Make your studio a safe space for adolescent singers to learn, explore and develop a growth mindset.
The teenage years can be tough at the best of times, but for adolescent singers, things can be even more complicated.
The cracking, breathiness and instability associated with voice change around puberty can be highly distressing.
Researcher and singing teacher Wendy Rolls has seen it first-hand in her studio. “I’ve had students who, when pre-pubescent, just opened their mouth and this glorious sound flowed out. Then they get to voice change, and suddenly it’s a huge mess.
“They may have enjoyed a lot of social kudos from being that little singing canary, and now it’s gone, and they’re asking, ‘Who am I without that voice? I’m broken and no good any more’.”
So how can singing teachers best support their students through these difficult years? Wendy recently shared her tips on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast. And while her work centres primarily around adolescent female singers, her advice applies to both sexes.
How to encourage a growth mindset in adolescents
“Teenagers often struggle to interpret subtlety and are not very good at reading facial expressions,” Wendy says. “You might look at them in surprise, and they think you’re incredibly angry with them. So I smile a lot because I want them to know I’m always on their team.”
Externalise goal setting
“By externalising goal setting, you take away the sense of ‘I’m bad because my voice is not working today’,” she says.
Wendy does this by getting all her students to write a goal on some colourful bunting she has up in her studio. “Everybody who comes in can see what others are working on. It creates collegiality and the sense that they are part of a team, and we’re all heading in the same direction.”
She also gets students to rate specific tasks from one to five. “I ask them to give a star rating like a movie review. So if you don’t know the lyrics, it’s one star, and if you know them completely, it’s five stars. The student can rate their progress over the weeks.
“That takes it away from being personal and loaded. The aim is to keep it objective and matter-of-fact as that develops a sense of agency in the students. I’m not valuing their progress; I’m just helping them notice it.”
Be an ally
As a singing teacher, you don’t know what’s happening elsewhere at home or school, but you can firmly set the tone in your studio.
“If we repeat ourselves often enough, that becomes a talisman they can hang on to. If we value what our students do, we affirm who they are. And if we let them know that we recognise where they are and their goals, we’re valuing them as humans and singers.”
“I firmly believe in the value of habits,” Wendy says. “Think of how many people brush their teeth. Brushing your teeth is not exactly fun, but most people wouldn’t leave home without doing it. With teenagers, that sense of developing habits is a powerful tool.”
The key is to keep things simple at first. “Give them a clear sense of what they need to do when practising – just a simple vocal fitness routine. Once they’ve mastered that, you can step it up.”
- A detailed explanation of all the voice changes that occur during puberty.
- The importance of making progress visible to encourage a growth mindset.