Once, when I was teaching solo singing in a school for a while, I was sent a new pupil with a quiet warning: ‘Maddie desperately wants to sing, but we know she’s tone deaf – just see what you can do.’
So I met Maddie. We started our lessons and I did indeed find that she was unable to pitch notes that I played her on the piano. She would attempt to sing something and sound really bad. I’d suggest something to help her; she would attempt that and it was just as bad. On one second attempt, just to encourage her, I said, ‘Yes, that’s the idea.’
And then it happened – she caught my eye for a fraction of a second, and in that lightning glance far too short for words her eyes said, ‘You’re lying.’
She was right, I was.
But the glance, discomforting as it was, was also the message. I suddenly realised that if Maddie knew that the second attempt was no better than the first, she could hear that it wasn’t. So, what did we mean by ‘tone deaf’?
That did it. We set out again and several things were different.
- Without anything ever being said we both knew that she’d seen through my deception, and from that point there was a complete honesty between us.
- I now believed that she wasn’t tone deaf – that there was a way for her to learn to sing if we could find it together. So I believed in her possibility.
- I realised I was in uncharted waters, so I was willing to try something new.
- And what I did was take the lead from her.
She sang me a note, and we discovered it on the piano, and then little by little we explored together the territory around her note. The exploration eventually blossomed into a song with limited range, ‘Day by Day’. After that there was no holding her back, and at the end of the year she sang a solo in a school concert for which she was warmly applauded.
I wonder where you are now Maddie, I hope you are still enjoying singing. I was the learner that day.
I learned from you that truth is paramount.
I learned from you the importance of believing in someone.
I learned from you to go into the unknown.
And I learned that I’m not in charge of your learning; you are.
Coaching came into vogue several years later, but there are the fundamentals, picked up in a glance into someone’s eyes.
So I find myself writing this with two curiosities:
I wonder what you might notice today if you don’t know the answer before you begin.
I wonder too how an uncomfortable moment for you might be the very key to unlocking something that was stuck before.
I once asked the NLP pioneer Robert Dilts who his mentors had been in getting to where he is now. He looked a bit puzzled for a moment. Then he replied that though there had been some obvious teachers in his early years – like Gregory Bateson for instance – his main observation was that he learned most from students and people he met every day.
My new book, comes out at last at the end of February – ways for you to beat fear of speaking even if you have always suffered intolerably from performance nerves. 25 ways to choose from – one especially targeted at you! Order it now on Amazon.
It was a brilliant conference, the best yet, with several speakers I had never heard before and will now follow avidly. Book for next year if you can!
The 1-2 December one is full. The next is not till 17-18 May … unless someone twists my arm! Find your speaking voice – and your confidence.
The first module, Communication and Relationships is on 1-2 March. Book up now. I know this kind of training works for people because they tell me so … straight after the training and also months and years afterwards. It’s where they discover their inner confidence, and find the means to make important changes in life and career. I can’t really describe it – you just have to find out.
I’m away for a good chunk of the next month and a half, so contact me initially by email if you want to speak to me.