Episode 48 – Singing and the brain
In this episode I look at why learning something new – like a new way of singing a note or pronouncing a word or getting into your high notes – is challenging and sometimes takes time.
This is a great episode for understanding how to shift something once we learn it incorrectly.
Hint – It’s not about unlearning!
It’s about how the brain learns and wants to hang on to what it’s learned. (-:
And what happens to the old way once we do learn something new!
Listen and enjoy!
The Inner Singer Podcast
Episode 48 – Transcripts
Singing and the Brain
Well, hey there, everybody. Thank you so much for listening. This is Mike Goodrich. Welcome to the Inner Singer Podcast.
Right now in this particular moment, I am very conscious of a fly that I cannot get out of this studio. And I’m wondering if it gets close to me if you’ll hear it. So if you hear a buzzing, it’s not your speakers and it’s not your computer; it’s a fly that I can’t get out of here. He seems to have landed now. I’m just going to leave him alone. Maybe he’ll go away.
Anyway, thank you so much for listening. And what I want to talk about today is a video that I sent out. Now, if you are not a subscriber to the things that I send out, you may not have seen this video, and you certainly didn’t receive it from me. But if you are, you did. Now if you watched it, it is a really interesting video.
I guess I should back up because I have no idea when anybody is going to here this. So, if you’re hearing this near April fool’s Day—it’s not April fool’s day. So this actually is not an April fool’s. But if you’re hearing is April 2016, then it’s relevant in terms of when I sent an email out with a link to this video. If you’re hearing it a year later, of course, I didn’t sent an email out a year later.
So, let me tell you what the video is, and how you can access it and watch it, and what it’s about and why I’m doing this podcast.
In reference to it, the main reason is because the video itself had absolutely nothing to do with singing. And yet, as you know if you’ve listened to any of my podcasts, I take pride in being able to pretty much connect anything with singing. I don’t know, it’s just a fun thing that I do. But somebody said to me one time the way you do anything is the way you do everything. And there’s a lot of truth in that.
And so, when I see something that is of a great interest to me, I immediately think, “This can definitely be applied to singing.”
So, I sent out an email to my list of people—you may have received one at some point—with this link to this video. And I said that, “This is certainly true in singing” or “You can see how this applies to singing” or “As you know, of course, I can apply this to singing.”
And one of my folks that gets my stuff emailed me back and really thanked me for the video. He really enjoyed it and said, “How does this apply to singing? You should maybe do a podcast on how this applies to singing.” And I thought,“That’s really a good idea. That would be fun. Let’s do a podcast on how this applies to singing.”
Let me first now—depending on when you’re listening to this—tell you what the heck that video was about. I had it written down. I have a link that you can actually go look at on YouTube. I have a feeling no matter when you listen to this podcast, this link will still be there. I’m not going to give you the link because that would be too hard. But I’m going to give you the exact words to type in to YouTube to come up with the video. And the exact words you would type in—which is the title of the video—is The Backwards Brain Bicycle, Smarter Everyday 133.
Now, Smarter Everyday is the name of the name of the station. That’s the name of the YouTube station, Smarter Everyday. And they have well over three million subscribers I believe. I’ve never heard of them. They clearly do some cool things. And this video is done by, I guess, one of the guys who must own the station or whatever.
A friend of his who’s a welder came up with an idea where he would create a little gear system on a bicycle, and he’d put it on the stirring wheel. So when you turn right the bike, the gear system makes the bike go left.
So it’s a backwards bike. It doesn’t go backwards, but what it is is when you turn right, you go left, and when you turn left, you go right.
And one of my students actually sent this to me. He said, “You’ll really enjoy this. This is kind of the stuff that you teach. This is kind of what you do.” I watched and I said, “Wow! This is really cool!”
So he clearly is a singer and a songwriter, and he connected it to singing. He said, “Wow! This is what we’re doing.” So I didn’t even have to. He already did.
But anyway, the podcast is going to be about how does this apply to singing, and what are we doing that makes this relevant. So, let’s dig a little deeper into this thing.
With this bike, when you turn right, you go left, you turn left, you go right. So with this fellow, he, like I when I saw this thing, I thought, “Well this…”—and I didn’t see it in person, but I thought, “That can’t be that hard. I mean, that just really cannot be that hard.”
And yet this guy, who’d ridden a bike forever—a young guy probably in his thirties or so—he knew how to ride a bike, ridden one forever (since he’s a kid), it literally took him eight months to learn how to ride this bike. He did it every day for about 5 minutes a day until he wired it into his brain and became able to even peddle.
And we’re talking about from an explicit stand point in terms of his memory system and his ability to learn. In other words, it’s like when we learn to drive. He was thinking about it consciously. And as you watch the video, he says, if any distractions happen at all, he would just fall—a cellphone rang, or anything that pulls his focus away from concentrating intently on riding this backwards bike until it clicked one day in his brain after really eight months, and it really began to go much more into his implicit memory system where he didn’t have to think about it anymore.
Now, as if that’s not interesting enough, he had a little son, six years old I think. He had been riding his bike for a few years. He said to his son, “Let me…”—he got his son a bike too. He had a welder build his son a backwards bike. He said, “Learn how to ride this bike and I’ll take you to Australia with me and you can meet a real astronaut.”
So, it took his son not eight months to learn how to ride this thing, but two weeks—so the difference between eight months and two weeks. And the fellow who was doing the video said that he learned—
Now, here’s where I’m not sure that this is all that was going on. It would be really interesting to talk to somebody who really, really, really knows the brain, a real, real expert at the brain, to find our really exactly what was going on.
But this fellow said, he assumed, “Well, that means that young people’s brains are more plastic than older people’s brains—which that certainly may be true, but I don’t necessarily think that that is the only reason.
Now, there’s no way for me to prove that. It’s just kind of an intuitive thing. I don’t think that that’s the only reason. Often times, young people—a six year old from like a 36 year old—they’re going to have a lot less usually negative self-talk and negative feelings that they can’t do something necessarily than somebody 36.
You fail at something a few times when you’re in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, whatever, we’re sort of conditioned that if we don’t succeed at something relatively quickly, “Oh that’s just not for me.” We sort of build in that wiring.
Now, a little kid coming just a few years away from learning how to walk where it was like rolling around, crawling and walking, they’re used to succeeding at things. They used to making things happen. They’ve learned how to talk. They’ve learned how to walk. They’ve learned how to ride their bike.
So now, you could say I guess that, “Well, that’s what neuroplasticity is, the ability to learn.” Yeah, maybe, but clearly. But what about not having to weed through baggage? What about not having to take a machete through old beliefs? Why do we have the same brain that has the same ability to change, but has a bunch of baggage and a bunch of stories that this person has told him or herself.
It’s the same basic age, the same everything, but once rather pure and untainted with a bunch of negative self-talk and what have you for whatever reason. And the other one has a lot of stories that they’ve been telling. Maybe their brains are exactly the same in terms of their ability to be plastic, but what about the element of getting through the belief systems?
Now, I want to go on to say, just so I remember, that he did another little experiment figuring that he would see if he could still ride a normal bike. And he could not for 20 minutes. But after 20 minutes, it clicked and he was able to ride the normal bike again.
And then, it’s very similar to the astronauts years ago that we’re given—there’s that fly—upside down glasses. I may have mentioned this in a previous podcast. They were given glasses that when they put them on, everything turned upside down. The world turned upside down. And they were instructed to wear these glasses 24/7, and they did. It drove them nuts.
But after I think 28 days—I’m not sure how many astronauts, three or four maybe—after 28 days the first astronaut’s world turned right side up while wearing the upside-down glasses. His brain figured it out, rewired and switched the world back around, so that it made sense to him.
And in a few days later, and what-have-you, everybody’s world has turned upside down. Of course, then they have to take the glasses off, and go through the process again of having their brain figure out that, “Okay, we need to make this right and make this correction so this person can see the world right side up again.”
And I don’t know the exact amount that took. I think it took a similar amount of time. I think it took some time.
Now this fellow, when he got back on the normal bike, it only took him 20 minutes to remember how to ride it because it was a wiring that had already been used and clearly hadn’t atrophied. There were certain things that we do that are natural, that create a circuitry and a wiring in our brain that when we stop doing them, the actual neuro circuits will dissolve.
They have pictures of this. They sort of dissipate, and the wiring starts disappearing, and that’s why it’s sometimes difficult to go back to an old behavior because the wiring isn’t there anymore.
In this fellow’s case, it had only been eight months, something that he’d been doing all his life. So really, it didn’t take more than 20 minutes to wake it back up.
So now, after going through this long story about learning, about re-learning something, about doing something differently, about expecting something to be easy and yet finding it very difficult and yet being lighthearted about it and doing it a little bit every day to build in the coordination, and then first get it explicitly where you have to really, really, really think about it all the time, and then it becomes implicit, so then you don’t have to think about it, and then going back to something that you used to do the old way of doing it and not even remembering how to do it, does that sound like it could have anything to do with singing?
I would challenge anybody listening to come up with a real rebuttal as to how that doesn’t relate to singing. In my book, that has everything to do with what we do when we learn how to sing, almost no matter what stage we’re. We’re always growing, we’re always evolving.
Let’s take an intermediate singer. Most of the singers I think that—well, I didn’t even think. I did a couple of surveys that one time. And at that time not too long ago, most of the people that are attracted to my work are intermediate singers to advanced. There are not a tremendous amount of beginners.
Now if you’re a beginner, like I’ve said before, I’m thrilled to have you. That’s totally great. But for some reason a lot of beginners don’t seem to be really attracted to my work. If you are, like I say, I’m thrilled. That’s awesome. There’s plenty here for you.
But let’s just say you’re an intermediate singer that’s learning how to balance—whether a man or a woman, doesn’t matter. Really, really, you sing pretty well, but you’ve got some issues with your first and second bridge. You’re really trying to balance this bridge. And maybe—let’s just say maybe—when you learned how to sing, you were a chest puller.
I know you all know what that means, but I’ll tell you anyway. You were taking your chest voice up too high. So instead of making it into the next or the middle voice and singing in a balanced way and coordinated way, you were actually pulling too hard with too much weight. And so you took the first bridge vowels or vowels in the first bridge too broad.
So if you were singing like, “My Father”—and now, I’m going to pull back and sing, [singing]. Okay, obviously, not that bad or you wouldn’t be singing. But I had to exaggerate for the purpose of this, so you understand.
Now, what we’re working on doing is refining that into [singing]. I realized I just sang another note, a different note. I realized that as I was about to sing it. But anyway, you can hear that one dial in the resonance. That’s not [singing], that’s [singing].
But let’s say the first version, the [singing], let’s say that is you learning to ride the bike initially. So, you’ve done a lot of singing for years and years and years and years. It’s been pretty darn good. But there are some imbalances in the bridge.
And so, left to your default way of singing, you’re going to take your bridge note and even pass your bridge note too broad, which is going to pull too much weight in a chord structure. It’s going to be difficult to do it. Hence, you look for somebody like me. “I got to shift this.”
So, all the time you spent doing that is you learning to ride the first bike, the real bike, the regular, normal bike that we all had ridden, that we all ride.
Now, somebody like me comes along and says, “Okay. Well, that’s great. You sound great. But you know what? You’ve got to go from [singing] to [singing].” And you say, “Okay. Well, that’s pretty easy. How do we do that?” I give you tools, and I give you techniques, and I give you little tricks, and I give you little things to do. And I dial you in. I dial you in.
So, during a lesson, I get you in there. I’m helping you really run it. I’m coaching you along. I’m standing right there. It’s like I am your training wheels. If this fellow—
It would be very interesting to see what would happen if they did another experiment with somebody else and they put training wheels on that bike, and let’s see if that speeds up the learning curve at all.
I have no idea if it would. But what I’m giving you right now is I’m saying, “Okay, this is sort of like training wheels. I’m there, I’m coaching you through it.”
“But now we take the training wheels off because you go off into your life, and you’re home, and you’re singing, you’re gigging, you’re recording, you’re doing whatever you do, and all of a sudden, you’re singing in the bridge and you go [singing]. You go “Uh-oh… wow! That’s the old bike. I guess I can’t ride this new bike by myself yet without training wheels or without somebody kind of holding me up. And I get the feel of it when they’re holding me up and I can feel what it feels like to be balanced. I can sort of get it. But if they let go of me, I fall. I don’t own it yet. It’s not even something that I can do explicitly. I really just can’t do it myself yet.”
So, that’s why I relate it to singing. And I want to keep going with this by acknowledging the joy and the lightheartedness with which this fellow learned how to ride the backwards bike—about five minutes a day, short bursts. He kept the joy going. He kept the happiness and the fun going and was positive about being able to do it.
That doesn’t mean that he didn’t get discouraged once in a while. But he was having fun and this was a really kind of cool experiment that he was doing.
So, when we go back to our singing example, and you’re working out that bridge and balancing that bridge, you do it a lot, maybe short periods of time. You keep a lighthearted joy about it and an optimistic view that you will definitely get this. You continue to do it until one day, you can do it on your own if you’re really, really thinking about it and concentrating on it.
But if anything happens that raises the stakes—maybe you go to an open mic, or you have a performance or recording, or you want to show somebody. Even as even as simple as showing somebody saying, “Hey come here. Look at this new thing I can do.”—boom! You can’t do it. Some of the attention goes away to whoever is watching you and how high the stakes are. And that robs you of your concentration. And you need a hundred percent of concentration at that point to be able to do that. It’s completely explicit.
And all of a sudden, one day, it clicks, and it’s in your implicit memory system, and you got it. You can do it anywhere, any time for anybody.
All we have to do is be consistent, continue, keep the joy and the fun attitude going in that atmosphere as we learn, as we practice, as we rehearse. And we know at some point—we may not know when, that’s unpredictable. I can’t tell you when, you don’t know when. And you don’t want to put a pressure and give yourself a timeline either because then that creates stress. So you just open, and you keep doing it, but you know that you’re going to be able to do it.
Wow! See? That’s great. And that’s why this video relates to singing.
Let’s look now a little deeper at when he went back and tried to ride his normal bike. What will happen to you is the same thing that happened to him.
As you dial in this resonance—so now instead of [vocalizing], you go [vocalizing], and you’re always, bang, right in there, what’s going to happen eventually is the wiring you used to use to create [vocalizing ] is going to be gone. It’s going to have atrophied and dissipated. You won’t be able to do it.
And your new default way of singing will be [vocalizing] instead of [vocalizing]. It will [vocalizing]. You won’t even be able to do it the old way.
And that’s how this video relates to singing. And it’s really, really, really cool.
So, I highly suggest—I know I’ve described a lot of the video to you, but I highly suggest that if you have not seen this, you go watch that video because it is really, really cool.
There’s something about seeing that that is sometimes stronger than just hearing it second-hand where you actually see somebody do it.
I’m not going to give you the link, but I’ll tell you, go to YouTube and type in in the search The Backwards Brain Bicycle Smarter Every Day 133. I assume that’s episode 133. Watch the video. Let me know what you think. And let me know if you can relate to that.
I have a feeling if you are on my list, listening to this podcast—I would say it’s probably about a hundred percent of you are going to be able to relate to this in some way or another with regards to singing and performing.
So anyway, I hope this has been beneficial. I hope it’s been fun. It’s been fun for me. I love doing these. So I hope you love hearing them. I look forward to seeing you next week and I will talk to you soon. Go watch that video. Bye, bye.