How to teach students to sing confidently

Posted by Etain Ferdenzi on 11 February 2019

Topic: Singing

Understanding the importance of building confidence is best done through reflecting on our own experiences as learners. These may have taken place as part of professional development opportunities, or through learning a new skill outside of our professional lives.

In this article, Etain Ferdenzi, a qualified teacher with over 20 years’ experience as a primary and EYFS music specialist shares her experiences as an adult learner herself and how she has worked to develop strategies for all learners to build confidence with singing.

Self-reflection and self-esteem

A process of self-reflection is a crucial first step in understanding how it feels to be the learner whilst recognising the unique, personal nature of singing. It is then possible to appreciate the need to find a balance between student and teacher perspectives and to understand the importance of establishing positive relationships that result in openness, good communication and trust as the basis for developing confidence in singing.

There are many documented benefits of singing including experiencing multiple effects of singing on the body, developing an understanding of where the sound comes from, promoting self-esteem and well-being, promoting an embodiment of sound and reinforcing musical understanding through doing. Building confidence with singing makes the experience sustainable and success encourages students to come back next week for the next lesson.

How to nurture the student-teacher relationship

Developing relationships and establishing trust between student and teacher are important in creating space to find out what motivates the student to want to learn and to develop a balance between strategies that engage learners with singing alongside those that are designed to support the development of technique.

Acknowledging prior experience, their existing musical interests and challenging any existing ideas and opinions of poor self-belief helps learners as they grow. Learners need to believe that they can do it, and to be able to recognise when they have done it. Consistent positive reinforcement and moving beyond 'well done' to 'well done for…' helps students to recognise specific areas that have gone well in order to do more of what works. Learning will be more successful if the use of cues - verbal, visual and kinaesthetic - by the teacher are carefully chosen and balanced with judicious use of questioning and intervention strategies.

Positive relationships can also help to challenge pre-existing issues that can lead to a lack of confidence. These might vary from a preconceived idea of what ‘good singing’ is to perhaps a negative experience such as being told ‘you can’t sing’. With adult learners these issues might be more deeply ingrained and so this where establishing a positive and open relationship with time for discussion and reflection can allow for these to be addressed in ways that are effective and personalised to the needs of each learner thus building confidence and self-esteem from the very first lesson.

The age factor

There is some difference between adult learners and young people when it comes to what they might want from a teacher. Adults may feel that they need to be assured of the competence of the teacher and they are the right match for them as the learner. In situations where lessons are supported by parents, finding a match of expectations between teacher, student and parents is important. Defining outcomes together such as a wish to take exams or a wish to perform should be shared and discussed regularly no matter the age of the student.

The choice of repertoire is also important in building confidence. With adults there can be a reluctance to sing beyond the lower range of the voice, so supporting them to know where to pitch their voices can help to move them towards developing their range. Careful choice of repertoire, chosen with the learner, with specific goals in mind can help learners to develop areas they are less confident with, through using familiar music that they know and engage with.

With young people, there may be a need to address ingrained habits that have come from listening to pop songs and which can affect technique. Similarly adult learners also may need support through rebuilding self-esteem and undoing bad technique. Once such aspects of technique start to be addressed, then students grow more confident because they sound better and are then keen to continue to work on technique.

With learners of any age, it is important to establish a baseline. Start where the learner is at, work out the issues through trying a range of activities and get a feel for which approaches to building confidence might be most appropriate.

Don’t be concerned with keeping activities limited to age-related expectations. Whilst using scarves, bouncing a ball, walking to the pulse might initially be thought of as strategies for younger learners, anything that encourages students of any age to learn by doing, that reinforces musical understanding by doing and immerses the learner in a whole body experience.

Building confidence in singing from the very start of the learning journey is important if learners are to enjoy the experience of singing and are prepared to open themselves to feel the range of responses generated through singing. Notwithstanding the differences between adult and young learners in expectations and reasons for taking lessons, the majority of approaches to building confidence remain the same no matter the age of the person you are working with.

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