Sometimes if feels like what we practise in the studio doesn’t transfer onto stage. Understanding concepts from motor learning theory (the acquisition and retention of a goal-oriented motor skill) - can supercharge our singing and teaching!
Humans learn in stages:
- We identify the skill we want to learn and acquire the basic motor pattern, but execution is inconsistent or inefficient
- The skill can be disjointed but slowly becomes reliable and efficient. Some parameters of the task (e.g. tempo) can be changed successfully
- The skill is reliable and automatic in all settings
How we practise and the ways manipulate conditions of practise can supercharge outcomes.
Conditions of practise to consider:
Amount – Large amounts of practise are often beneficial
Beginners may benefit from small amounts of practise to establish a ‘blueprint’ but large amounts generally result in better outcomes for singers of all levels.
Distribution – Alternating between practise and rest is beneficial
Singers mostly benefit (clarify) from practising in short bursts (20 minutes singing, 30 minutes rest, 20 minutes singing etc).
Variability – After a basic skill is acquired, vary parameters of a task
Once a student has learnt a can reliably execute a vocal run change the key to enhance learning.
Scheduling – Blocked practise (what does this mean?) is beneficial in early stages of learning, then randomised practise in later stages
If working on vocal onsets practise a breathy onset at the start of every phrase. Then ask the student to randomly use breathy, creaky and simultaneous onsets.
Complexity – Long term learning may be enhanced by using complex targets even early in the learning process
If you want to sing and play piano simultaneously practise separately before quicky bringing the two together.
Fraction – Practising small fractions of a task may be beneficial in the early stages of learning but it is beneficial to move to the whole task quickly.
Practise small sections of a song to address micro-issues then move back to the whole song. Addressing the song as a whole can help singers’ focus on the story and work through technical challenges.
Accuracy – Errorless execution of a skill is beneficial in the early stages of learning but making mistakes is beneficial later on.
A singer who habitually uses a pressed vocal quality might practise out-of-time to achieve an easier voice production. Once nailed in isolation, they might resume full-tempo and make errors but gain self-awareness and practise self-correction.
Attentional focus – Maintaining an external focus is better than an internal focus
If working on belting, focus on a maintaining a ‘bright twangy sound’ rather than laryngeal height.
Understanding how people learn and manipulating conditions of practise is the perfect way to supercharge your practise routine.
About the author
Elissa Finn is a contemporary singing teacher, performer and speech pathologist in Brisbane Australia. Elissa is committed to promoting vocal health and awareness amongst voice professionals including performers and teachers.
Follow @elissafinnvoice on instagram or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
ANATS is the peak professional association for singing teachers in Australia. We help teachers of any style of singing to be the best they can be, by provide professional development, advocacy and community for singing teachers and other voice professionals across Australia.
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