Seeing is Singing

This week let's examine the occipital lobe of the brain, and the ways it helps us to teach singers.

The occipital lobe, seen in the image to the right and shaded in pink, is the part of our brain that is connected to our eyes. Our optic nerve goes to this part of the brain, and this area does the work of seeing colors, shapes, depth, size, etc. It works with the temporal lobe, the part in green, to give meaning to what we see.


Now, let me be clear before we go any further, that there are any number of folks who are blind or have other differences in their sight that are successful and thriving musicians. It is not impossible to be a singer if you can't see well. However, I'm a teacher who has never been blind and my nearsightedness has been easily corrected with contacts and glasses. Working with a singer who is different than me in this respect is going to be a challenge. It's certainly a solvable problem! Knowing the right questions and who I can go to for help is going to be a big part of solving that pedagogy issue. If you have a student with a sight difference and you need some help figuring it out, book a free Discovery Call with me and we'll figure out a plan together.


For singers that do have relatively normal eyesight, we can harness that brain power to assist them in their practicing and performing skills. Our occipital lobes are so powerful, and the connection to the temporal lobe and our memory centers is so strong, that we can see music and "hear" it in our heads. Of course, this is a skill that needs development over time, but as that skill develops, we can invoke the power of visualization to rehearse music without singing. That's helpful on days when the physical parts of our voice are hindered because of illness or fatigue. Or we can picture ourselves in a recital hall or a gig and "sing" in our minds all the way through the performance.


Most of the time we want to visualize a perfect performance. I would suggest however, that it is equally helpful to imagine if things go horribly wrong, how we might be able to get through it. I think most of us who have been around the performing block a few times would readily admit that we've never had a truly perfect performance. (If you have, tell me about it! I want to celebrate that with you!) The thing about being a good professional on stage is not having the best performance, but being able to adapt and correct in the moment. As an example, during one of my master's recitals, I completely forgot the lyrics to a verse in one of my Schumann lieder. I'd been working on that stuff for nine months, and *poof* it was gone. I was able to substitute some other lyrics on the fly until my brain recovered, and no one was the wiser. Not even my teacher caught on. That's how we know we've got the chops to be a pro, when things can fall apart as we're singing and we can recover and keep going! Visualizing these types of mistakes can help us think through possible solutions so that we practice problem solving skills in the safe environment of our own minds. We as teachers can help our students do this by posing potential problems and asking our students to think out loud as they imagine themselves living through that moment. Visualizing being successful in the face of adversity can be more powerful than visualizing a perfect performance, in my opinion.


Elite athletes have been using this kind of visualization for a long time. It's a way of harnessing the real power of the occipital lobe to our advantage. Some would even say that the mental type of practicing we do is just as effective, if not more so, than the physical practicing we do.


How have you used visualization in your studio? What kinds of benefits have you seen? Send me your stories! I'd love to cheer you on. And if you have any questions about how you might be able to include visualization and the power of the occipital lobe in your teaching, book some time with me and let's talk about it. Register for an hour of pedagogy goodness with me by clicking below. I see a whole lot of teaching success in your future!


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