By Roger Beale, Point University
When the Roland VT-12 Vocal Trainer was introduced a couple years ago, it was something new for vocalists and voice teachers. I was immediately interested in it, because never before had so many useful functions been integrated into one device for singers. However, like most teachers, I have established methods and materials, so I didn’t begin using all the VT-12’s features right away. But as I’ve gradually incorporated them into my teaching regimen, I believe they’ve yielded very positive results for my students.
There are many ways to apply the VT-12 to voice instruction, but I wanted to share ten applications that I’ve found to be effective. I think you’ll find the Vocal Trainer will bring a new energy to your teaching studio and fresh interest from your students. Most importantly, be open-minded and receptive to how this technology will fit into your lessons, and expect your students to alter your expectations! They will invariably inspire creative ideas on how to use the VT-12.
I encourage you to try out all ten applications. If you’re new to the VT-12, you might want to pick one to start with, and then move on to using the others as you become more comfortable.
1. Warming Up
As we all know, one of the best ways to ensure a productive lesson is for the student to arrive warmed up and ready to start, but we also know this isn’t always the case. If a student arrives early for their lesson (i.e., on time), I hand them the VT-12 and have them go through some of the built-in warm-ups and exercises. Warm-up 001 is a good one to get the air moving with lip trills and basic vowels, and Exercise 007 is also good with the standard “mah-meh-mee-moh-moo.” There many others as well, so you have a selection to choose from on any given week. By the time the lesson starts, the student is focused (i.e., hasn’t been texting the past five minutes), and we hit the ground running.
2. No Piano? No problem!
I always keep the VT-12 in my gig bag when I give a lesson in another location. It’s been very useful in cases where there isn’t a piano available, and it eliminates the need to bring a keyboard and amplifier. With the VT-12’s guide tone function (engaged by pressing the button with the speaker icon), I can generate any pitch I need to hear. Each note is labeled and lights up when it’s active. There’s even a clear plastic cling sheet with all the solfège names, which is very helpful—especially if you’re teaching movable do. And if I need custom exercises, accompaniments, or backing tracks, I can simply record them right into the VT-12 and have them in hand, as discussed in the next tip.
3. Record Your Own Exercises
The VT-12 has a large selection of preloaded material. But if you’re like me, you have your own personal vocal exercises you like to use. For this purpose, the VT-12 has 100 minutes of recording time, so you can record what you need. This in itself is nice; but more importantly, at the same time your exercises are playing back, the tuner is engaged so you and your student can evaluate intonation as they sing. Plus, the VT-12 is always recording automatically, so you can use the review function to play back the sound to both see (on the tuner) and hear the performance. This is a great assessment tool, providing instant objective feedback that is incredibly valuable for the student.
4. Swing and Improv Training
Teaching swing rhythms and improvisation is essential for any contemporary vocal studio, and the VT-12 has many built-in exercises that you can use to enhance and supplement your current improv instructional methods. Specifically, Exercises 009-012 and 037-040 are useful for introducing swing feel and some beginning vocal improvisation. Each Exercise has rhythm section accompaniment—with and without a vocal guide track—and is available in different keys for high and low voice ranges. This gives you some variety and accommodates students at different skill levels. And remember, the VT-12 is always recording, so you can instantly review a student’s performance after they sing any exercise.
5. The Classics
If you teach with a classical approach, the inclusion of Concone 50 Lessons OP. 9 in the VT-12 will be a great help to you. Concone etudes are useful even beyond classical voice training, and many teachers use them to develop sight-reading, solfège, and other skills. I like to use them to help students develop nice legato and sostenuto singing techniques. There are two versions of each lesson, one with a melody guide track and one with piano accompaniment only. And for true classical singers, the VT-12 contains the most popular selections from the “Swiss army knife” of classical voice teaching, 24 Italian Songs and Arias—you know, the yellow book. Yes, you can even teach “Caro Mio Ben” using the VT-12 as your accompanist!
6. Go Global
The Internet has become a powerful teaching platform, and I use the VT-12 in my Skype lessons. I have the student sing with the included warm-ups and exercises, and since they’re built into the VT-12, I don’t have to send a CD or have the student download any other exercises. I once gave a Skype lesson with the VT-12 to a student in Germany, and they thought it was the coolest thing ever. For the best results, it’s important that the remote student also has a VT-12, because the audio sounds best when the singer and the VT-12 are in the same place. In addition, the student can continue to review their performance on each exercise after the lesson is over.
7. Hearing is Believing
As previously mentioned, the VT-12 automatically records during warm-ups and exercises. It also records during playback of user tracks, and even while using the metronome. Giving the student feedback on their voice is an important part of their lesson, and the review function on the VT-12 gives the student instant feedback—both visual and audible. This feedback is essential for improvement, and the process is accelerated with the VT-12 because the student can hear and see, immediately, what you are talking about. There’s no doubt when the student hears an objective recording, because it’s right in front of their ears! When recording, the VT-12 “overdubs” the voice with the built-in tracks or songs you’ve loaded in from your library. You can record a CD into the VT-12, or an audio file (backing track, accompaniment, etc.) from your computer or smartphone. We do this on our campus with the voice students and staff accompanist and it works very efficiently.
8. Let’s Duet
Using Chord mode, the VT-12 detects and display the intonation of two voices simultaneously. At first, I never thought I would use this “duet” feature, but I was wrong—it has definitely come in handy. I coach a barbershop quartet, and I will frequently isolate two parts and rehearse them as a duet. Sometimes I’ll break out the lead part with the tenor, and other times the bass and baritone together. I simply move the Pitch Detection slider to the CHORD/JUST setting and have them sing the two parts. The VT-12 will show them where they’re out of tune—all they have to do is look. This has become a very valuable tool for this group. By using this one simple function, they sounded better fast!
9. Groups and Motivation
Beyond private lessons, I’ve used the VT-12 to warm up a full choir, barbershop quartet, and my collegiate Vocal and Stage Performance class. When I challenged this class with some of the contemporary exercises in the VT-12, they didn’t sing them very well, and a couple of the students took the unit to the practice room to learn them. I almost fainted at their initiative. The VT-12 is a great motivational tool for students, and some will even compete with one another to see how accurately they can match pitch, sing intervals, harmonize, and more! Singers competing? Yeah, that never happens.
Some vocal students struggle in learning how to release their vibrato. Sometimes it seems that, no matter how hard either of us tries, it’s just not working. Over the last few years, I’ve used my vocal spectrogram with good success, but for some students it’s a bit tedious. Not so with the VT-12—it’s much simpler. You give the student a pitch, and they can see it move right on the display. As the voice starts to let go of unnecessary tension, the small green arrows on the front of the unit will show them the natural flat/sharp pitch variation of this vocal phenomenon. The student leaves your studio with a much more pleasant voice than when they came in, thanks to the use of the VT-12.
Roger Beale is adjunct professor of voice at Point University and a 20-year-plus professional vocal coach maintaining a very active private voice studio in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. He is a frequent contributor to professional journals, a columnist in industry magazines, and creator and contributor of A Practical Guide for Performing, Teaching, and Singing Messiah. If you have any questions for Roger about his teaching practice and use of the VT-12, he can be reached at Roger.Beale@point.edu or firstname.lastname@example.org.