Let’s communicate. Talking your student’s language

Communicate from your student's perspective - something can look different depending on where you are standing

Communicate from your student’s perspective

Context is everything

Gillyanne here. Jeremy and I are always saying that ‘context is everything’ and this applies to how you communicate in singing teaching. We both believe you need to be student-focused in a singing lesson. This includes being aware of age, level of experience and their potential as well as desired goals. Are their desired goals realistic and achievable?

The environment you are working in is important. Is it a school, a college, a private studio, or a Saturday school? And who is the lesson for?

Here are three top tips to help communicate well in a singing lesson

1. Should you demonstrate?

Many singers are auditory processors Рthey like to hear a sound, copy it and discover what they need to do to make it. That means many singing teachers are auditory processors, so when they are breaking down instructions they may need to find out what they are doing with their voice by making the sound.

That’s fine, but if you are working with an inexperienced singer, make sure you do not overwhelm them with the full package of your well-honed, well developed sound. Seriously, that can be such a turn-off.

Use your ears, and model the sound more closely to your student’s voice so that they can relate to your demonstration in a meaningful way. This is really important when working with children.

If I’m working cross-gender, I often demonstrate in chest register for my male students even if I want them to sing higher and it works really well.

2. How do they process?

It really helps to do a little bit of detective work to discover how your student learns best. With our own students we find the Neuro Linguistic Programming model (NLP) is useful. If you’re not sure if your student is an auditory, visual or kinaesthetic learner, try out the different modes in the first couple of lessons:

  • discuss shapes, show a video or draw a diagram for the visual learner (anatomy apps are great for this)
  • model sounds and ask the student to copy for the auditory learner
  • find out about sensation, tactile experience and texture for the kinaesthetic learner

For this last group in particular, if you are allowed to touch, use hands-on. If you are not allowed to touch directly use a soft ball, a toy, theraband, exercise ball etc. Be creative!

Finding your student’s processing mode will make the lesson go much faster, and the result is clearer communication and a deeper understanding of each topic.

3. Have a sandwich

From NLP you can learn about the ‘feedback sandwich’. This is very important. In the feedback sandwich the goodies are on the outside (so that’s TWO layers of good feedback) and the critique is on the inside.

So a feedback sandwich might be “well done, you did exactly what I asked you to do. Make sure you keep a sense of flowing through the phrase. You’re really paying attention to the words now.”

The feedback sandwich is challenging to start with, because you have to think of two accurate, precise pieces of positive feedback to wrap around the request for improvement. You’ll see from the above example that even the critique is not a negative sentence, it’s a positive instruction to get a new behaviour. The more you use the feedback sandwich, the easier it becomes to create instructions in this triple format.

Use the feedback sandwich to keep your students motivated.

Let’s communicate

Communicating in a student-focused way will help you avoid falling into the “same instruction, same repertoire” trap. When you focus on the student in front of you and their level and needs, it will be easier to communicate at the right level and find an appropriate lesson structure.

Powerful tools!


Click here to find out more about our Singing Teacher’s Retreat (and check our communication skills at the same time…)