Learning Styles in the Voice Studio (part 2)
By Jeremy Ryan Mossman
In my previous Think Voice Blog article, I provided an overview of an adaptation of David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Wheel that identifies ways a student may process and perceive their voice while learning. In this second part, we are going to look at some dynamic ways of using Kolb’s Learning Wheel to sequence learning moments with ideas from our very own Estill workbooks. We’ll also fold in elements critical to the art of teaching, including balancing mindset, rate of student growth, and aligning communication styles.
As you read on, you’ll see how intuitive Kolb’s Learning Wheel can be. In one lesson, you may go around the wheel too many times to recognize that you’re doing it!
Here’s an example of what one round of the wheel might look like:
Have the student…
- Perform a song or phrase.
- Reflect on quality, effort, unexpected challenges, unexpected brilliance – anything that bubbled up while they were singing or after.
- Conceptualize options or possible solutions to meet their goals through imaginary practicing, building awareness, singing silently, images, videos, etc.
- Experiment with their conceptualized options mindfully.
The initial performance is the concrete experience. It is the reference for improvement. Once the student completes the steps of reflecting, conceptualizing options, and experimenting, they perform the song again to see how the experience has changed, and the cycle continues. Each time around the wheel naturally leads to more nuanced experience than the previous one. The wheel eventually may feel more like a spiral as your student reaches their goal.
Ways Around the Wheel
I remember my first Estill Level 1 & 2 with the incomparable Dr. Kim Steinhauer. She shared a bit of research that the most effective practice habits are “deliberate, focused, and randomized.” Below are some deliberately organized ideas that may inspire some focused randomization in your teaching.
Alternate between performing and practicing through the lesson:
- Vary acting intentions or emotional quality, examine the correlated voice quality changes.
- Imagine performing a song or phrase as specifically as possible, then sing it aloud while maintaining a mindful focus of what was sensed while conceptualizing.
- Practice the specific movements of a Figure without sound, then add sound to the movements to discover the quality.
- Sing a phrase in each of the Estill Voice Qualities one after the other randomly, then perform it again focusing on the actual intention for expression.
Balance knowledge and awareness:
- The student commits to the storytelling of a song. The teacher observes and evaluates key Estill Figures, then helps to unpack the ‘recipe.’
- The student performs while focusing solely on vocal expression; keeping eyes, face, and arms uninvolved. The teacher then guides the student to sense and make meaning out of that experience by creating a recipe or unpacking a key Figure.
- The teacher introduces an Estill Figure, then the student applies conditions to the song. Both can then discuss how the emotional quality was different with each choice.
- Together, the teacher and student analyze a video for visible technique like lip shape, head/neck alignment, patterns in torso engagement, etc. Then, the student can try applying said techniques to their performance.
Balance holism and atomism:
Big Picture to Little Picture
- Introduce an Estill Voice Quality, then break down the components through the lesson.
- Create the image of a Voice Quality on Voiceprint, then identify and practice controlling key acoustic features. The teacher slowly guides the student’s awareness to physical movements involved in creating the visual and aural change.
Little Picture to Big Picture
- Siren, Miren, sing!
- Experiment with how facial expression affects voice quality. The teacher can guide the student to sense and integrate the upstream/downstream flow between power, source, and filter.
Comfort in Learning
Sequencing in this way requires great attention and skill as each student will bring their own unique balance of processing and perceiving while learning – like an attractor state – that keeps them stuck in one quadrant on the wheel:
- They may gravitate towards keeping their experience concrete and always act, but have trouble articulating how they’re doing what they’re doing.
- They may love to discuss their sensations and awareness, but need motivation to use their reflection for growth.
- They may be all about ‘their sound,’ but feel insecure and unstable if asked to experiment.
- They may love to learn Estill Figures, but need encouragement to release themselves from that ‘practice’ and ‘perform’ the story.
Pay close attention for the learning preferences of the student you’re working with, and also pay close attention to discover yours! You may gravitate towards teaching Figures before Qualities, or visa versa. You may like to describe things or prefer to demonstrate them. As a singer, you may process physical activity more than sensation, and so on. See if you can identify any clues in how you reacted to some of the ‘ways around the wheel!’
Theoretically, the rate of a student’s growth is the difference between your preference on the wheel and theirs. Students who process and perceive similar to you will naturally understand your perspective far easier than those who have a different way of seeing things. Some of your students think and talk like actors, some like singing technicians, some in more esoteric ways. Find a way to speak the language of each student, while using your acute ears to ensure they are reaching their goals with accuracy and efficiency. Align yourself to your students more and see what kind of change that brings to the energetic flow in your studio. Learning to adapt your style to theirs will be a great gift you give to your students and yourself.
Teaching the Whole Wheel
Ideally, a performer would be able to stay in the moment, but sometimes something unexpected happens. It could be a little phlegm, a misplaced vowel, the wrong sort of breath. When that occurs, performers need to rely on their mind’s eye to assess the situation, conceptualize a solution and apply it, and hopefully get back into the moment without derailment. Ultimately, the goal is to train and balance all four quadrants on the wheel so the students are more cognitively aware and able to strategize when things don’t go as expected.
Teaching with this sequence for learning in mind will help your students become better craftspeople and artists when it really matters. This is why, though it is important to know a student’s natural positioning on the wheel, each student needs to eventually find their way to familiarity and comfort in each step of the process; or else, they will embody Einstein’s definition of insanity: “repeating the same things, expecting different results.” The doers will keep trying, the thinkers will stay in their head, the feelers may not fully transmit their expression from their voice to their eyes, hands, body, soul, and the experimenters may never let go and give in to the moment.
As teachers, knowing what our students need to know is only part of our job. The art and greatest challenge of teaching is learning who our students are, and how we can help them grow as strong, intelligent artists. That means identifying their learning preferences, teaching them in their learning language, and maximizing their learning potential. Our curiosity as teachers becomes their curiosity and tenacity as performers. With this approach, we can move from instructor to guide as our students become self-sufficient craftspeople, capable of limitless artistry and performance magic.