In the fifth and final stage of a singing lesson the focus shifts fully from the teacher to the student. This is often overlooked by singing teachers but it’s one of the most crucial for the student. When you’ve gone through the Listen, Diagnose, Choose and Explore stages, you’ve come up with the perfect exercise for that task, that day with that student. You try it out and it works! Congratulations! Now on to the next thing.
Stop right there.
You’re doing the student a disservice. You may think your student has got it, but there’s a learning reality that you are ignoring, and the lesson will nosedive if you don’t include it. And I’m just as guilty as the next person.
I’ve been a professional vocal coach for 40 years. I started at Opera North and Scottish Opera, moved into theatre in multiple West End productions, and coached in various conservatoires and institutes around the country.
I was very successful at getting people “performance-ready” by the end of the session. And that involved tackling seven or eight problems in an hour and giving a lot of instructions to the singer. I was very good at diagnosing so I’d solve the first problem, get them to sing it once with the correction and move on to the next one. It was a packed lesson every time (and I was exhausted at the end of the day from the level of concentration and energy I was using).
But I noticed I talked and demonstrated a lot in lessons. Then I noticed the singers weren’t retaining everything I was telling them. My first thought was to blame the singer. After all, I was very clear in my instructions, and they worked in the lesson.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised there was a learning reality I had missed.
Do versus experience
The teacher might know from experience that the technique works, but the student doesn’t. When a student tries something for the first time, they aren’t aware of the effects. They are busy following your instructions and are focusing on them internally. It’s like their brain is in “do” mode and can’t experience.
“Do” and “experience” are very different things. Remember learning to drive a car? You were essentially in charge of a 2-ton mobile wrecking ball. You HAD to concentrate on doing things you’d not done before, which foot does what, which button or stick controls which thing, what everyone else on the road is doing, and what the instructor is telling you.
In my own driving test, I got stuck in the middle of the road turning at traffic lights, with a blue-lighted, siren-full-on ambulance coming directly at me at speed. I decided the best thing I could do was not stall the car, to sit exactly where I was and let the ambulance go around me. I passed my test!
Now when I drive I’m not consciously aware of all those things I used to concentrate on. I can enjoy the drive, or the conversation, or the radio. Gillyanne and I even made a reel about driving, relationships and beliefs relating to singing lessons (check it out here).
How many repetitions to embed?
Your student is in a similar situation. You give them an instruction and they MUST concentrate on the instruction to follow it. They have very little brain processing capacity left for analysing the effect. So on the first go they rely on your feedback. On the second go, they might focus instead on the effect that you told them happened, and mess up because they’re not focusing on the instruction any more. It takes AT LEAST three repetitions for the singer to experience the instruction and the outcome together. And more repetitions are better.
So rather than “it worked, let’s move on”, start saying “That worked, let’s repeat and embed”. And weirdly, there’s very little more for you to do. The ideal experience for the student during the “repeat and embed” stage is for you to say nothing. Any instruction you give will bring them back out of experiencing and put them back to the first repetition. So the more you correct and encourage, the longer it’ll take. Stop talking!
This is completely counterintuitive for a lot of singing teachers.
“But I’m not earning my money if I don’t say anything”.
“But I spotted something that would just take a moment to correct”.
“But they’re not doing it right”.
And the answers in order are “Yes you are” “No it wouldn’t” and “Let them find out for themselves”.
The Embed stage has completely changed the way I work with my clients. I talk less, I sing less, they sing more, they understand more, they experience faster, they embed MUCH quicker and the embedding lasts longer. They are more appreciative (which is lovely) and more likely to recommend or rebook. And I get real job satisfaction
So there you have it. Listen, Diagnose, Choose, Explore, Embed. The five stages of a great lesson for any singing teacher, vocal coach or group leader.
And if you hadn’t gathered it already, all five apply to life in general and relationships too. But that’s another blog post!
If you want to learn more about the five stages yourself, and watch us include them in lessons, check out the 12 Hours and 12 MORE Hours courses to experience how we do it. Or come on the Accreditation Gateway course and experience them yourself in action on YOUR lessons.
For the best self-guided learning, check out the Vocal Process Learning Lounge – 20+ years of vocal coaching resources (over 600 videos) for less than the price of one private singing lesson. Click on the link and choose a Level https://vocalprocess.co.uk/learning-lounge/
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