Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life-long learning

As a voice teacher, primarily of adults, I meet a lot of people who have been told at some point (usually early on) that they cannot sing, have no talent, etc. This type of person has made a decision to confront early life experience of a negative kind to find out what is actually possible. We know from many studies that how you understand failure in music is a powerful predictor of whether you stay with it or give it up. Research has shown that those students who attribute failure to lack of ability tend to give up; those that attribute it to lack of effort stay with it. It would be interesting to know how many of those students who gave up music come back to it as adult learners.

It is a conviction of mine that development in later life has a lot to do with revisiting situations from early life that left us incomplete or unsatisfied. For example, working out at the gym leaves me with a particular sense of accomplishment; the gym was the scene of much trauma and humiliation as a child. As an adult, I can reclaim that experience and cast it in a new mold.

Financial and time constraints will always play a part in ongoing adult learning. For an adult to invest time and money in studying music means prioritization. Music must be given a higher priority for time and resources than the other things in one’s life. For myself, ongoing development has been an important part of my identity. I was one of those musicians who couldn’t get it all from teachers. By the age of 26, I had decided that whatever further progress I would make as a singer was going to come from my own efforts. That began a life-long struggle to acquire vocal competence.

If you want to keep singing past the age of 45, you have to learn to accommodate the changes that life brings you. Essentially, I believe that all singers who continue into later life have to be engaged in a practice of on-going learning. I read recently an excellent article on Tony Bennet, still singing in his 80’s. He has a set of warm-up exercises from his teacher, and a carefully worked-out regime that allows him to keep performing. He too, is engaged in on-going life-long learning.
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