Self-Assessment: How To Do Yours

Hello there! 

I hope readers are staying well and safe. This article will touch on an important point that just about everyone can benefit from: how to properly identify or recognize personal strengths and weaknesses. No one can learn or continue to learn without having some grasp of these. So let’s roll up our sleeves and check this out! 

There’s a handy workbook section at the end to help you. Please be sure and leave a blog comment if you gain benefit from this. Let me know your wins and if you have any questions. 

Review: Basics of the Learning Process 
Most of my teachers taught three things consistently: technique, repertoire and basic character building. At times music theory was part of the journey as well. This is the same tradition that I strive to pass along, a legacy that has endured for hundreds of years. 

After my private studio began to get busy, I decided to add something to the above: a Self-Assessment Checklist. Why? Because everyone has things that are going well for them as well as areas they need to work on. It makes it less personal if the student is proactive in beginning the assessment. It was fascinating to notice that the majority of students were pretty accurate. I would then validate many areas of the student's assessment and add a few comments based upon my experience, education and observations of them. 

Sometimes an experienced teacher may recognize talents or strengths in you that you did not know you had. Likewise, they may also notice a student that is being too hard on themselves which makes learning more difficult. There may be situations too where students are simply not working hard enough. After doing the Self-Assessment usually things are made pretty clear which helps set the stage for a great learning experience. 

This process also made everyone laugh as they recalled their journey and challenging moments! It's a real gift when you realize that you're not alone and that aspect you struggled with is something that others have experienced as well. Sometimes frustration turns to sincere relief and joy when students really recognize this. Doing this process got everybody excited about the learning process. It also humbles everyone and makes students realize that just about everyone will have good moments and challenging moments. 

Many of us also just assume that we know how to learn and that in the information age learning is easy. However, information is only a first step. In order to really learn about singing or music, students need to spend time in self-reflection as well as dialoguing with a trusted mentor or teacher for best results. 

Self Reflection 
The best students usually spend a good amount of time in self-reflection. It takes time to properly analyze oneself. Do you regularly set aside quiet time just to reflect on your progress? This could be ten minutes at some point during your practice routine. 

What Is Going Well? 
Students need to have good self-discipline and self-confidence. One way to build both is to regularly assess what is going well. Sometimes we may get so involved in the problems we want to solve that we forget to take time to be grateful for what we’ve already achieved. Below are some questions to help you get started with self-reflection. 

What qualities do people regularly compliment you on? 

What strengths are you happy about? 

What have you learned that you’re happy about in the last few years? 

What have you accomplished that makes you feel good? 

Who has helped you to move forward with your goals? 

Are you grateful for all you’ve accomplished? 

Are you grateful for the people who have helped you succeed? 

How could these strengths be used to help yourself? To help others? 

There is space at the end here for you to write down five qualities in yourself that you feel are strengths. For example, you might say “strong work ethic” or “excellent communication skills”. 

This is not a time to become arrogant or overly proud it is simply a way to recognize what you are good at. This is probably where you want to strive to be of service to others so it is important to recognize these qualities. 

This is an important part of the process. 

Whenever you are having difficulty or feeling discouraged, come back to this point. Review your answers. Take time to be grateful for all you’ve accomplished so far. Whatever your next steps will be need to be built upon your previous successful lessons and accomplishments. Refer to that before moving ahead. 

What Do You Need Help With? 
Challenges can exist in several areas. A student may have a mental challenge such as lack of confidence, a physical challenge such as poor posture or a character challenge such as a bad attitude. Keep in mind however that weaknesses are often inter-related. For example, a consistent situation of poor posture may show up in vocal lessons BECAUSE a student deep down does not have good confidence. A student may have a consistently bad attitude because they have chronic migraines for example that interfere with their lessons. So is it the chicken or the egg? Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out! 

Your teacher should strive to help you discover the root cause of whatever challenge you are experiencing. Approaching a problem or learning barrier from multiple angles may also be necessary. 

This is why consistent, clear and mature communication between you and your teacher is so important. One of my voice teachers regularly referred me to a chiropractor and massage therapist because I complained of muscular tension. She was quick to distinguish the difference between tension due to bad vocal technique versus tension that needed handling from another professional. Sometimes a student may have both problems simultaneously and then the teacher has to carefully analyze the situation, separate the issues and help the student not to become confused and/or overwhelmed. 

If lessons are taking place online, make sure your teacher can get sufficient visual cues from your body language during the lesson so they know what is going on and can make accurate recommendations for your unique situation. 

Your teacher should both carefully listen to you sing and also carefully observe you as you sing for best results. 

I have most often seen students experience challenging barriers during the Intermediate level. If the student does not know the basics of music theory they may possess an innate desire to sing and improve yet lack the musical knowledge to proceed further. Barriers may also come up at any level where there is a skill that in review - appears to not yet have been mastered. 

Keep in mind that each level of study has three parts. For example there is Early Intermediate Level, Intermediate Level and Late Intermediate Level where the student is preparing to reach the Advanced Level. 

Many students never reach the Advanced Level. This is where many important issues need to be sorted out. 

Developing A Healthy Learning Process 
If you work this tradition, it will work for you. Believe me it is not easy and there have been times where I have even wanted to quit myself. But I learned that the values are consistent and lasting. This in time reinforced my commitment. 

It’s give and take. 

It takes information, people and consistent work. 

It takes self-reflection and accurate assessment. 

It takes self-knowledge and good communication skills. 

Don’t beat yourself up if you are having trouble with something. Strive to be assertive but not aggressive. Ask for what you need in a clear and polite fashion. Many creative people become passive aggressive because they fear rejection or have been rejected in the past but there may eventually be someone who can and will help you. Be honest and straight-forward. If you are having consistent physical and/or mental health issues find a good doctor, counselor, therapist or social worker to help you.

Have realistic expectations. Not all problems can always be solved directly by a vocal coach or teacher. They should be able to make helpful suggestions and/or referrals however so that you can get the support you need and also continue your training process. 

Also, try not to get overly frustrated with others either. Most of us get frustrated with the problem! This is understandable. I’ve been there. Your mentors and teachers may not be aware of your struggles unless you specifically communicate what is going on. Respect them and the process. 

Go at a slow, steady pace. Don’t rush the process. 

Have patience. 

The Importance of Communication 
It is important for students to maintain constant, respectful communication with their mentor or teacher about what is going on. For example, “This week all the exercises went well, I worked on this song but I consistently run out of air during this passage. Is there a way to solve that problem? Why is my intonation - do you think - slightly off on the transition note? I keep practicing it but it doesn’t improve.” 

This are specific questions that an astute and mature student can ask. The teacher can then provide the regular lesson as well as help them troubleshoot. If the student does not ask specific questions however, then the teacher may not be able to help them with specific issues. 

Maintaining Your Progress 
Most of us have experienced situations where we make progress and then feel like we’re backsliding for whatever reason. Maybe life gets in the way and suddenly you have no time to practice. Whatever the reason, in order to maintain consistent progress, it is sometimes necessary to analyze where problems started. Sometimes students do well for a time and suddenly hit a barrier. This happens to most people sooner or later. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach when this occurs. This is why self-study combined with private lessons via Zoom/Skype is the most effective combination. 

Without the trained and experienced eyes and ears of a trusted mentor or teacher, it can be difficult to analyze why you are having trouble at a certain point. 

Workbook Section I: 

Today’s Date: 

What is going well that I'm grateful for today? How can I utilize these to help myself and others? 


What do I need help with? What would I like to work on? What do I want to learn more about? 


Workbook Section II: 

Three Months from Section I - Today’s Date: 

What is going well that I'm grateful for today? How can I utilize these to help myself and others? 


What do I need help with? What would I like to work on? What do I want to learn more about? 


I hope this has been helpful to you in your journey. Until next time! 

(c) 2021 Katherine Farnham

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