Riva Capellari

[email protected]

Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

To Falter is to Succeed

Common sense tells us that we learn by way of repeating a task multiple times until it becomes automatic. Research, however, has discovered that a more random, spaced approach to motor learning can lead to long-term retention of a motor skill. Why is that? Hmmmm….

Contextual interference is a hypothesis that explains this dichotomy. Spacing attempts at a new task gives the brain time to forget failed efforts and remember only the correct ones. Since long term learning benefits from our brain firing on all cylinders, the “space” in between attempts allows for a full reboot, as if the brain were trying something for the first time. This strengthens the neural pathways of the motor programs that are the foundation for these skills. On the other hand, back-to-back multiple repetitions of a task puts the brain on default creating a weaker neural memory.

Variable, random and spaced practice methods are training concepts that help develop generalized motor programs. Remember these from last month? They enable us to master new skills similar to ones we can already do.

Variable vocal practice might consist of a variety of vowel and consonant combinations, dynamic and rhythmic variations, practicing at different times of the day, even different locations. This develops the ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions while maintaining correct vocal production.

Switching often between vocal exercises (random practice) vs. the traditional method of repeating a single vocalize until it is mastered (blocked practice), has proven beneficial to long-term learning of vocal skills.

Spaced practice (vs. massed practice) alternates between trying and resting. The nature of variable and random practice sets up a “resting” effect, for instance, when several different and/or new vocalizes are quickly alternated, forcing the brain to take a break from one while fully engaging in the execution of the other.

When vocalizing a student, I often skip around the scale, changing one aspect of a vocal warm-up (variable practice) then move on to another after just a few repetitions (random practice). I may even have them move around the studio as they sing. If they initially struggle with a new vocalize, I find that after some “rest” from it, they are more able to execute it correctly (spaced practice).

I also try to keep verbal feedback to a minimum, asking students for their take on their immediate vocal experience. I encourage them to focus on sensations that will become the foundation of their vocal technique. I offer anatomical and scientific information when I feel it may improve a student’s understanding, but want them to explore and experiment through trial and error as they strive to hit a target goal. While some students need more guidance than others, I find that “less is more” is usually a  successful approach. Letting students analyze what just happened and how they got there requires a delicate balance between hands off and hands on!

Did You Know…

that motor learning is a process not a fixed state?

that learning helps us successfully respond to new situations based on past successes in different, but related situations?

that immediate success does not necessarily imply that long term learning has taken place?     Vocology: The Science and Practice of Voice Habilitation. I. Titze and K.V. Abbott.  NCVS. 2012.

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