Monday, August 01, 2016

You can’t avoid feelings of apprehension at the start of a singing workshop

I’ve just come back from my annual visit to the English Lake District to run my summer singing weekend.


On a weekend workshop I always find the first session on the Friday night tricky. There is an air of trepidation and hesitation that’s impossible to avoid. Why is that?

When a group of strangers gather for a singing workshop there is always going to be an atmosphere of fear and doubt at the start.

Here are some of the things you might be feeling:

  • you might not have attended a workshop with the leader before, so you’ll be apprehensive about what they might ask you to do.
  • most other participants will be strangers so maybe they’ll be much better singers than you.
  • you might not know anyone else so will feel socially awkward as you’ve not had a chance to mingle yet.
  • is the workshop going to be what you expected? Will it be pitched at the right level for you? Will your singing experience be up to the task ahead?
  • maybe you’ll be asked to learn songs with sheet music but you can’t read music (or vice versa: be asked to learn by ear when you’re used to reading) so you’ll feel well outside your comfort zone.
  • basically you’re heading into the unknown with a bunch of strangers and that’s scary!

There’s not much you can do as a participant to get around these nervous beginnings. However, what can help is to assume that everyone else is feeling exactly the same (which is usually the case) and to trust the workshop leader.

As a workshop leader myself I’ve not found any easy way to get around the eggy start to a workshop. I’ve discovered some things NOT to do:

  • don’t go round the circle and get people to introduce themselves and say a bit about their singing experience. I was in a workshop once where this happened and everyone (except me) was a professional singer or singing teacher. I found it almost impossible to open my mouth after that!
  • don’t make light of people’s nervousness – you can keep the atmosphere light and humorous, but it’s important to acknowledge that people feel apprehensive. They may also have arrived at the workshop after a long and stressful journey or a difficult day at work.
  • don’t start straight in with something too serious or difficult or technical – begin with easy stuff (but not patronising), be silly and playful to break the ice.

Although you can’t avoid the early nervousness, fears and doubts, you can make it easier for people:

  • encourage playfulness and silliness – emphasise that everyone is in the same boat.
  • use lots of games and physical/ movement elements in the warm up as it releases tension.
  • mix people up a lot and get them to say their name to lots of different people
  • keep the focus out and away from the individual – encourage listening and watching others.
  • get a song on its feet as soon as possible – once people are singing together, they begin to relax.
  • keep things moving, don’t get bogged down on something complex too soon, use a variety of elements.
  • give plentiful feedback to show how well people are doing (“Wow – three part harmony in just 10 minutes!”).

None of this will completely avoid the early fears and doubts that singers have, but it will help you to ease them through the eggy early stages. By the end of the day (or weekend) everyone will be working together brilliantly and will have forgotten the start of the workshop!

Have you experienced the ‘difficult’ start of a workshop? What did you (or the workshop leader) do to help get through it? I’d love to hear from you.

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Chris Rowbury



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