Practicing What You Preach

Demonstration trumps explanation in teaching, coaching, and counseling.

Posted Jun 20, 2012

Recently, I attended a master class where six voice teachers each spent two hours working with singers and answering questions.  It was a fascinating experience; as practitioners who, like therapists, for the most part work one-on-one with our clients, the communal learning and sharing was not only personally rewarding, but professionally important.   

The six teachers were selected in large part for their– in some instances, vast—differences in approaching and instructing the voice. Yet what intrigued me most was a relatively consistent notion: that the voice of the teacher was not integral in instruction.

Indeed, in our field, little ongoing emphasis is put on one’s ability to vocally create the results we’re looking for in our clients. For years, it has been enough that we intellectually understand the mechanics and can explain them adequately.

Yet this is a mistake. One that became apparent over the weekend time and again, as singers recreated the vocal tensions of certain teachers, rather than the latter’s verbal explanations of how to create freedom. Even when the students intellectually understood the teachers’ instructions… even when imitation led to poorer results.

Why is this?

Because when it comes to learning to sing, what a teacher does trumps what they say almost every time. 

You can be knowledgeable about vocal technique and have the ability to talk about it at great length.  You can move and inspire students with your energy and passion for the subject. Yet unless you are able to show what you’ve been telling—to demonstrate the practice of what you’re preaching– your efforts won’t be that effective.

How true this is… not only in learning to sing, but in all areas of education and instruction!

As therapists, coaches, teachers, and counselors—anyone who strives to share wisdom and knowledge with others—how often do we command without first ensuring our own understanding, without first eradicating our own rigidities, inflexibilities, and tensions?

How many of us can honestly answer ‘yes’ to the question: ‘have I done the work I’m asking this person to do?’  And as importantly, if not more: ‘am I myself able to go where he or she wants to go?’

No one is perfect. And in fact, our limitations often open the door to understanding and compassion, as well as to the ability to overcome the very faulty practices and beliefs that our clients are dealing with.

But in order to share the wisdom of these lessons, we have to actually learn the lessons. We have to have ourselves transcended the obstacles, not merely recognize that they exist. 

Said another way: we can’t rest on our laurels of intention, training, and ongoing education. We must be willing—and able—to be an example.

Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and counselor specializing in emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Click here to learn more about the differences in physical, cognitive, and creative learning in her book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice.

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