3 Alternative Reasons Why Students Defer Their Goals To You

learning problem solving Oct 03, 2022
Singing student goals

Here’s a phrase that we teachers hear often in response to the first questions of the session:

“What would you like to do with your time today?”

Singer response:

“Whatever you think would be good really *shoulder shrug*… I’m in your hands!”

Now, I know it’s easy to get overly detailed in why people say what they say, but this answer is by far the most challenging for me, and one I really want to avoid fulfilling, if possible.


Why is this answer a challenge?

There are so many reasons, of which there can be umpteen solutions. Ultimately, for one reason or another, they are deferring decisions that are best staying with them over to you. So, let’s hypothetically try and translate the possible meanings of that sentence and then resolve them with a suitable response…


Translation 1) 

“I am used to the master:student hierarchy and your expert opinions are more important than my own.”

This is an educational hangover from decades past, where the expert knows best and almost completely decides the path of the learner. In contemporary music, where artists are cheered for their individuality, we need to preserve as much of that persons uniqueness as possible. 

That means, the MOST effective learning approach is NOT to direct. It’s to co-learn. To explore together. To be collaborators in a process, where there is flexibility, decision making and feedback in all directions. This carves out a pathway that is unique for each singer where there are no hard and fast rules, and ends up with a sound that is more authentic to the person.


Response 1)

“Why don’t we spend 5 minutes talking about YOUR desires for your voice and your music. Then, together we can work out a long and short term plan where we can get you closer to them, each session.”


We just turned it around and reinforced that we would create a plan together, but that plan is ultimately directed by the singer. It is just guided by the coach. This avoids any tendency to try and impress the teacher by fulfilling their tasks, and that self-directed nature creates a much more healthy source of motivation. 

Easy, and might just help get us coaches away from the same out-dated philosophies of ‘fixing’ people.



Translation 2)

“Which areas of improvement do you think I would need to fulfil to be able to *insert industry standard*?”


This is deferring to your expertise again. Sometimes that’s actually good if there is a very specific stylistic goal that needs to be achieved before that singer can be legitimate in that style.

Let’s say it’s classical, and the singers tonal quality isn’t quite “chiaroscuro” enough. It could be musical theatre, and maybe their American accent isn’t quite flying in their audition piece. It might be modern pop but vibrato is a little too common, wide and traditional. Either way, they may not have the knowledge to understand the baseline style attributes and need some suggestions.


Response 2)

“Let’s analyse some stylistic role models and compare your recordings to theirs using these parameters. Then I can recommend exercises for how you work on those specific areas.”


There’s more guidance here, as you are probably setting the parameters for them to analyse. IE, you are asking them to look out for vibrato (how much, character) and accent/vowel. However, you are asking them to become more aware of stylistic standards and hence giving them autonomy to solve this themselves in the long run. 



Translation 3) 

“I haven’t even thought about this lesson until just now!”


Totally understandable. Some people are busy… very busy. Sometimes their priorities are elsewhere, and not aligned with yours in the studio. So, give this person a comfortable space as we don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.


Response 3) 

“Well, let’s just take a moment. Why don’t we warm up a little bit, get in the zone, and then we see what would be fun to experiment with after that?"


This reinforces that there’s isn’t a pressure here, as that won’t help learning or create a meaningful suggestion from the singer. It just creates a rushed decision.

It also allows someone to gradually bring their goals into focus as they tune into the environment, and after 15mins of positive outcome exercises you tend get a really great suggestion from the singer. That takes care of the remaining 45mins, and all you had to do was reorder the normal lesson format to allow for settling in!

If you feel annoyed as the coach because it looks like laziness or unpreparedness, I get it. However, assume that 99.9% of people are being challenged or pressured in some other way, and singing gets downgraded as a result. And that is totally ok.

I don’t personally believe in innate laziness. I was such a “lazy” g*t in my late teens and early twenties, but then I knew it was down to having poor self-esteem and jobs I hated. I was clearly depressed at what I thought life was supposed to be.

When I got into singing professionally however, I became a work-a-holic overnight. 

If you know your singing sessions are for well-being and decompression, it doesn’t matter if there aren’t super solid goals. You can let the lesson serve its purpose. If your sessions are marketed for technical improvement, you could ask the singer if this is the right time for them to be approaching this. If it seems not, maybe they need to go to a group session (which you might run!) where they can relax and take things a little easier. 


Do what you can to be STUDENT-LED

Whether you remember these or not, just keep this principle in mind. If the process or the singer is showing signs of deferring decisions to you, it'll usually have limited possibility in the long run.

Yes, someone can get somewhere decent from being told what to do via the teachers ideals. For those not used to autonomy, or with limited brain space to open up the subject, instruction can be really helpful to start up the progress engine. However, in small and sneaky ways, we can encourage the singer to take the reins, bit by bit, until they are the painter of their own canvas.

And, that they don't need your permission to pick up the brush!


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.

Book your free discovery call and let's talk!

Book here

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.