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Your Brain Is Your Friend...Except When It's Not

I say it often that all singing begins in the brain.

Singing can also be influenced by the brain, specifically by reflexes, in an ongoing way. Let me explain:

We often think of the brain in relation to singing as being primarily the motor function center. The brain tells the voice what to do. But the brain is also sensory, and we don't often look too deeply at how the sensory information the brain takes in can influence the motor stuff.

Here's an example:

If you've ever had the experience of singing the national anthem in an open-air stadium, or even a small arena or gym, you may have noticed that it was hard to keep tempo. We tend to slow down when we're in large spaces like that. The reason is that we normally sing in smaller rooms that create acoustics with shorter reflection times and shorter reverberation times. (If you're not familiar with those terms, there's a graphic to the right that gives a brief definition. You can even download and share that graphic with your students who may have to sing in a situation like that to help them understand what's happening!) Our brains are used to and like the kind of feedback we get from the soundwaves bouncing around quickly like that. But when we're in a large space or in the open air, the timing of that feedback changes, and our brains can freak out a little bit. While our brains are trying to figure out what the heck is going on at that moment, it tells the motor part of the voice to sloooooow down.

It can be incredibly annoying to realize after the fact that you were hitting the brakes on your phrasing, but if you know that tendency is there before you step out to sing, chances are higher that you'll be able to tell your brain to stuff it, and you can keep tempo. It's still hard, though. In that moment your brain wants the acoustical feedback it's used to, and it will really, really, reeeeeally try to get you to listen to it! But in that moment, your brain is not your bestie. It doesn't have your best in mind, so to speak.

One of my areas of expertise is how acoustics is perceived by the brain, and how it influences our singing. I wrote a whole dissertation looking at that question, in fact. So I'm going to talk about it later this month for Pedagogy Happy Hour. Specifically, I'll tell you why the brain does what it does, and how we can help train our clients to overcome some of those pesky reflexive behaviors that might try to change our singing. There are things you can do in the studio and on the stage to give your clients a better chance of consistent and predictable success!

To register for Pedagogy Happy Hour, click on the button below. I love this topic, and I love how it can make us think deeply about the spaces in which we sing. It really can make a huge difference! Join me on Sunday, November 28th at 7:00 p.m Central to get super nerdy about acoustics and brains!

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