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Possible Selves: Harnessing Intrinsic Motivation in Mature Singing Students

Probable Selves: Harnessing Intrinsic Motivation in Mature Singing Students

Cathryn Robson BA (Hons), CT ABRSM

www.singshop.co.uk - On the internet Singing Evaluations and Lessons

This essay will reflect on my mature students’ motivation for beginning and continuing to sing, and my tools for channelling this motivation. This part of my studentship is remarkable since they have every reason not to begin singing. Parental and peer pressure is far behind them, as is the influence of the education program. In numerous cases their voices are beginning to be affected by natural deterioration. Moreover, they are often armed with undermining memories of singing. Regardless these students recognise and value ‘…what it is that is intrinsically motivating in music…’1 so deeply that they pick to return to it later in life, with small possibility of external reward.

In surveying my mature students, numerous of whom are senior citizens, it was revealed that most decided to commence singing in order to develop self-confidence and to supply an outlet for self-expression, typical intrinsic rewards for engaging with artistic activity. Any methods I have take into account these responses and how they can be progressed within existing motivational models. It should be clarified that in referring to mature students I am referring to folks of retirement age.

Mature students very frequently come to their first lesson citing a defining childhood moment that has deterred them from singing for decades. In component they are convinced that they have no correct to sing and that I, as the ‘expert’ will reinforce this deep-rooted belief. These undermining memories are simultaneously ‘away from’ and ‘towards’ motivators and if they are not addressed a stasis prevails. One student revealed a couple of weeks following we started working together that whenever she opened her mouth she heard her 20 year old self singing out of tune along to a Joan Baez song. The student had recorded herself on reel-to-reel, listened back and been so appalled by what she heard that she threw the recording away and decided never ever to sing once more. Given the student’s evident capability this memory was surprising so in a subsequent lesson I asked if she would allow me to record her performing the material we had been operating on. In listening back she heard that her voice is in truth expressive, resonant and most definitely in tune which did much to increase her self-confidence, a vital step in any motivational model. Further recording in the course of lessons is offering a pragmatic and powerful antidote for this student’s ‘negative transference’2 and new memories are starting to replace the 40 year-old one. The reality that ‘…students can be very complex, getting a selection of conflicting motivational forces inside them…’3 is something teachers want to be particularly sensitive to when dealing with less confident singers.

Further utilizing technologies in the studio, I have started to video students throughout lessons, naturally with their consent. As I have located these observations so instructive it occurred to me that students could also find the encounter valuable. 1 elderly student had poor posture and this was compromising her breathing, regardless of her best attempts to address it. It was only when she could observe herself stooping and tensing in the footage that she appreciated what we had been trying to previously eradicate. The beauty in utilizing digital technology is that playback is instant and painless and corrections can be put into practice quickly. It also gives me an alternative to correcting by means of ‘negative demonstration’, which can be interpreted as tactless by fragile students. When a student is shown that the tools for improvement are effortlessly within their reach they become motivated to put these into practice and their self-confidence expands. In this above case the student re-sang the aria following adjusting her posture and the improvement to her sound was immense.

Although all of my mature students cite self-expression as a major reason for starting to sing a lot of of them are wary of what this actually involves. Thinking about this, I introduce the exploration of emotional colour by means of routine scale and arpeggio warm-ups. Foreign language phrases are utilised in these musical shapes so that there is no intimate or instant meaning for native English speakers. As a result the physical exercise is unthreatening and paradoxically the emotions explored turn out to be impersonal. The student and I take turns singing with a specific emotion in mind, leaving the other to guess which emotion we are attempting to convey. Dynamics, tempi and improvisation are explored. Successful attempts are noted and analysed so that the student starts to create a sort of vocal palette of expressive sounds and strategies. The most inhibited students lose themselves in these ‘nonsense language’ exercises and we have a lot of fun. This has been keenly evident in my most taciturn and self-crucial student, a septuagenarian, who lately told me he is beginning to trust his ability to emote in songs. Already he is preparing for the next student concert, picking unusual and exposing material. Similarly, 1 of my mature female students stated that she felt she had ‘come home’ soon after working with belt technique, a sound a lot of ladies initially knowledge as becoming raucous and ‘unfeminine’. Older students have proven to grasp the exercise’s efficacy, i.e. its transference to repertoire, more speedily than my younger ones. Suffice to say that in exploring emotion and texture in their voices singers can come into get in touch with with vocal ‘possible selves’ – those entities identified by motivational theorists. Students are motivated by having crossed into what was expected to be vulnerable territory and surviving.This is no little task for any student though entrenched habits of ‘not doing’ can make it more taxing for mature ones.

Elevated self-confidence has a positive impact all round and moving on to tasks such as tackling difficult repertoire is much less daunting as a result. Acknowledging that ‘…motivation is most likely to boost when the pupils understand why they are performing what they do...’4 I have started to classify the repertoire I cover with all of my students, grading it and pointing out how it positive aspects them, e.g. excellent for legato singing, agility, operating the chest register etc. The self-confidence of my mature students has soared seeing the grades of the pieces they are undertaking and they have reacted properly to the reality that I have high expectations of them. This is mirrored in their practice my clarity is rewarded by their clarity as they are a lot more particular about what they are aiming to attain in the course of the week. Not many of my older students had been aware that singing can be formally examined and many are beginning to express an interest in this possibility. These students seemingly appreciate teacher-led and conventional strategies of learning, maybe due to becoming of a generation exactly where such approaches prevailed.

The intrinsic rewards of singing, the aforementioned self-confidence and self-expression desired by my mature students, cannot thrive in a vacuum. Singing is not a solitary activity. When a student sees and hears themselves through recorded media as a result of lesson tasks it crystallises their awareness that their intrinsic motivation can be expressed in an extrinsic objective i.e. live efficiency for an audience. Most students do ultimately want to share their discovery of musical and self-expression with others. This is some thing that all of my mature students have started to do, numerous for the initial time in their lives. Locally there are couple of but notable outlets for this e.g. a choir for retired folks and a nearby amateur dramatics group made up of the same. Other opportunities to facilitate this transition between intrinsic and extrinsic are put into place by me with student concerts and recordings. The ‘new task’5 of live efficiency and its subsequent completion, ensures students maintain travelling the motivational circuit, consolidating technique, new skills and confidence as they progress. The deadline of a student concert focuses efforts all round and all stages of the Crozier/ Harris motivational model are explored in preparation for it.

Mature students are exciting to perform with as performers and artists. Life knowledge equates with emotional maturity and this can be harnessed by interpretive tools in a number of approaches. The most recent approach I have utilised is the ‘ad lib story’ which can clarify motivation within a song, and consequently result in a a lot more informed expression by the student. The student and I make a decision on the parameters of the story, relating it to the theme and characters of the song to be worked on. We pass the story back and forth until it has reached a natural conclusion and the student is motivated to sing. As a result the student launches into the song with far more expressive clarity and connection than they would have had otherwise. This exercise has confirmed to be a success with all of my older students in spite of some initial reticence and claims of ‘not becoming excellent at stories’.

An additional interpretive tool I introduce is the neutral mask, a standard training device for actors. The student puts on the neutral half-mask and sings a chosen song in front of the studio mirror. The mask helps the student in two respects its blankness can facilitate the student in moving into an impersonal and timeless space from which freedom of emotional connection in the singing can take location. The second benefit of the mask is that the limits of individual physique vocabulary turn into evident as the usual focus of communication, the face, is hidden. Working at moving in a totally free, open and impersonal way helps the student open into the song. The mask facilitates expression and has verified to be especially valuable for shy students. One elderly student remarked that operating with the mask gave her the confidence to carry out in front of her peers. Both the ‘ad lib story’ and neutral mask remove the burden of private responsibility for the song. A bonus of each exercises is the insight I acquire about how comfy a student is approaching correct-brain tasks.

Gentle competitiveness is also a great motivator. Mature students can be very competitive with themselves, by way of watching and hearing their recorded performances and targeting how they can be improved. They also bounce off each other via this watching and listening, giving feedback on every single other’s performances and being inspired by seeing their peers achieving vocal objectives. After the most recent student concert the video recording and feedback circulated for weeks. As vocal role models for older people do not proliferate in our youth-oriented society, these group experiences are affirming.

Motivation is a vast topic and my perform would benefit from much more exploration of its different facets. In reflecting on intrinsic motivation it is clear that the psychological aspects of teaching and singing merit further investigation. I really feel that the perform of Lucinda Mackworth-Young and voice coach Patsy Rodenburg would provide very good beginning points for this route.

Mature students come to singing out of the blue for several distinct reasons and with numerous diverse expectations. When Keith Swanwick states that a ‘…strong sense of private significance happens regularly enough to motivate numerous men and women to put themselves in the way of musical experiences...”6 it is initially for me to discover what this personal significance may possibly be and to go about expanding and nurturing it. Responding to older students’ intrinsic motivation is rewarding because it is varied and such students have a maturity and clarity in their aims. An additional significant benefit I have gained by way of operating with older students listening to tales of lost vocal knowledge from their perspective motivates me even far more keenly to not generate the vocally damaged of the future. I endeavour to anchor my younger students in their voices and to give them the tools for generating their vocal ‘possible selves’ accessible throughout their lives.

Hallam, S (2002) Musical Motivation: towards a model synthesising the research
(Music Education Analysis Vol. 4, No.2)

Mackworth-Young, L (2000) Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians who are Teaching, Studying and Performing (MMM Publications)

Crozier/ Scaife/ Marks (2004) All Together! Teaching Music in Groups (ABRSM Publishing)

Swanwick, K (1999) Teaching Music Musically (Routledge)

Crozier/ Harris (2000) The Music Teacher’s Companion (ABRSM Publishing)

1 Hallam, S (2002) Musical Motivation towards a model synthesising the investigation

2 &amp 3 Mackworth-Young, L (2000) Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians who are Teaching, Understanding and Performing

4 Crozier/ Scaife/ Marks (2004) All Together! Teaching Music in Groups

five Crozier/ Harris (2000) Circular Motivational Model for Studying

6 Swanwick, K (1999) Teaching Music Musically

© Cathryn Robson 2009