We all know the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!
Whether you are learning voice and speech skills, a new sport, how to play an instrument, meditation, cooking, knitting or anything else physical, the practice of practice is the key to your success.
The way we practice is even more important than how much time we spend. Research about the brain, cognitive science and motor learning in particular, have taught us a few key concepts:
1. Learning requires attention
This may seem like it should be published in The Journal of Duh, but do a deeper dive. By “attention”, I mean real, full, mindful focus. Not the kind of attention that includes checking texts, listening to a TV show, or doing chores.
Whatever you are practicing, carve out small amounts of time to devote 100% of your attention to the task. Whatever happens after that is all good. Whether you attain your targets or don’t, committing your full being to the task will exponentially speed your learning.
Chances are you are probably already passionate about, or at least interested in, whatever you are learning. Shine your loving attention on it and watch it blossom.
2. Learning requires doing
Again, sounds super obvious, right? But I’m here to tell you as a teacher, coach, and therapist for thousands of people over the years, people usually don’t do as much of the doing as would be ideal. I can tell you that as a learner myself, as well! Everyone is busy, more urgent things come up, we get caught up in our heads or feelings, etc.
But here’s the thing. Muscle memory is a physical change in the brain, created by repetition. When those brain changes occur, something goes into long term memory storage and is officially learned. We might have occasional successes in the process on the way there, but long term change requires practice.
Here are some things that don’t count as doing: thinking about practicing; feeling bad you aren’t practicing; wanting to practice; planning to practice; watching a video about practice; performing the thing (performance is not practice!); understanding what you want to practice; mindlessly doing it while doing something else… you get the idea.
There simply has to be the mindful doing of the thing. And this doing requires effort. Not drama or stress, but investment.
3. Learning requires repeatability
Doing something once, or in a lesson, doesn’t mean we have learned it. Only when you can reliably repeat an action, in a variety of different places and contexts, is it truly learned.
Using a dialect coaching session as an example, I can guide most people to speak in a certain way pretty quickly. But that doesn’t men they can go out and embody a character who speaks that way. Their ability to truly learn this new speech pattern depends on their repeated, mindful repetition of what they experienced when I guided them to it.
So much comes quickly in our current world. We expect things fast and thorough. But learning a physical skill is old school. It requires us to work for it.
And the way to work for it is to frequently devote small amounts of fully focused time to the task. Like 5 minutes 3 times a day to start, and then build up. This is far more effective than an hour of split focus.
For more detailed information about motor learning and cognitive science in relation to voice, I recommend any books, training, or materials from Katherine Verdolini Abbott (whom I am proud and grateful to call a mentor), and Lynn Helding (particularly “The Musician’s Mind: Teaching, Learning, and Performance in the Age of Brain Science”).
If you’d like more personalized coaching around practice, or anything related to voice, speech, or presence, contact me for a consultation.