The Power of Being Allowed to Struggle

I have been the voice student who was ‘fixed’ in each lesson. The teacher skillfully guided me with constant verbal cues to produce an optimal sound. She fixed me at every mis-step, rather than letting me explore with my own body to find the desired sound. Of course, when I tried to practice outside of lessons I couldn’t reproduce what I had done so skillfully in my lessons and I was frustrated: I hadn’t been given the chance to struggle in a good way.

This week I was reminded to remember the value of struggle as it relates to helping us learn.

I had the chance to hear Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure speak at a talk in my town. She reminded me of the power of letting my children struggle because when they do, real learning takes place – their brains form new road maps and they develop the ability to push through frustration and solve their own problems. I have to remind myself of this with my children when it comes to putting on socks or zipping up a jacket. It would be easy for me to do a given task for them and I am tempted either because I want to end the whining or get out the door on time, but I know they learn when they can struggle, feel their body and figure out the task.

In graduate school I heard Kittie Verdolini Abbott present her research on how we acquire skills. This article sums up a lot of what she spoke about that day, though I don’t know if it is the exact paper she presented.  She offered the anecdote of how frustrated she was as a younger singer when her voice teacher didn’t give her frequent feedback in her lessons. She felt lost much of the time, but her voice improved. She was allowed to struggle and therefore her brain built a new road map for how her voice functioned and she learned. My main take-aways from her talk were:  1. Don’t offer constant verbal feedback to clients. 2. Encourage them to develop an awareness of their own body while they are using their voice. 3. If you want your voice to work well in your professional environment it needs to work well in the rest of your life too.

This week in my voice work, I allowed a client to struggle with the task I gave her (singing through a straw) which she could not do though I knew she intellectually understood the task. I encouraged her to try again and focus on relaxing her throat and feeling the breath move. I then allowed her to explore it for a while trying again and again. She was able to find a few short moments of accomplishing the task. She is diligent about practice and I have no doubt that her time of struggle in our session gave her body the chance to learn enough that she can practice and find greater success on her own.

Knowing about struggle and learning is one of the reasons why I find body work such a powerful tool to access the voice. It isn’t about my fixing your body and getting you into the right position to produce your best voice, it is about you beginning to feel your body as you are making sound so you can reproduce it when I’m not around. Truthfully, I’m trying to work myself out of a job!

Struggle on folks, it is worth it in the long run.



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