One Take Learning - The Bad Stuff Really Sticks

learning problem solving Aug 24, 2022

You can’t get around the fact that it takes a big investment in time, effort and deliberate focus to learn singing, or any skilful performance. There’s a really good reason for it though.

The reason for this is simpler than you think, and it relates to the other side of the coin.

The other side of the coin being… things you learn NOT to do.


Bad Stuff = ONE TAKE

Yes, that’s right. Typically, bad things that threaten us in some way have a huge effect on our learning. After you’ve burnt your hand on something hot, you learn very quickly to pull away from it, and stay away from it, otherwise you’d have no skin left. That’s a survival mechanism.

It also works with other stressful things that are perceived as threatening to your wellbeing. I remember leaving my phone in a cab in Dubai once. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be hard to rectify, but the next passenger had taken it and racked up a £600 bill calling the Philippines before I realised. Although that was more than 10 years ago, I still frantically check my pockets before I get out of a taxi. That’s one take learning, right there. 

Bringing it back to singing, many have had a terrible experience on stage. This too is at the hands one take learning due to the threat level, and we'll quickly learn to avoid getting back up there. The more we avoid it, the more the learned response is strengthened.

Singers are always struggling with their survival instincts on this front, but we coaches are here to help them understand it and overcome it with practical tools.


The Good Stuff = NO DANGER

That gives us the context for the good stuff we want to learn, especially the skilful things like singing and complex physical movement. 

According to the theory, because there’s no pain or threat to survival there isn’t same strong learning response. For everything in this category, we have to use deep focus and deliberate practice to trigger the learning. And then… repeat repeat repeat. 


The Difficult Truth

This isn’t necessarily a difficult truth if you’re already in the mindset of ‘enjoying the process’, but if you get impatient quickly this can be so frustrating. I used to get frustrated too, but little nuggets of knowledge like this at least used to give me an understandable reason. A reason that replaces the painful words: “BUT WHHHHYYYYYYYYYY CAN’T I DO IT!!!”.


Goals And Stress

This is why it’s so important to have smaller goals making up the big one and to have ways to reduce the stress around the learning bout.

The smaller goals allow us to see glimpses of progress more often and expose us to that all important motivation chemical to keep us truckin’: dopamine! Big goals don’t give you this exposure as often, and so the motivation can seriously wain. If you don't already, get into simplifying goals and tailor the training for regular feelings of achievement and motivation within each lesson

Interestingly, evidence shows stress levels can cause us to lose sight of the important process of action = outcome. In other words, if I do *this thing* I’ll eventually achieve *this goal*. Instead, a stressed-out state encourages us toward using current habits to get through it. We can also get caught up just responding to what’s going on now, rather than taking the action we know will achieve something better in the future.

As teachers, we often unknowingly put pressure on singers. The pressure of expectation, the pressure to get things right quicker, the pressure to represent our credibility, the pressure of the song intro! Often we don't do anything, but the singer is secretly in the "OH MY GAAAAD" state of mind because you have the title 'Voice Coach', and maybe a reputation to match. 

This will obviously raise stress levels in the singer, so we should try to acknowledge that at all points. Making things fun and exploratory is always a great start, even they are an analytical adult. This takes away the right/wrong outcome of an exercise, and turns it into a "what will we discover?" context. I'm sure you have something in your toolbox to relax your students, so covertly whip it out if you see the singer quickly reverting back to habits in the moment. They might not show their stress, but that doesn't mean it's not in the melting pot!

Knowledge is power

If singers know they are avoiding something due to a bad previous experience, or are struggling to make progress and feel motivated, then we could try to explain the way we learn to them, as nature sculpted us. Yes, they’ll be combatting one take learning when moving out of the scary or into the desire, but that’s just the way it is.

BUT.... If they can plan for it, they WILL succeed!

Want to become a master problem solver?

Our 'Evolve' Teacher Training Course could be just what you need to take your teaching to a new level.

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