Does this sound familiar to you?
You’ve practiced for weeks, months even, and you’re finally ready to share your song with a friend. You’re freaking out a little bit, but you really want to give it a shot. You muster up all your courage, and you hit play on your practice recording, or right there in front of them, you sing your heart out. Maybe it’s not your best performance, but it’s definitely not your worst. You pour all your energy into the moment, use all your new singing and performance techniques. You let down your guard, and you let your music flow…as best you can, anyway.
The song ends. Time stands still for a moment. Your vulnerability meter is at 50 out of 10, completely off the dial. Despite what you’ve been taught, you probably didn’t make one second of eye contact with your audience the entire time. So, you catch your breath and slowly look up, waiting for your friend to exclaim one of two things: ‘Ermahgod, you’re the next Adele!’, or ‘Oof, that was terrible. Maybe find a different hobby.’
Instead, perhaps you got one of these replies:
► A sweet, sort of half-smile, and, with a little shrug they say, “it’s good.”
Though the words ‘it’s good’ are technically positive, you somehow feel deflated. Or maybe you just feel a little awkward and don’t know what to ask next. Sharing your song with your friend was such a major milestone in your life that you expected some sort of major feedback. Instead, all you got was ‘it’s good’. You notice that your friend looks like they feel a little uncomfortable being asked any more questions, so you just let it go, feeling weirdly bummed and vowing to ask your singing teacher what the heck just happened.
► A list of what you did wrong, and/or advice for things to practice next.
Though the spirit of the person giving the feedback is probably well-intentioned, you still somehow feel deflated. Their list of things for you to work on next completely ignores all the work you’ve already done to get to this point, and you feel a little upset that your efforts to not only learn singing and performance techniques, but also conquer 4,297 fears about singing in front of someone besides your cat, have gone completely unnoticed. You’re suddenly not even sure you should sing anymore, but you vow to go to your next singing lesson and at least talk to your singing teacher about what the heck just happened.
We totally get it.
We’ve been there. And by ‘there’ we mean to tip of the ‘that’s not the kind of feedback I wanted’ iceberg, and we’ve slid aaaaall the way down. Along the way, we compiled these super helpful tips so you can get the feedback you need to help you stay focused, motivated, creative and having fun!
How to ask for and receive useful feedback in a way that doesn’t completely crush your dreams, or deflate your ego.
1. Choose only 2 or 3 people to form your feedback circle.
If you ask too many people for feedback, you’ll start to get a lot of conflicting advice. This will sow unnecessary confusion and doubt. That’s not to say that the 2 or 3 people in your feedback circle won’t also give you conflicting feedback, but you’ll have an easier time sorting through it, and choosing which elements to integrate, if you start with smaller number.
2. Choose those people wisely.
Find just a few people who you trust, who understand why singing is important to you, and who are in support of your creativity and personal growth. The people to share your music with are the ones who are in awe of your bravery, and excited for the fun you’re having. You don’t want people who will only give you positive feedback either. Be sure to choose people who will be truly honest with you, while also being thoughtful and tactful about how they communicate both the positive and less-positive elements.
There are a few types of people you want to be extra careful with when you asking them for feedback:
► Those who’ve never experienced adult beginner singing lessons.
They don’t have any idea or frame of reference for knowing how scary it is to sing in front of someone. Not only do they have no idea how much work you’ve done on your singing and performance technique, which of course is a lot, they also don’t know how much work you’ve done on yourself, in order to conquer all those fears and take this bold new singing step.
They love you, and they are happy for you that you are pursuing your fun hobby, but they just really have no idea the layers of effort and vulnerability that go into this, or any other creative pursuit. Unless they fall into the category of people who understand and support you in the depths of your growth and creativity, this type of person will tend to give you surface-level feedback that has the potential to leave you feeling a little hollow.
► People who just don’t ‘get’ why you are taking singing lessons.
Sometimes there are friends or family members who will have a negative reaction to the fact that you’re taking singing lessons. They often have hidden fears or anxieties about their own voices, or have the misconception that a person would have to be in pursuit of fame or glory in order to study music or singing. They don’t understand that singing for fun and pleasure can be it’s own thing.
In other cultures, people sing all the time, and for all kinds of reasons. In America, because we have commercialized singing and made it competitive, it’s hard for people to remember that singing is a way to connect with yourself and your community. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone for why you want to sing, or for why you want to explore becoming a more confident singer or person. This is for you, whether they understand it or they don’t.
If someone is not able to set their own blocks aside to understand and support your point of view, there is a high potential that if you ask them for feedback, you will just feel bad afterward.
► Other singers or musicians who think they know everything.
Whether they are fellow amateurs or professionals, and whether they have taken formal lessons or are self-taught, there are a lot of musicians out there who will regale you with everything they think you’re doing wrong or need to practice to ‘get to the next level’. This is sometimes in the spirit of helping you become a better singer, and sometimes it’s an opportunity for them to boost their own confidence and ego by pointing out how much they know, and how little you know.
You do not have to share your singing or musical projects with anyone who feels uncomfortable, or anyone who makes you feel bad for wanting to sing. Your singing is yours. Your journey is yours. You are doing excellent work and making lots of progress, in your own way, at your own level, no matter what anyone else tells you, or how important they believe themselves to be.
3. Be specific in your feedback requests.
Broad feedback is not only less useful to you in terms of guiding your practice, it’s also more likely to leave you feeling triggered or confused about what’s working or not working. Rather than asking if it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or the death trap of vagueness, ‘what did you think?’, you can help the other person give you really helpful and useful answers, by drilling it down for them.
Try asking a lot of narrow or specific questions, such as:
“How was the volume of my voice?”
“What did you think about the quality of the tone on that one high note in the second chorus?”
“I was trying to get it to sound like ______ , does it sound like I achieved that?”
“Did I sound like I was running out of breath?”
“Was my chest voice coming through in the first line of the first verse?”
“I felt a little pitchy toward the end, did you hear that, too?”
4. Explain what you want the person to listen for before you begin.
You can further set you and your listener up for emotional safety and effective feedback sharing before you even begin your song. Do this by stating , in advance, what it is you want the listener to pay attention to, such as:
“I’m taking singing lessons and I want to challenge myself to sing in front of someone. Can you listen? No feedback, please.”
“I’m trying to work on this one note in this one part of the song. Can you pay attention to that part and give me your thoughts?”
“I’m having trouble getting from the bridge to the chorus, but I’m not sure what it is. Can you listen and tell me what you think is happening?”
5. Separate the technical questions from the style questions.
Like all creative expressions, there is much subjectivity when it comes to defining the quality of a person’s singing. Whenever possible, separate your technical inquiry from your stylistic inquiry. This way, you can get clear on what parts of your technique and singing education you need to focus on, versus which areas you and your friend simply have shared or opposite artistic tastes.
Some examples of technical inquiries:
“Can you help me decide where to breathe in between the 3rd and 4rd line of the second verse.”
“Am I hitting the pitch accurately on the top note in the second chorus?”
“Do you have advice for smoothing the transition from chest voice to head voice in the bridge?”
Some examples of stylist questions:
“I really love belting that first chorus, but do you think it undermines the tenderness of the song?”
“The original artist sings the second verse mostly in head voice, but I like to sing it in chest voice; what do you think?”
“I arranged this in a new key. How do you like it?”
6. Choose what to integrate and what to leave behind.
Your voice is your voice. Your singing practice is your singing practice. You get to decide which pieces of feedback you want to incorporate into your work, and what just doesn’t feel right to you. You have complete and total permission to follow your instincts, and follow your own creative flow.
These are our 6-Tips for asking for and receiving feedback!
We hope that if you’ve had a negative or awkward experience, that this helps you see that it’s not just you. We hope these tips help your take care of the vulnerability you may experience when you begin to take your singing to the wider world. We also hope these tips help you feel safe and energized to go get the feedback you seek from the people in your life to help guide you along your singing journey.
We want to hear from you!
We only shared a few awkward feedback scenarios. What experiences have you had? What tips and advice would you give?
Did you try any of these tips? How well did they work for you?
Please share in the comments!