Deliver standout student-led singing lessons by asking these simple coaching questions.
When it comes to figuring out what makes a great coaching question, who better to turn to for inspiration than motivational guru Julie Starr?
The respected author of The Coaching Manual says brilliant questions are simple, yet “gently tease open the next avenue of thought”. They influence the direction of thought without being controlling or over complicated.
So how can singing teachers incorporate Starr’s wisdom into their own lessons? To find out, the Singing Teachers Talk podcast spoke to BAST founder and vocal coach Line Hilton (who also happens to be a big Starr fan). In the podcast, Line discusses the best coaching questions to use to learn about a singer’s goals, mindset and thinking.
Here are ten coaching questions Line commonly asks. How many do you use in your teaching practice?
1 How does it feel?
This is an open-ended question – Line’s preferred method of inquiry. Open-ended questions start with “how”, “why” or “what” and are designed to get students talking as opposed to closed questions which generate a simple yes or no response.
2 Was that better, worse or the same as what you’ve done in the past?
If your open-ended question prompts a shrug of the shoulders and not much else, it may be that the student is unable to explain what they’re experiencing. Asking a question where the student can give a grade can be helpful.
3 What are your goals?
A student will be more motivated if they feel they’re working towards a goal. It also helps you tailor lessons if you understand what the student is aiming for.
4 Can you teach me this concept?
If you’ve explained a tricky concept to a student, ask them to teach it back to you to see if they’ve understood it.
5 How do you think you learn best?
Some students absorb information best through reading about a subject; others learn more effectively through visual guides such as videos or kinaesthetically (through movement and physical activity). Knowing what works best for a student can help you individualise their training.
6 What’s your week been like?
If a student is distracted or emotional, they could be struggling with a personal issue such as a relationship breakdown or bereavement. You may need to change your lesson plan or simply talk through what’s been going on. Singing teachers aren’t counsellors but it’s not uncommon for students to confide in us.
7 What do you want to focus on today?
Students are more likely to be on board in a lesson if they’re learning something they’re interested in – such as a song or genre that they love.
8 Why do you want to focus on that today?
This follows on from the previous question and may help you discover if a student has an audition or gig in the pipeline they want to prepare for.
9 Can you paraphrase what I just said?
A student might nod and say they understand you, but it’s possible they’ve misunderstood the concept you’ve just explained or didn’t want to admit they were lost.
10 Did you notice if there was any tension in your throat/if your vocal folds were closing more or not?
Sometimes it’s helpful to ask a leading question that directs a student to a specific part of the body. If a student isn’t tuning into what they feel, a suggestive question can prompt awareness.
And now two questions you might ask about student-led lessons
How can I plan for lessons?
If so much depends on what a student says when they walk into your studio, how can you ever plan ahead? And what if an inexperienced student says they want to focus on a vocal technique that they’re not ready for?
One way around these problems is to provide structure by signing an agreement with the student. This might sound heavy-duty, but it’s really about the two of you agreeing what the singer is trying to achieve.
For example, a student may have agreed their goal is to become a good all-round singer. But then one week they say they want to work on belt, even though they can’t yet navigate their transition in a balanced way. What then?
“Explain that you’re working towards their ultimate goal, but they need to learn the basics about how to balance their voice before they can dive into belting,” Line says. “Having an agreement can mitigate disappointment.”
And what if a student just wants to be told?
Some people want an expert to take control and may be resistant or uncomfortable when they’re encouraged to find the answers themselves (under your guidance). This is common when a person lacks confidence or is new to singing.
In this situation, gradually build up a student’s awareness by asking reflective questions. “You can also think out loud, so you’re explaining to a student what’s going on in your mind and why you’re getting them to do a particular exercise,” Line says. “You’re not asking them questions, but you’re showing your thinking and getting them to reflect on the thought process behind the lesson.”
Listen to the full podcast to also learn:
- Other good ways to get students to learn.
- Why it’s useful to create space for discussion in lessons.
Transform your teaching
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