Riva Capellari

[email protected]

Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

What and When

As a voice teacher, I work with my students on vocal technique, music fundamentals, interpretation, foreign languages, vocal health and performance etiquette. But I also need to teach them how to receive and manage criticism of their voice and performances.

It’s important to remember that above all, criticism is information. I prefer the term feedback which seems to carry less threat. And basically, feedback is an evaluation whether it comes from the singer them-selves, their teacher or outside sources like family, friends or others.

The timing and kind of feedback given is important. I need to determine at any given moment which choice to make for a particular student. Where they are in their vocal training, how far I can push them, even what mood they are in that day.

Feedback provides information the student

is unable to realize on their own. Being specific about what needs improvement (descriptive)

and how to achieve it (subscriptive) works

better than a qualitative statement such as

that was good, that was not so good!”. How-ever, acknowledging the correction “yes, that

is what we are looking for”, enhances learning more readily than feedback offered after a poor

result. They need to discard the inferior attempt from their kinesthetic memory and keep the improved model. Beginning students may need less precise directives as they are unable to process sensations they have yet to experience.

Letting students explore and self-evaluate keeps them from becoming too dependent on outside sources for correction. Sometimes I let students vocally wander and offer feedback only if they travel too far out of the healthy range.

Which brings us to another important aspect of feedback: timing- how often and when. Allowing the student to make a few attempts at something before commentary gives them time to figure things out themselves, developing their self-evaluation skills and self-confidence. With my more advanced students, I often ask for their critique on their singing. This gives me insight into how well they understand the goal we are working towards. We then discuss the “yes and nos” of their evaluation.

Beginning students may need more frequent feedback, but generally, giving directives too often can have a negative effect on retention. However, if the task is complex and challenging more help may be needed more often.

Giving information after an exercise or performance vs. during, and focusing on one element at a time is more conducive to learning and will improve the chance of success.

It’s essential for teachers to know their students and the level of their ability in order to provide the best possible information at the best possible time. And to instill in them not only the value of critiques, but the joy they will experience when they surpass their previous vocal boundaries!

Journal of Singing, September/October 2017. Kate Butler.

Improving Feedback”, L. Maxfield. JOS. March/April, 2103.

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