PERFECT PRACTICE: Three more Feedback Rules

Rule 27:  Limit Yourself

practiceperfectI just had a recent experience where the speaker for that day did a 45 minute knowledge dump.  At one point, about 20 minutes into the sermon, I wrote to my wife, “What is the purpose of his talk? What is the take-a-way from his sermon”? It was clear to me that this guy needed to “tame his inner expert” as the author’s of Practice Perfect put it. They go on to say “knowledge can get in the way of learning when it isn’t doled out in manageable pieces.”  Amen.

And what do I do in Thursday’s rehearsal last week!  Here I am in the 3rd rehearsal of the year and I can’t wait to hear “The Old Church” by Steven Paulus performed perfect. You know with good tuning, diction, phrasing, and passion. That is not asking for too much. After all, I sat them down and gave them the score markings, the diction rules, and even played the notes for them.  I devoted about 45 minutes to this and the result:  frustrated myself and my choir. It sucked the momentum out of the rehearsal.

Limit the Amount of Feedback

I repented and the next day rehearsal was fantastic! What did I do different the next day? I “chunked up the material” putting the song into a sequence that moved us toward our goal of successfully singing this piece.  My students experienced success along the way and created momentum; the energy you need to keep working.  A lack of energy in a rehearsal can be fueled by many different things:  improper vocal technique, fatigue, rehearsal pacing not right, and just life.  Some causes are not in my control to change, but one that certainly is:  the ratio between stretch and success  Am I stretching too much? Are we experiencing learning success? Structuring the learning journey is my job and being aware of how I give feedback can make a big difference.

Author’s Summary

  • Limit Yourself Limit the amount of feedback you give; people can focus on and use only a few things at a time.
  • When people get feedback from multiple sources, use a tracker to ensure that what people hear is consistent and not overwhelming.

Rule 28;  Make It An Everyday Thing

If I want my choir to get better then I must be in the feedback mode in each rehearsal. Feedback must be part of “the what I do” every day.  It is a mindset. You take a day off and rehearsal becomes a waste of time. One way to help create an environment where feedback is normal is to use “sentence starters” like “Do it again and make the F# higher . . .” and “What if you tried . . .”  I have no problem giving corrective feedback.  I want to fix.  I have to remind myself to sprinkle positive feedback along the way and that is where the sentence starters really help. I try to keep sentence starters like “Your strongest section of the piece is …” or “Your best vowel is …”  or “I like the way you crescendo on the breath at this spot…” or “Wow, you have no problem sustaining that for the full eight counts ….”  Feedback should be a normal part of every rehearsal.

Author’s Summary

  • The more consistently you give and get feedback, the more normal it is.
  • Start giving feedback right away when you begin practicing. If you wait until something negative requires it, feedback will be linked to the idea of a mistake.
  • Use sentence starters to help everyone give both positive and constructive feedback

Rule 29:  Describe The Solution (Not The Problem)

Too often I describe what the students are doing wrong like “jaw is tight” or “you are not getting an expansive breath.”  I am making an effort to align with Rule 29.  If I describe the solution in detail on the front end and give the student some shorthand that communicates the solution effectively or a conducting gesture then all I have to do is use those meaningful phrases or gestures like “release the jaw,”  “feel rib expansion,” or use a vowel hand gesture to remind of vowel placement and shape.  Although it takes time to develop on the front end, it saves tons of time in rehearsals the remainder of the year. 

Author’s Summary

  • Try to move from “don’t” statements that tell participants what not to do to “what to do” statements that tell them how to succeed.
  • Make sure your guidance is specific and actionable.
  • Look for ways to abbreviate commonly given guidance to make it easier and faster to use

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Johnny Matlock 217 West 24th Street Hays, Kansas 67601 Phone: 785-623-1412 Email: