Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why feedback is important when teaching and learning songs

I was running a one-day workshop a while back and it seemed to me that the whole thing wasn’t gelling. People seemed uninspired, energy was low, and it was taking ages for people to pick up the songs.

thumbs down

Thumbs down by goldberg

I reckoned it was just one of those days and I would put it down to experience. But at the end, loads of people came up, full of praise for what a great time they’d had and how much they’d enjoyed the workshop.

I’d misinterpreted their response. But in the absence of clear feedback, that’s all I’d been able to do.

no news is bad news

There has been a distinct lack of comment on this blog lately. I’m beginning to think everyone has stopped reading it!

If we don’t get any feedback, the majority of us fill this vacuum with all our doubts, insecurities and fears. Maybe you don’t like what I’m writing. Maybe the comments section is not working properly. Maybe the RSS feed is just not getting through. Maybe nobody is reading my blog!

It’s the same with choirs and workshops. Singers need to be given feedback or they won’t know how well they’re doing. Choir and workshop leaders need to know if they’re getting their message across.

In the absence of feedback, we all fear the worst: that we’re bad singers or bad teachers.

the teacher teaching

How is it going? Am I going too fast? Do I need to explain things better?

People being what they are, I often teach to a sea of fairly blank faces. Brits are famous for not showing their feelings! Also people tend to glaze over when they’re concentrating. How do I know if I’m teaching well? As a teacher, I need some feedback from those I’m teaching.

Sometimes I ask directly for feedback. How’s it going? Am I making sense? How can I help you with this tricky bit? But I often don’t get a response.

People being what they are, most of us don’t like to speak up in front of our peers.

I remember being at university and not really understanding what the lecturer was saying. I put it down to my own stupidity. But I had a friend who wasn’t afraid to ask “Could you go over that again please? I don’t think I understood it.” There would be an audible sigh of relief. We’d all been thinking the same thing, but had been to afraid to ask.

Giving feedback and asking questions can take courage. But it’s always best to speak out or you just won’t learn. There’s a very good chance that everyone else is in the same boat.

But even if they’re not, clarifying a point for you will help you learn better. It also tells me that you’re paying attention to my teaching!

the singer learning

How am I doing so far? Am I getting it right? Is it better than last time?

I’m trying my best and it seems to be going OK, but I’m not sure I’ve got it right or if I’m doing what my director wants. As a singer I need constant feedback to let me know that I’m OK and on the right track.

Often teachers and choir leaders forget to give clear feedback to the singers. Especially if everything is going smoothly. If a song is being learnt well, at just the right pace, it can easily be taken for granted. But singers need to be told that we’re doing well. It gives us confidence and a clear indication of when things are going right.

I also need feedback if things are not going too well, but are a definite improvement on last time. This says to me that I’m on the right track and should keep on going.

And when things aren’t going well, I need just the right kind of feedback in order to help me get over the difficulty. I need to understand what is required in a clear, unambiguous way.

things to remember

  • choir leaders can’t read minds – if you have a problem or don’t understand, then say something. A sea of frowns and sideways glances can destroy a leader’s confidence.
  • speak up if something’s not clear – this may take a bit of courage, but you’re probably not the only one, and at least you will nail the point for yourself.
  • feedback is important when things are going well – don’t fall into the trap of only giving feedback when thing’s aren’t right. Singers need to be encouraged and praised when they get it right.
  • there can never be enough feedback – teaching and learning is a dialogue. You can’t ever have too much feedback. Fill the vacuum with clarity rather than doubts.
  • singers can’t read minds – the only way that a singer knows she has interpreted your instructions correctly is if you tell her!

useful types of feedback

As a choir leader or workshop leader, what kinds of feedback do you find most useful?

As a singer, how can the teacher or choir leader help you best? What kind of feedback works for you?

Do drop by and leave a comment. At least then I’ll know that somebody is reading!!


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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