Learning Curve

How do we learn? Educational experts are investigating this topic and discovering new things every day. The science of neurology is examining brain plasticity and discovering that our brains can grow, change and improve all through life, and that we can learn new things as we go. The idea that the brain stops at about 14 years of age has been much discredited by research on brain function.

We were taught in the “old days” that you couldn’t really learn to sing past a certain age, say late twenties. That’s just silly. Often people with more self-awareness and capacity learn better and more quickly than youngsters who lack the ability to concentrate and have little ability to track their physical or auditory feedback. I’ve had plenty of adult beginners learn to sing very nicely even when the amount of time they devoted to the task of singing was limited by other outside pressures in their life.

One thing we do know, however, is that it is very hard to pay attention, really significant, conscious deliberate attention to more than one thing at a time, especially if it’s a new task.

Teachers of singing, however, are quick to load up students with a multitute of instructions. Keep your head level, drop your jaw, relax your tongue, inhale deeply and keep your belly muscles engaged while you sing. Keep your shoulders down, make the sound clear and don’t let the vowel or the pitch drift. Be sure to move smoothly from one note to the next and keep the vibrato steady, and don’t get softer as you go through the phrase. Guess that would be successful with a beginner, huh?

I just read that different parts of the brain get engaged when we encounter new experiences. Our brains resist new things, finding them “dangerous” and are drawn to things that are familiar for the opposite reasons. They think this had to do with being cautious with the unknown for survival reasons and allowing greater comfort as the situation became more familiar and it was no longer necessary to be on guard. Makes sense.

Give your students time to learn one thing at a time. Don’t blame them for “thinking too much” if the task is new and difficult. Don’t expect them to remember things they have done twice or three times. Learn how we learn. It’s not hard to take in new information if you want to do that as long as you are not overloaded or confused.

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