The Telfordaires Feedback Protocol

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This post started out as a document to share with participants on the Telfordaires’ Learn to Sing in Harmony Course, which runs until mid-February 2020. When I was trying to decide whether to distribute it as an attachment to our weekly email of follow-up resources or as a link to a shared drive where we have some other learning materials, I realised that in fact a link to a blog post would be easier than either. And there’s nothing here that we don’t mind sharing with the rest of the singing world, so why not be generous with our ideas?

During the rehearsal process, we like to make opportunities for singers to listen all or part of the chorus and give feedback on what they've heard. One situation for this is the activity from Week 3 of the course we call 'voicework', where we break down the music into individual sections and duets to focus on how people are using their voices. Another is coming up in Week 4, where we'll use internal coaches to rehearse the whole group singing together. (‘Internal coaches’ are coaches from within the chorus, as opposed to bringing in external experts to coach us as we do a couple of times a year.)

In all cases, the idea of sharing round the opportunity to give feedback is that every person who participates in singing harmony comes with a lifetime’s experience and insight from their enjoyment of music, and these responses can help us all grow as musicians and performers. You learn different things by standing out and thinking about what the music needs than you do from inside it singing, and we all learn different things from hearing different people's perspectives.

We have a very simple and clear framework for feedback:

  1. Listen to some singing
  2. Tell us something you liked about it
  3. Tell us something we can add or improve to make you like it more
  4. Listen to the same bit sung again
  5. Did we make the change you asked for? If yes, then we celebrate; if no, we try again

A few points to note:

  • Be specific about what you like. ‘That was great,’ is affirming but doesn’t help the chorus cement their skills. ‘Really clear diction’ or ‘well-balanced sound’ will help the chorus recreate the achievements at will.
  • Give instructions for improvements in positive terms, i.e. tell us what you want rather than what the problem was. This can take practice, so if you accidentally tell us what was wrong, we’ll all collaborate on transforming it into a positive instruction before we follow it.
  • Don’t worry about giving a ‘wrong’ answer. The reason we want different people to listen and give feedback is that different people hear and respond to different things. The uniqueness of your viewpoint is what makes it valuable.
  • Working out what to comment on is something that gets easier with practice. We compiled a list of things to listen out for to help spark ideas:


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