be included in the curriculum.  During the first section of the curriculum, students will learn how to read melodic notation.  Students will not be expected to memorize note names, but they will learn that when the note heads move up on the staff the voice gets higher and vice versa.  Large jumps in the music will be recognized and sung as intervals.  Students will also be able to follow along with their part when looking at the sheet music.  In order for students to successfully read their vocal line, they will need to understand musical markings such as D.S. al Coda, Coda and repeat signs.  In the second and third sections, students will learn how to sing the whole steps and half steps that make up major and minor scales.  In the third section, students will learn how to play, sing, write and analyze intervals.  Key signatures will be introduced in the fifth section, so students can understand why some songs have sharps or flats in them, while others do not.  Finally, students will learn about accidentals in the melody line.  Understanding these concepts will help students learn new songs on their own and with community music groups.


In order to teach a progressive curriculum, teachers should include education about music technology in the curriculum.  Teaching students how to use musical technology follows a praxial philosophy because it allows students to engage in the “doing” of music (Barrett, 2009).  Technology will be used frequently during music lessons in order to make recordings of exercises or performances, compose music, listen to music and take notes (Mato, n.d.).  Students will learn how to use musical technology, so they will be able to complete these tasks for themselves.

Technology will be used daily in lessons with all students.  Garage Band will be used to make recordings.  Sibelius will be used to compose or arrange student songs.  YouTube and iTunes will be used to listen to song selections.  Notes will be taken using different word processors on computers, tablets or cell phones.  Students will learn how to use a metronome when practicing.  Microphones and speakers will be used for the recital to record and project student voices.  Students will learn how to operate these different technologies, but they will not be required to use all technologies outside of lessons.  By including musical technology in the curriculum, the teacher ensures that the curriculum progresses with technological advances.

Community involvement.

Music education should prepare students to partake in music available in their community because increased participation will further develop and expand these musical communities (Jorgensen, 2002).  Critical pedagogues believe that if students participate in community music events, then they not only support these events and allow them to continue occurring (Abrahams, 2005), but also they involve music in their daily lives (Veblen, 2009). By participating in community music, students will validate their identity as musicians and will set up lasting relationships with other musicians in the community (Joet & Bressoux, 2011).  For these reasons, teachers should “focus on connecting students with the musical lives of their communities” (Jones, 2006b, p.1). 

In the curriculum, it will be required that students attend at least one community musical event.  This could be a free local concert at a coffee shop, a school music event, a musical theater show or some other concert.  It will not be required that students be involved in community performance groups, although participation will be encouraged by the teacher.  This encouragement will occur by discussing potential musical activities, suggesting opportunities and attending student concerts.  By attending a community musical event, the student will support other musicians in the community, gain awareness of the community’s musical culture and validate his or her identity as a musician.

Assessment goals.

Assessment goals will be included in the curriculum because they give the teacher and the student their own goals to achieve in each section (Maehr, 2002).  In the curriculum, there will be three types of assessment goals.  The first will be assessment of the student.  Both the teacher and the student will give feedback on student progress in each section because the student needs feedback to continue growing as a musician (Abrahams, 1997).  In the first section, the goals of the student will be to practice songs and exercises assigned and to understand concepts presented.  If the student and teacher agree that these goals were achieved, then the student can move on to the second section.  In the second section, the goal of the student will be to explain concepts learned to the teacher.  In the third section, the goal of the student will be to ask questions about concepts.  In the fourth section, the student’s goal will be to find the answers to these questions by solving problems with the help of the teacher.  In the fifth section, the goal of the student will be to teach concepts to the teacher.  Finally, in the sixth section, the student’s goal will be to embody all concepts learned and to use these concepts in performance.

The second type of assessment goal will be assessment of the teacher.  Following a critical pedagogy philosophy, the teacher will reflect on the progress of the student and on the teacher’s own ability to teach concepts to the student (Abrahams, 1997).  This reflection will ensure that the teacher is guiding the student towards his or her goals (Abrahams, 1997).  In the first and second sections, the teacher will strive to develop a relationship with the student through dialogue because the teacher and the student should feel comfortable and open with each other.  In the third section, the teacher will guide the student towards finding answers to questions asked by the student.  In the fourth section, the teacher will encourage students to continue their musical growth by giving support to student issues and celebrating student achievements.  In the fifth section, the teacher will give feedback to the student and will reflect on her own ability to teach concepts to the student.  The final goal of the teacher will be to encourage the student to continue singing in more advanced music classes.

The third type of assessment goal will be assessment of the curriculum.  Based on a reconstructionalist philosophy, curriculum should be reevaluated on a regular basis through reflective practice (Simpson, 2005).  Students and the teacher will work together to suggest changes to the curriculum and discuss the achievements of the curriculum.  At the end of each section, changes will be made to the curriculum for future students.

These assessment goals give the student and the teacher the chance to reflect on their own achievements and to reexamine the curriculum.  These reflections will lead to increased knowledge of music and of the education process.  Through reflection, students and the teacher will discover their talents and flaws.  Students will make adjustments to their practicing habits while the teacher will work towards bettering herself as an educator.  Because these assessment goals lead to such knowledge, they will be a necessary inclusion in the curriculum.


Dialogue between the student and teacher will be an important aspect of the curriculum because discussion leads to true learning (Freire, 2000).  Dialogue in the classroom leads to real learning about musical meaning, expression, culture and musicality (Abrahams, 2005).  For example, a discussion about rap music could lead to real learning about musical concepts such as rhythm and vocal expression, as well as cultural issues that may be present in the lyrics. When participating in these conversations, students will feel that their opinions are valued (Friere, 2000).  Because discussion leads to real learning, it will be included in the curriculum.

In this curriculum students will not be lectured.  Instead, the teacher will guide them in discussion through asking questions.  The curriculum will include discussions during each section. For example, a discussion questions could be what are your initial thoughts about musical concepts? Which concepts are challenging? In what ways can you incorporate improvisation into your performances? Why is vocal expression important to song meaning? Which concepts did you observe at community musical events? What changes have you felt in your vocal ability since starting lessons? The teacher will pose these, and other questions at the end of each section and use the discussion as a type of assessment for the student.


All of the learning objectives that were presented in this section are an integral part of a student’s music education.  Students need to learn about vocal technique in order to sing healthily and to progress as musicians (McKinney, 2005).  They need to improvise in order to create original musical works (Campbell, 1998).  Students must learn to interpret song meaning aurally in order to fully appreciate the aesthetic beauty of music (Reimer, 2002).  Students should choose their own song selections in order to find their musical identity (Hargreaves & Marshall, 2003).  They need to practice performing in order to gain increased self-efficacy and erase performance anxiety (Tobacyk, 1986; Joet & Bressoux, 2011).  Students must learn basic music theory so they can pursue lifelong music making by participating in musical ensembles or groups (Usher, 2012).  They should learn how to use music technology so they can continue to be knowledgeable in a time where technology is advancing (Barrett, 2009).  Students need to involve themselves in community music making in order to validate their identity as musicians and continue in lifelong music making (Veblen, 2009).  Students and teachers must assess themselves and the curriculum in order to gain knowledge about their talents and flaws and to make necessary changes to the curriculum (Simpson, 2005).  Finally, students need to participate in discussion in order to express their ideas and opinions and gain real learning through critical thinking (Freire, 2000).  If students include all of these objectives in their music education, students will gain necessary knowledge and become true musicians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>