You have the Form of your lesson planned, you’re Focusing on your student in exercises and in songs, you’re analysing what energetic state they are in today, but your lesson will still not be great unless you perfect the art of Feedback.
Feedback is the life energy of the lesson. And feedback needs to be constructive. I’ve been in too many lessons and masterclasses where the student has ended up in tears because the teacher has given such negative, destructive feedback under the guise of being “realistic”.
So what is good, constructive feedback? A combination of positive reinforcement and practical, specific, achievable instructions to change something.
Feedback part 1
Let’s assume your student has just sung for you. Start by finding something they have done well. As a teacher, you use your analytical skills all the time on your student’s singing, and it’s too easy to go straight to all the things that are not working. Remember that the student is doing the best they can with the information they have, so make sure you use your analytical skills to first find something positive.
It could be as simple as the fact that they sang all the words in the correct places, or got the rhythms right, or sang with expression, or stayed in tune, or managed the tricky leap to the high note well.
Incidentally, it MUST be specific and it MUST be truthful – you will undermine your validity as a teacher and your student’s ability to learn if you say something “positive” that is obviously not real or accurate. “That was lovely” or “Well done” said with tight lips absolutely will not do!
Feedback part 2
Next, choose a single thing you want your student to change. Be clear in your own mind, before you say anything, what it is you want the student to change and the process you will use to get them to change it. This might take a little thought (and some practice if you’re not used to being this specific).
So for example, “Let’s examine the approach to that high note – I think it will be easier for you if you pitch the consonant, you’re heading for instead of the note you’ve just sung. Let’s practise singing just that word several times and make sure you pitch the consonant on the note… Now add the word before and sing it again… Now sing from the beginning of the phrase and focus on where you pitch that consonant.”
Although this is a long example, it contains several powerful points. You have identified the problem (something’s going wrong with the high note) but you haven’t said it’s bad or the singer is wrong/stupid/lazy. You’ve suggested an absolutely specific fix that is achievable and attainable relatively quickly (pitching the consonant). You’ve given the precise technique to get the singer there (practise singing the word several times by itself singing the consonant on pitch). And you’ve taken them through the sequence that you believe will get them there, without any other distractions and without veering off to another fix (add the word before, then from the beginning of the phrase, focusing still on pitching that consonant).
Feedback part 3
And finally, given them positive feedback for what they’ve done. It’s all too easy for the teacher to be looking into the distance for the next thing to fix, but the student needs to know that they have just achieved something. It could be “yes, that works”, or as simple as “well done, you followed my instructions”.
FYI, sometimes when I use this technique I choose a focus or a sequence that doesn’t work for the student. In this case, the fault is mine and I say so. “Well done, you followed those instructions beautifully. They didn’t work for you so let me change them”. Again notice that I’m not blaming the student for the instructions not working. I’ll even set up this outcome by saying at the beginning – “I’ve got two possibilities I want to work on with you and I’m not sure which to start with. Let’s experiment with the first one and if it doesn’t work we’ll ditch it and do the second.”
This reads like a lot of work and quite a bit of detection that isn’t to do with singing per se. But it IS to do with communication and the relationship you have with your student. If you want your student to improve quickly and to become a competent, self-assured singer, this feedback sequence is a great way to get your student to feel good about themselves and to focus on (and explore) the bit that needs work. It makes you, the teacher, focus on the positives too.
Great feedback is invaluable
Remember your students will not have the knowledge of singing or performing that you do, and most students who come for singing lessons are highly motivated to improve. I work in my lessons to create a safe space for singers to experiment, and when I taught at the Actors Centre in London I received one of the nicest compliments. One of my students, a highly experienced actor, said: “I love my singing lessons with you, nothing is ever my fault!”. The feedback you give and the way you give it can keep your students happy, motivated and on the path to improvement.
Let me know how you get on!
PS If you want constructive feedback on your teaching, email us for details of our different Teacher Mentoring programmes, from one-off online sessions to short-course packages, to our Teacher Accreditation programme.