Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
I am currently teaching a graduate course called Supervised Private Teaching at Shenandoah University. I spend a great deal of time watching the students’ teach and I am noticing one trait they all have in common. When the student performs a task correctly for the first time, they often fail to stop and acknowledge, instead they just keep working up and down the keyboard. If the student fails to get something right, instead of stopping to correct, they keep going and wait to see if things improve. I see this same approach in masterclasses as well. While this approach may work, I think there is a quicker way to get better results – stop and repeat.
Let’s say you are working on fine tuning a student’s /i/ vowel and the student is struggling to get it right. When the student finally sings a perfect /i/, instead of continuing on, stop and repeat. Not just once, have him repeat the correct version of the /i/ vowel 5-10 times. Stop the student and say “that was great, do it again” and have him repeat the exercise until you are confident he knows what he is doing. Then stop and ask him to describe what is different in his own words and then have him repeat the task again before moving up or down the keyboard. If the student begins to struggle again, stop and repeat, cueing them as necessary to get them into the target zone. This process of stopping and repeating enables them to learn the skill more efficiently than just moving on without stopping.
When you give a student a new task/exercise, give them a chance to sing three to five repetitions and see how they do. Students will often get it wrong the first couple times and then start getting it right. Giving them a few repetitions before offering a correction encourages the student to become independent and helps them advance from the cognitive/verbal stage to the motor learning stage. If the student is not singing the exercise correctly after several repetitions, stop and micromanage them as needed to get them into the target zone. When you get there, stop and repeat. This would also be a good time to use negative practice to make sure the student is aware of the differences between the old way and the new way.
You may feel like a drill sergeant when teaching this way, but the payoff is worth it. Do you have a similar process that you use in your studio? If you do, please leave a comment below. If you are not already following the blog, please enter your email address on the bottom right of this page to receive a notification when there is a new post.
Thanks for reading! ~Matt