Updated: Jun 7
Supercharge your practise routine with motor learning by Elissa Finn
Sometimes if feels like what we practise in the studio doesn’t transfer onto stage but understanding concepts from motor learning theory - the acquisition and retention of a goal-oriented motor skill - can help to supercharge our singing.
People develop skills in stages:
- We identify the skill we want to learn and acquire the basic motor pattern, but our execution is inconsistent and inefficient.
- The skill slowly becomes more consistent and efficient. As we develop mastery, we are able to add variation (e.g., increase the volume of our singing) without disrupting the basic motor pattern (e.g., staying on pitch).
- The skill is reliable and automatic. We can accurately perform the skill in both familiar settings (singing lessons) and unfamiliar settings (on gigs).
Below are a few motor learning principles which if applied carefully, help singers move from the cognitive to the autonomous stage more quickly.
When studying a new song, a singer will learn the melody and lyrics, and retain them over time, if they devote a lot of time to the piece.
Encouraging a singer to practise in bursts (e.g., practise a vocal run for 10 minutes, take 20 minutes rest, practise the same vocal run again for 10 minutes) gives their mind and body time to process the task. It gives their voice a chance to execute the motor pattern, before then re-attempting the same pattern within a short period of time, meaning the singer is more likely to remember the mistakes they made and adjust them.
When a singer can reliably perform a piece of repertoire, encourage them to practise in a different key or tempo for fun. After practising different variables (e.g., key, tempo, voice quality), the singer’s execution of the original version will be more precise, and they will have access to other musical and artistic choices.
When learning a new voice quality, it is better to maintain an external focus than an internal focus. If working on belting, the singer should focus on a ‘bright twangy sound’ (external focus) rather than laryngeal height (internal focus). Having an external focus will help reduce unnecessary tension and over-analysing!
Have fun applying some of the principles of motor learning in your work! I encourage you to read more about this exciting area and feel free to get in touch at the details below.
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.
We welcome members from all musical cultures, vocal styles and singing or teaching environments.
We are committed to building an inclusive culture that encourages, supports, and celebrates the diverse voices of our industry.