Accepting feedback is challenging for most people, but is a necessary part of being a singer. Because we don’t have the ability to hear ourselves and assess our own techniques, we need regular feedback from others. We also get feedback all of the time from teachers, coaches, friends, family, colleagues, agents and auditioners as a matter of course. Raising your comfort level for taking in and processing feedback will make your long journey as a singer a much healthier one on emotional and vocal levels.
Accepting positive feedback is often extremely difficult for singers to do. Singers tend to be perfectionists and don’t want to admit they are good until they are almost perfect. That makes it difficult to acknowledge progression along the way. However, it is very important to recognize and celebrate the small accomplishments. They are a crucial part of keeping your spirits up and spurring you on to further success. Without these small steps, the larger steps towards a wonderful vocal technique are out of reach.
One easy way to start recognizing the positive feedback is to keep a journal of the compliments you receive. Write them down as soon as you can, because they are easy to forget. As you record them, realize that the person who gave that compliment to you really meant it and made an effort to communicate it to you. Therefore, the comment deserves your full consideration. When you have a bad practice session or a bad audition, read through the compliments to lift your mood. This type of written record will help you develop more perspective on your singing and carry you through the low times.
All singers have to put up with negative comments – all singers. Even the greatest singers have had terrible things said about their voices. But they did not let those comments stop them from pursuing their dreams. They remembered the comments, as singers do, but they kept working on their singing, until they reached their goals. The next time you get a negative, hurtful comment, keep that in mind.
Consider the source
All feedback is not equal. You always have to consider the source. The constructive feedback of a knowledgeable, experienced teacher who knows your voice is very different from the thoughtless, sarcastic comment from a hungry auditioner who is only thinking about lunch. Those who hear you just once are reacting to their impressions of the day, filtered through their own understanding. Since that understanding can vary greatly from those who know the ideals of the different voice types well to those who know very little about classical singing, it is always better to take most feedback with a huge grain of salt.
Ego also plays a huge part in those offering feedback. If you are singing for someone with the same voice type, that person might be much more critical of you for that reason alone. S/he wants to feel superior and picks apart your performance to that end. If you remind an auditioner of an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, for example, you might be rejected purely for that reason alone, despite an excellent audition.
There are also voice teachers, not very accomplished at teaching, who blame the student for his/her lack of improvement. This is quite common in universities and many extremely talented singers give up their professional ambitions as a result, which is a loss to the classical singing world. If your teacher is consistently negative about your voice and singing and you are not improving, realize that the teacher is blaming you for his/her inability to help and it is probably time to change teachers.
Differences for women vs. men
Because there are so many more women singers in the classical music world, we are therefore subjected to more negative feedback. It is unfortunate and very unfair, but true. The next time you do an audition and there are 20 other sopranos for one role and two baritones for two roles, realize that any feedback you receive is going to reflect the fact that every tiny flaw will be scrutinized in the women’s voices, but not in the men’s voice.
A lot of negative feedback can be discounted as more reflective of the giver than you the singer. But if trustworthy sources with expertise and your best interests at heart offer feedback that you don’t like or doesn’t fit with your opinions, be open to giving the feedback some real thought. This includes changes in fach. Ask yourself if it could be true and something you need to modify or address. They could be giving you extremely important information that you need to further your vocal technique and career. Ignoring this type of helpful feedback will only hurt your singing in the long-run.
In the end, it is up to you and you alone to decide what feedback you will believe and allow to affect your opinion of your own voice. Before you take every comment made to you as the gospel truth, consider the source, the source’s possible motivation and ask yourself, “Do I really believe that to be true?” (Try to determine the difference between believing and wishing. We singers all wish for certain things, but need to face the reality of the instruments with which we were born.) If you don’t believe it to be true, toss it aside. If you do, act on it by improving and moving upward to a new level of technical accomplishment. After all, singing is always about constantly assessing, improving and perfecting the voice, in order to bring the highest level of artistry to the stage. It is a never-ending process.
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