When I begin to work with a new student or a returning student, one of the first questions I ask is:
What are your goals?
Often I will be met by a blank stare or a frank “I dunno.”
Depending on the student, they may NOT know what their goals should be. And that’s okay! That’s where we as teachers can help and guide.
Walking them through a simple process of goal setting can make voice work rewarding for the teacher AND the student – who have something to work for collectively.
One of the best ways I’ve found to make effective goals is to use SMART goals. SMART goals are an acronym for the following:
- S – Specific. A goal should be specific. “I want to sing better” isn’t exactly an effective goal. “I want to sing like Rihanna” is more specific, but it may not be realistic. How will you know you are singing better? What parameters will you use to determine your success? A specific goal would be “I want to strengthen my chest voice/head/mix voice,” or “I’d like to develop my sight singing skills,” or “I’d like to learn more about which styles work for my voice.”
- M – Measurable. How will you measure the goal as you are progressing toward it? What parameters will you use to measure that your goal is on track? In the case of a singer that wants to work on their chest voice, success can be measured by the increasing strength of the register, evidenced through vocal cord closure (without SQUEEZE!), greater breath control, and increasing range of the register. The same is true for the head voice, which when properly developed should increase in range without distortion.
- A – Attainable. Goals that are attainable are a pleasure to achieve. No one wants to have goals that are too difficult lest the student and teacher become frustrated. Sometimes simpler is better! For example, learning an easy song and delivering it well will go a long way to set the stage for learning advanced repertoire, and a foundation of ease and joy will have been laid for the student. The question of attainability is vital to keep learning on a measured, and progressive route. Giving a high schooler a Verdi aria (it’s been done!) might be attainable, but it may not be effective if bad habits are accrued in the attempt to “GO BIG” and demonstrate achievement through a hollow “Look what I can do!” mentality.
- R – Relevant. Goals that are relevant support good vocal use and musicianship. By keeping goals relevant you are able to direct training more appropriately. For example, the singer that wants to sing musical theater AND pop music would need to set a relevant goal of achieving a strong chest voice. This goal would not only help serve their musical goals, but would also support a functionally healthy use of the instrument. Goals should always be examined for their relevance to the student’s vocal and artistic needs.
- T – Time Bound. No one wants to spend hours on something with no end in sight. Students should have goals that can be captured in the FIRST lesson! The teacher should help the student set monthly goals, semester goals, and yearly goals. For example, “In six months I will be singing with a strong, clear chest voice on [o] and [a] vowels.” Additionally, this timeliness goes a long way for PARENTS, who are paying for lessons and want to see their investment paying off. When parents understand timely goals, they can help support the practice and encouragement of the student when the teacher is not present.
At the beginning of each lesson, I will ask, “What are your goals for this session?” This way I am focused on their needs. In conjunction, I keep notes on every lesson, much like a physician, so that I can capture goals and monitor them over time. That way, when a student feels frustrated for some reason I can reach back and grab past goals to show them how far they’ve come.
I would recommend that the teacher consistently and continually reset goals according to these parameters. In some businesses goal-setting is part of a yearly performance review. Hopefully, students don’t have to wait a year before goals are reassessed and evaluated.
Goals help bring JOY to the studio because there is something to work toward, rather than aimless meandering about, or chasing irrelevant areas that may not be in the student’s best interest. Balancing goals can keep teacher and student on track and makes the work of learning to sing a celebratory event in every session.
Remember, every lesson should have at least ONE goal – the student should NEVER walk out of a lesson feeling that they didn’t accomplish something positive in the session. There is nothing worse a teacher can do than to send a student out with feelings of negativity and low self-esteem.
SMART goals can be the tool that get the results every student and teacher want.
What’s your SMART GOAL for today’s session?