Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Cultivating independence

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San_Diego_FireworksIt is Independence Day in the United States and therefore the perfect day to talk about training your students to become independent learners who master skills quickly and effectively. The type of verbal feedback we provide students during their lessons has a significant impact on the way they develop new skills. The tradition in vocal training has been for the teacher to cue the student frequently (sometimes after every repetition of an exercise). The thought is that this micromanagement will ensure that the student performs the exercise with perfection. However, motor learning studies have shown that micromanagement is not the best approach – students learn best by failing. What does that mean? Your student is better off getting the exercise wrong and then figuring out how to get it right without you telling them exactly what to do. Here is an example scenario.

  1. Let’s say your student has just learned how to engage her chest register. Because she has just learned this skill, it is ok to micro-manage her for the first lesson (maybe even the second and third). In this micro-management stage, you will tell her exactly what to do – how to stand, how to breathe, how to position her mouth, etc. In this step you will also give her exact feedback after each repetition (or two to three). For example, relax your jaw more…stand taller…don’t tuck you chin…etc.
  2. After the student can successfully perform the exercise with your guidance, you will want to stop micro-managing her. Instead, you will want to start telling her how close she is to achieving the result you are looking for, but offer nothing else. So for instance you may say “That was close to full chest.” You then leave it up to her to figure out the rest. She may ask you “what should I have done?,” to which you should respond “try to figure it out on your own.” This approach works because it requires the singer to self-assess and learn how their body is functioning during the task. By doing this, your student will begin to build new neurological pathways that will improve her execution in the long-term. During the micromanagement process, she is not forced to build those pathways, which is why it takes longer to see growth.
  3. To push your student to the next level, introduce random practice. To do this, you will alternate between two different exercises – for instance, a head register 5-4-3-2-1 exercise immediately followed by a 1-3-5-3-1 arpeggio in chest register, followed by the head exercise, followed by the chest exercise, etc. Give her a few seconds in-between each step so that she can assess what she just did and prepare for the next pattern. This process will continue to cultivate independence and push her closer towards mastering the task.

Voice teachers can learn a lot from motor learning studies. While the approaches may seem counterintuitive at times, they really work in the long-term. Experiment with these techniques over the next few weeks and let me know about your experience in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading!



2 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Cultivating independence

  1. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Stop and repeat | Matthew Edwards

  2. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Dale Carnegie’s tips for inspiring change without arousing resentment | Matthew Edwards

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This entry was posted on July 4, 2016 by in Misc. Thoughts, Mix it up Monday, Motor Learning.

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