Student’s confidence is something I have been aware of for a long time while running visual art workshops; particularly how vulnerable we can feel when we are in creative group situations. However, since moving into singing delivery as a support worker in group singing workshops at The Garage in Norwich, I have noticed how much deeper this vulnerability goes when the activity is singing, particularly in teenagers.

Recently, I have been considering why we feel so vulnerable when we sing, and how workshop leaders and supporters can help participants feel safe so that they can make the most of their time. Whenever we are creative we are showing part of our personal lives and feelings to other people, which is understandably a nerve-wracking thing to do. Singing is definitely one of these activities, and the emotional nature of music adds to the feeling of exposure, especially when students don’t know each other. There is also a very black and white idea of ‘natural talent’ attached to singing, which can seem to make students feel that they either ‘can’ or ‘can’t’ sing, when in reality they need to learn, practise, make mistakes and progress, just like learning any other skill or instrument.

In any situation, laughing can help most people feel relaxed. In singing workshops, I have noticed that showing students it is okay to laugh at themselves and to laugh with other singers when things go wrong is a quick and effective way to introduce students to the idea that getting a note, melody or timing wrong is not a disaster, and doesn’t mean they are a “bad” singer, boosting their confidence to try again when things do go wrong. Getting everybody (including the tutors and support workers!) to be silly at the start of a session during warm up exercises can relax everyone really early on in the session and shows them it’s okay to laugh at themselves, and that no one will single them out if they do get something wrong. Warm ups also help get students physically and mentally ready to sing, and helps them feel more confident straight away through the shared activity.

When a student isn’t confident in their abilities it can be especially scary for them to think about doing a solo performance. Offering but not pushing the opportunity to do solos during a group song helps students have a go at performing alone, without the pressure of carrying a whole song start to finish. I have also noticed the importance of validating student’s opinions and music preferences, while offering them a broader musical awareness that can expose them to artists they haven’t heard of, helping them find their own style and voice through listening to other singers.

Throughout sessions, reminders to students that they are able to speak up if they don’t understand, and that no one will get annoyed with them for asking questions if they need to can help less confidence students feel able to ask if they are feeling lost, and help them regain their hold on the song. Praising students and telling them when they have done well is also a lovely way to boost confidence and make them feel proud and safe, which is when most people learn and progress best.

Image: Teele Photography

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