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jazzjeppe's avatar

How do I tell a student of mine she can't sing?

Asked by jazzjeppe (2598points) January 24th, 2009

I have a bit of a dilemma here. I am teaching music and I have this student, a 15 y/o girl, who loves music, loves to sing and has been doing so since early age. She wants a leading role in our musical we’re putting together and she also wants to sing at our spring concert in June. But…she is absolutely tone deaf…

The way I see it I have three options:
1) Tell her to her face that she can’t sing and leave her
2) Try to make her realize that by herself by rehearsing together with her, record her on tape etc.
3) Give her loads of private lessons and hopefully, perhaps, if God wants, she might be able to hit a couple of notes at the end of the semester.

As it is now, it would be inhuman to put her on stage and having the entire school laughing at her…

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15 Answers

LKidKyle1985's avatar

Lol wow is it really that bad?? I dunno probably the best thing would be to not tell her she can’t sing, but maybe word it like, well you seem to be a bit tone deaf and then possibly do the recording so that she can see for herself what you mean. Tell her it is something she def needs to work on before going on stage in front of everyone.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Perhaps the kindest thing to do would be to tell her that you have a bit of challenge, and need her advice, that you have a student who is filled with musical enthusiasm and interest, but is lacking in the type of talent necessary to perform on stage. How does she think you should handle it?

Blondesjon's avatar

She needs to know. At fifteen she’s probably going to get over the fact that singing isn’t for her. I call these ‘band-aid’ moments. Instead of babying it or writhing in anticipation, just grab ahold and yank it off. She’ll more than likely hate you for it.

for about ten minutes

asmonet's avatar

I had one of these friends in high school. She sang everywhere and it drove me insane, I never did figure out what to tell her. I’ll be interested in reading the responses. Good luck, jazz.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I’m the mother of one of those, and cannot carry a tune in a bucket myself.

Jeruba's avatar

Maybe consider an approach like this, delivered kindly but without any deception or sugar-coating:

—People who are going to be seriously considered for the lead roles will be those with the best combination of musical and stage skills.
—On that basis I can’t consider you seriously.
—I am willing to teach you what can be taught, but natural ability can’t be taught.

Of course she will be disappointed and hurt and maybe even lash out at you. But if your observation is correct, you won’t be the only one who knows it. You can’t cast a person for sentimental reasons or wishful thinking. And it is far crueler to her and to the rest of the performing group to lead her on.

History is full of cases where great musicians, scientists, athletes, etc., were told by someone, “You’ll never amount to anything as a <whatever>.” To their great credit, they persevered and proved that early doubter wrong. Maybe your student will be one of those, and if so, more power to her. But probably more (by orders of magnitude) who heard a truthful judgment that “I can’t in all honesty encourage you to spend further effort studying <whatever> because you don’t have a future in it” eventually learned that those teachers were dead on.

This plays interestingly with the passion-versus-talent question of a few days ago. I wonder if everybody who answered “passion” would say this girl is better off with more passion than talent.

elijah's avatar

Aren’t school musical parts filled by audition? Let her try out. When she doesn’t get the lead you can explain because so and so is a better singer. This way you don’t have to break her heart with the unfortunate truth. Maybe offer her an assistant director position.

mij's avatar

Give her a big cuddle and make her listen to Celine Dion?
I bet she really can sing something.
Maybe deep down in her soul she has the Blues…
Keep working with the poor wee girl… Steer her in some other direction…
Don’t go breaking her heart…

TheBox193's avatar

As others have mentioned, maybe try recording her and then play it back is the best idea.

Speech teachers use this technique to show students what they look/sound like when they are giving a speech. It’s a tool that the teacher uses. The students then watch it and can see what they are like when giving the speech, they can see things that they do that they may not realize they do. Such as say ‘like’ a lot or playing with hair.

Basically I’m recommending a similar technique. Full disclosure though, let them know that you are doing it a s learning tool.

augustlan's avatar

I’m with Jeruba on this one. She needs to know where she stands. This is a person who cannot make a career out of her passion, and needs to relegate it to a hobby.

cyndyh's avatar

I’m with Jeruba, too. I’d add that you want to make sure you’re not doing this in front of other students. You can be honest with her with making her feel humiliated. You also don’t have to kill her love for music and singing in general. You just don’t have a singing role that fits her.

simpleD's avatar

Lead roles should go to the best performers. If she’s not the best, help her to understand why. And if she still wants to work at it, help her to develop her natural abilities to their full potential. It might take her years, but if she enjoys doing it, it’s not up to anyone to tell her she can’t.

lrk's avatar

…It’s. Your. Job.

It may suck having to tell one of your clients that they can’t sing, but your job is to tell people how they sing. You’re cheating your clients otherwise.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

whatever you do, do not put her on stage, you’re right – that would be horrible.
i don’t really know how you can let her down easily – though i’m sure the jellies up there have covered it – but good luck (:
maybe one day she’ll be able to drastically improve.

Jeruba's avatar

So, @jazzjeppe—two weeks later now, what did you say?

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