Finding your inner artist, day 27: About being wary of those who seem to know it all

Today’s quote:

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. ~ André Gide

English: André Gide, Nobel laureate in Literat...

English: André Gide, Nobel laureate in Literature 1947 Deutsch: André Gide, Nobelpreisträger für Literatur 1947 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is another post about technique…

There are various schools of thought in vocal pedagogy. Some are open-minded, others not so much. If we are talking about pedagogy, methods and technique, I would imagine this to be the same in every other artistic field.

Today, we have many so-called “scientifically proven methods”, which claim to be valid for everyone. I am glad we have them, because they did us an immense amount of good and removed a lot of guesswork. However, the danger is to become complacent and narrow-minded once something is “proven”. The validity of any study, experiment or trial hugely depends on its set-up. Provided there are no other methodical errors involved, the results of single subject studies are valid for one person (still not that uncommon in the singing world, believe it or not). Others are valid for the majority of people; some maybe even for all in that very moment. This doesn’t mean however that it is, and will stay, universally right. Large studies, including thousands of people, are still rare in singing pedagogy. I won’t even start to talk about bias and scientific misconduct now…

Physics and Chemistry are usually classed as exact sciences, Biology and Medicine already rank somewhere in the middle (this is, for instance, important to consider in my field of work), and Humanities – well…

Where am I going with this? I guess what I am trying to say is that art is definitely not an exact science – this includes its technique and methodology, but I guess most people know that. That’s why it never ceases to amaze me that some still argue as if it was. Some scientific studies related to the more technical aspects of our work are the best we have at the moment, and that’s good and helpful. I am generally wary of those though who try to tell me there is only one proven, or “best”, way of doing things, especially if there is some sort of financial interest involved.

Many roads lead to Rome, and it is important to stay open-minded, to exchange ideas, and to accept that no matter how convinced we are of our own methods, they are usually not the only way to do things…

© Petra Raspel 2013

Finding your inner artist, day 8: About being grateful to those who lit the spark

Today’s quote:

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. ~ Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer, Etching by Arthur William H...

Albert Schweitzer, Etching by Arthur William Heintzelman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a wonderful music teacher at school. I played instruments before I met her, and I had music teachers before her, but no one had ever made me feel so passionate about singing, or made me believe I could achieve what I wanted to achieve, quite like her. I am convinced I wouldn’t be the artist and teacher I am today without her. I met many other wonderful musicians and teachers throughout my life, but she was quite literally the one who lit the fire.

Do you remember who lit that spark in you? What would that person say to you in a crisis, or if you felt like giving up your art? And wouldn’t you believe them if they always believed in you?

© Petra Raspel 2013

Finding your inner artist, day 7: About head and heart

Today’s quote:

If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. ~ Marc Chagall


self-portrait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a singing teacher. I know a lot about technique, the physiology of singing and teaching methods. And sometimes, it annoys me greatly that I analyse every tiniest detail that is “off”; that I analyse technique instead of just letting music be music.
If I do this in my function as a teacher, it’s fine and often needed; if I do it as a singer, being too “brainy” about everything usually leads to nothing good: Self-doubt, trying too hard, being too technical, getting frustrated. This approach just doesn’t work, unless I only want to work on technique.

Then I need to remind myself, again, that my muscle memory knows all this stuff, that I can trust my body to take over when it matters. Most of the time, that little reminder does the trick. Sometimes, the little nagging voice refuses to be silent though. I meanwhile have a strategy: If the inner critic is too loud on a particular day and tries to sabotage me, I take that day off.

Do you sometimes catch yourself using “craft” and “art” synonymously? Do you create art from your heart or your head?

© Petra Raspel 2013

Finding your inner artist, day 3: About the curse of trying to be original

Today’s quote:

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing. ~ Salvador Dalí

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane.

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Originality! Are we not all constantly trying to create something that has never been there before? And doesn’t the attempt to constantly offer something “new” lead to frustration occasionally?

Truth is: You needn’t worry that it’s “all been there before”. If you hold on to that attitude, you will never create, because most of the things you do would then need to go into the bin straightaway.

Do you tend to dispose of ideas because you think they are not original enough, instead of just taking them as a starting point? And, if we look at the other side of the coin: Do you find yourself getting annoyed with other people supposedly “stealing” your ideas, or simply getting them out there quicker than you do?

There is of course a fine line between inspiration, copying and downright plagiarism, but the fear of not being “creative and original enough” is a serious problem if it leads to inhibitions and blocks.

So get inspired: Read, listen, watch, copy – and then put your own spin on it. It is very likely you already did that anyway, because it’s been created by YOU…

© Petra Raspel 2013

Do “learning styles” or “learning types” exist?

Working as a musician and vocal coach, I use my aural sense a lot. Before I trained professionally, I learned many songs by ear and wasn’t too keen on using sheet music – despite being able to read music from an early age. If I am totally honest, I still prefer to work this way today if I am given a choice. A classic case of being an “auditory learner”?

If I tell you now that I used to learn best at school by writing things down, even making my own little drawings to remember stuff – does that not make me a “visual learner” (some also call this “reading/writing” as a sub-preference)? What about my preference for auditory learning in music though?

I used to think that Fleming’s learning styles (VARK or VAK) exist, even incorporated them into my teaching (you can find a short summary here if you need a refresher). Meanwhile, after years of experience as a coach, I am not so sure anymore. Undoubtedly, some people prefer using their auditory sense, others their visual, the next their kinesthetic one. However, does it really mean that catering to this preference also makes them learn better?

There is a lot of discussion going on about “learning styles/types”, and how especially the ones mainly connected to one of our senses are nothing but a myth. I have to admit that the older I get, and the more I look into it, the less I actually believe them to hold much water when it really comes to learning success. The one thing I find paramount in considering what “preferred sense” we actually use when learning is:

WHAT are we trying to learn?

It might intuitively make sense for a few of us to e.g. act out the lyrics of a song to memorise them better  – would we do the same with a maths equation though? Is using our senses not somewhat of a continuum, depending on context, instead of a set-in-stone preference?

For me, the subject resurfaced again because I currently do some course work about Honey and Mumford’s learning types. And whilst no theory is perfect and can, in the worst case, lead to pigeon-holing, this one resonates with me more deeply than VARK/VAK. Straightaway: I am not a great believer in “fixed personality traits” either, because most of us are certainly able to adapt to social situations (at least to a certain extent), or even change during their lifetime. I believe however that personality has more influence on the way we learn than a preference for one of our senses.

Honey and Mumford distinguish between 4 main learning types. I won’t explain them in great depth here, but you can find ample information on the net if you are interested. One very accessible, summary-type explanation can be found here:

Honey and Mumford Learning Styles

The idea behind this model is to give the coach or teacher reasons why certain approaches might not work, and how we can make the learning experience better for the student (and to self-reflect of course). They are also supposed to encourage us to think about why people get bored, why they shut down, why they “don’t get the message”, why they might even get withdrawn or hostile.

This is by no means a scientific discussion of cognition and learning – it is just chewing over things that occupy my mind at the moment. Which might give you an idea which group I am closest to 😉

What do you think about the theory of learning styles? What is their purpose, if any? Please comment!

© Petra Raspel 2012