I had my monthly voice lesson today. I love my lessons. My teacher has fantastic ears and many, many years of experience singing and teaching. He is very good at giving feedback and suggesting improvements, and he really knows the classical singing business.
Like many (most?) people, I record my lessons. I usually wait longer than I should to listen to them. After all these years I dread what I might hear, so I procrastinate. This is a silly old habit, since I know very well what I sound like in general and that I’m improving. When I finally listen to the recording I always seem to have a reasonable mix of “gotta fix that” and “that was good” running through my head. I have not listened to myself for a long time where I thought that my life should grind to a halt because I’m such a failure and fraud as a singer. As you can imagine from the foregoing dramatic sentence, there is always a little extra judging going on when I listen to myself. It is very different from listening to recordings of other people!
So I know that I need to listen to the recordings soon after the lesson, so that I can work with the ideas for the maximum amount of time before the next lesson – heck, the maximum amount of time before I’m dead! So how do I actually listen to the recording? As I’m listening, I have a pen and a sheet of paper in front of me and my sheet music for rep that was sung in the lesson. I pause the recording and write down important points. If I remember a personal note or feeling that ran through my head in the lesson, I sometimes capture that as well. I find that looking at these notes daily when I practice is quite helpful.
But as I was driving the half hour from lesson to home today, I was thinking that there is something else that is usually missing from my post-lesson process – simple reflection! Sometimes when I get out of a lesson or coaching (and my coach is fabulous too!) I just want to bolt out of there and think about lunch, or rush off to work, or knock off items on my “to do” list. But wouldn’t it be wise to actually sit quietly and think about the lesson, mentally going through what I remember, and writing down those points, and then listening to the lesson? Then compare what I remembered before listening with what I get after listening. I have sometimes done all these steps, but not consistently. When I listen to the recording, it is always surprising how very important points come back to me that I did not remember an hour after the lesson!
This all makes me think about my students, and all of my fellow singers, and how we don’t really discuss how we record and process the important stuff from our lessons and coachings. How do YOU operate? Do you find that you go to your lesson, do what is asked and feel pretty good about it, and then not think about lesson things, apart from working on your repertoire, until the next lesson? Probably you are neither completely negligent nor completely studious. I would say that I do about half the work I could be doing after the lesson, because I let inertia and “real life” issues steal away the time and the will to mine all that I can from my lessons. If my teacher says the same thing about a particular point for three lessons in a row, and I’m able to fix it within the lesson each time, then there is something I’m probably not doing on my own. Time to get past “shame on me!” and get with the program! It’s a waste of time, money, and one’s talents to do otherwise.
Really studying one’s lessons – from memory, from written notes, from recording, and even from discussion with friends and family, can yield fruits that feel like you’re getting another lesson for free! Some of you singers and teachers probably have some good ideas to share about how you make use of recordings and notes from lessons and coachings. I’d love to hear about them.