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  • Writer's pictureMike Goodrich

Episode 7 – Neuroplasticity and Singing

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

What does neuroplasticity have to do with singing?!

As you will hear…a lot!

This is a fun one that provides a great tool you can use to take advantage of a nice thing about the brain.

Have fun with this one!

The Inner Singer Podcast

Episode 7 – Transcripts

Neuroplasticity and Singing

You’re listening to episode number seven.

Welcome to the Inner Singer Podcast, providing tools and techniques to strengthen your inner singer, your beliefs, your confidence, your mindset. And now, your host for the Inner Singer Podcast, Mike Goodrich.

Hi. This is Mike Goodrich and thank you so much for listening to the Inner Singer Podcast. Neuroplasticity and singing, what in the world is that? I’m really going to for this time. What in the world is Neuroplasticity have to do with singing?

Based on all the new findings and brain research and what have you, it has everything to do with singing. It’s the reason you can learn how to sing, it’s the reason we can improve, it’s the reason that one day we don’t have such great high notes and a few weeks later or a month later or a year later we have great high notes. Or sometimes we don’t have such great pitch and then all of a sudden we develop great pitch or we don’t have great phrasing and we develop great phrasing.

Over the years most recently, they discover that the brain is plastic, not really a piece of plastic, obviously but plastic, meaning changeable- it can change and we can learn. And even though that seems really obvious to us now. For many hundreds of years they thought that when we were adults, we were hard wired and we really couldn’t change, and we really couldn’t learn too much that you can’t teach a dog new tricks thing. They really thought that that had some truth in it. Now, Science has proven that that’s completely wrong. It’s really fascinating what can be done now and what can be learned and what can be validated with science.

What is going on with your singing and what roads or neural pathways are you following with your singing? Because the road to great high notes is just a different path way. It’s just a different set of neurons firing together. The road to confidence and you’re saying is another set of neurons firing together. The road to a great vibrato, same thing. The road to not feeling confident in your voice, same thing. The road to not really liking your voice or loving your voice, same thing. The road to not feeling worthy, same thing.

All of the roads are neurons firing together and what they say is neurons that fire together, wire together. And we’ve created these roads, this internal map of reality, which Bill Harris from Centerpoint Research calls it. We created this over the years and a lot of it has been very very unconscious, probably most of it.

When you think of your singing right now, when you think of your voice, when you think of how you feel about your voice, how your voice is working, that’s pretty much your internal map of singing. Now, the great news is no matter where it is, if you feel that there are some things in your voice you’d like to improve, whether it’s getting a stronger mixed, better high notes, better support, better vibrato, better phrasing, better style, it doesn’t really matter, fill in the blank. Whatever it is, you can learn. Because it’s just a matter of creating new neuro pathways in your brain that support that activity.

The other thing is no matter how you’re feeling about your voice now. If you feel like “Oh, I’m just not very good” or “Oh, you know somebody told me that when I was a kid, I wasn’t very good and I’ve been carrying that around for ever and I sort of believe it now. I believe I’m not very good” or “I’m certainly not as good as that person” or “I’m kinda good but you know I really would like to be better” or any number of things that you may think that are not supporting your actual progress and reaching your potential. Any of those things whether they’re physical, “I want to get better high notes” or whether it’s mental and emotional, “I would really like to love my voice”. It can all be changed.

That’s really exciting news. And that is what Neuroplasticity has to do a singing. How in the world we accomplish this? It’s pretty easy to talk about the outer singer. Pretty easy to talk about high notes and support and breathing and vibrato and better mix and better chest voice and better phrasing and all these things- very easy to talk about that. And quite frankly, it’s very easy to do that, very easy to build that, very easy to help somebody with that.

But as we’ve discussed and discovered that the outer singer is going to be limited to the inner singer’s beliefs, the inner singer’s influence because it’s the influence of the inner singer that runs the outer singer. So, let’s talk then for a second not about high notes which is pretty easy to build, and not about the outer singer. But let’s stop for a few minutes about what goes on inside behind the scenes that runs what’s going on outside.

Let’s just take high notes for a second. How do you feel about high notes? Do they excite you? Can you not wait to get to the high notes because you’re so excited by the time you get to the high note of a song you can’t wait to sing it? Or is that how you want to be?

I had a teacher one time years and years ago when I just could not seeing any kind of a high note in a song. I was at that time able to sing isolated high notes but I was pulling so much weight in my voice that I couldn’t actually sing a song and then end on a high note or actually put a high note anywhere in a song. Because I was so tight and heavy during the song, I couldn’t get off the ground, I couldn’t get out of my chest voice. And even if I got out of my chest voice, it was so heavy and weighty that I couldn’t get past maybe a G or something. And I had this fellow to say to me one time, he was a teacher, pretty good singer and he said “Some day, the entire song, leading up to the high note, is just going to warm you up and you’re going to be so excited to get to the high note.”. And I thought “Oh, you have got to be crazy. You have no idea what it feels like when I sing. That is never going to happen” and of course I have no any of this stuff back then. I was pretty positive and I was pretty optimistic, but I didn’t know anything about this because that’s going back some years.

And I had another fellow one time talking to me, who was an opera singer, talking about a particularly difficult aria that I thought that would be my dream if I could ever actually sing that aria. And he said, yeah, he did that opera in Italy and I said “You did that?” I was totally in awe. Him saying singing a part of Manrico who sang an aria on a big high C, got another high C in there too. Big giant high C the great. Yeah because this is what I wanted to do. I couldn’t dream a high C. And I said “So you sing Di quella pira?” And he said “Oh yeah, that’s easy aria.” He said once you get up into that part of the voice is easy. You just stay there. You never have to come down. And of course, to me that was like “Okay. I do not have a road on my internal map of reality that takes me to even beginning to imagine that” turns out all of that is really true. But I couldn’t believe it at the time I had no way to create that road.

What we know now is very interesting, because what they’ve known for some time is that there’s a part of the brain that doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined. That’s why we react to the way react in a scary movie or when we watch the news. Our brain actually thinks that is going on. So we can use that to our benefit in a number of ways. Number one, I’m not being judgmental here, but number one thing we really can do is if you do watch a lot of news, one thing you can do is just don’t do that anymore. That will be probably really good for you. If you watch a lot of news, a lot of negative news, probably be really good for you to pull off that. Because what we’re beginning to do, as I’ve talked about in previous podcast, beginning to train ourselves to look for the positive things, the good stuff, the optimistic things. The expectancy in our voice or with our ways of things actually going well and progressing. That was just kind of an aside since the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagine.

A way to use that in our benefit besides just turning off the news, is actually something constructive that can be done with our voice, and that is what I like to call mental rehearsal. This is actually scientifically proven to work. They’ve done a number of studies, I won’t go into the studies, but I will tell you a few of just what they are. They did with basketball players, piano players and Opera singers at various different times throughout the last few years.

What they do with the basketball players, and I heard about this years and years ago. This is when they did a long time ago before they even knew what they know now about the brain. They were talking at that point back about the power of the subconscious mind in very little of what they believed to be true was validated yet by Science. So even back in the days of just talking about the power of subconscious mind. They did an expand with basketball players where they had a group of basketball players that we’re all about the same level of proficiency. What they did was, say practice free throws. Then one group practice free throws physically. They went out to the court and they practice the free throw, and they did it, they did it, they did it. The other group practiced mentally, there were some just saw the ball going through the hoop. They practice this into mental rehearsal. After a certain amount of time, both practicing, the ones practicing physically and the ones practicing mentally, they all hit the court to see who would be better, if there would be a winner. They came in right about neck and neck. The ones that have been physically practicing and the ones that had been practicing just mentally, which is pretty phenomenal.

They did the same thing with opera singer singing and the same thing with piano players, learning and playing a scale. They got piano players with the same level of proficiency. They had one group practices scale on the piano over and over and over and over again. They had another group watch the people practicing enough to be able to see and feel in their body and their mind what the fingering was so that they could memorize what it look like and then those practiced only mentally and never touched a piano. I believe the other group really didn’t do anything- there were three groups. When it came down to putting them altogether. Clearly, the group they didn’t do anything didn’t do much, but the group that mentally practiced was right there neck and neck with the group that physically practice the piano. How in the world can this be. They also done studies because they can wire the brain now with these electrodes that they put on the outside of your head, and they can see the parts of the brain that are lighting up. And they could see that the people that were playing physically and the people that were imagining playing had very close to the same brain activity, which is pretty phenomenal when you think about it.

There’s another thing called mirror neurons, which I don’t know if I’m going to go into in this particular podcast, but we’ll see if it comes up, but that plays a part into it as well. But this mental rehearsal can be very very powerful.

I’ve been teaching for a long time that people can mentally rehearsed their vocalization and I’ve taught people many times that when they do something particularly well. Something that they feel is kind of the model that they would like to follow. That they stop feo what it feels like in their body. Get excited and enthusiastic about how wonderful it was, because you want to attach a motion to it, because the brain understands emotion and the neurons fire together wire together. The more emotionally charged it is, the more neurons fire the more activity there is, and the more those connections get fortified. If you do something that you like, you can stop and you can relish in it and you can relive it mentally and relive it mentally again and you can mentally rehearse and you can fortify and build on that positive experience. That will expedite your vocal progress more than just doing it physically. You will get better faster.

I have no science whatsoever to back that up because I have not done any scientific research, but I have had many students that I’ve advised to do this and they report really cool things. So my feeling is, logic dictates if we know that the brain is firing pretty much the same for imagining, we know that the emotion fortifies the connection and really makes those neurons fire together. That if we’re vocalizing and we hit a particularly good note, instead of letting it just go by, it was like another day at the office. If we stop, and we take it in, and we have a strong, positive emotional reaction to that, and then we live it, and we feel into it, logic dictates to me that that has to have some kind benefit.

My suggestion would be, take advantage of the neuroplasticity idea and the mental rehearsal and the fact that part of the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagine. Imagine that you are actually did this with the student. She was going to sing in a wedding. The wedding was going to be in front of a whole bunch of people that she used to know before she sing. It was going to feel kind of odd to where she is. Nobody knows she sings. Then she gets up and she sings this wedding. And she’s thinking “This is weird, I’m really nervous about this. I’m not sure about this. I just want to get this over with” and I said “Why don’t we do a little fun game here. You’ve got a few weeks before the wedding. Why didn’t you begin to visualize and mentally rehears this performance, this experience and feel into it and look, even though you don’t know where it will be, and so you don’t know what it’s going to be like look out at the audience. Feel the love that you have for your friend is getting married. Relishing that and just feel into what that will feel like just singing beautifully and just having a great time and bringing tremendous amounts of joy. Going into the reception getting some food and having all these people come up and tell you how great it was, and we didn’t know you sang and all this kind of stuff.” She said, “Okay, that sounds like kind of a cool thing to do.”. She did that and a few weeks went by and I think she forgot about it. Then she went to the wedding. A few weeks after the wedding or two weeks after the weddin g, she came in for another lesson. I said “How the wedding go?” She goes “It was great!” and I said “How did the singing go? Tell me about it.” She said, “Well the song went great. It couldn’t gone better. The song went amazingly, I felt really good about it. I was up and I’m trying to get my food and so many people are coming to talk to me. I didn’t even get a chance to eat hardly” and I say, “Wow, that’s so cool!” and I said, “That really sounds familiar” and she said, “What do you mean?” I said, “That’s quite a bit like the rehearsal and the story that you came up with.” And she said, “I totally forgot about that.” She’d actually completely forgotten about it, which I know was funny. She built into our mind apparently come to a place where she wasn’t terribly concerned about it anymore and the scenario happened almost exactly as she had rehearsed it. The funny thing is she totally forgot that she even did it until I mentioned it to her. She didn’t make the connection which was great.

Mental rehearsal can be really cool. Taking advantage of the fact that your brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined. If you are practicing something, if you’re feeling into it and feeling emotionally charged about performing on stage and singing a particular song on stage or doing a show or appearing at a place, or doing karaoke, singing at a wedding, or whatever you’re doing, you don’t even have to be doing anything grandiose by any means just whatever. But if you feel into it, and you get that emotionally charged feeling and you’re mentally rehearsing that and you’re taking advantage of those neurons firing together and building that connection, because the brain thinks you’re actually doing it and experiencing it. If you mentally rehearsed something fifteen times, but you only actually do the thing you’re rehearsing twice. That seventeen altogether that seventeen times your brand things you’ve done it. The next time you get up to do it, you’re going to feel a lot better about it. Even though physically you’ve only done it twice. If you do the mental rehearsal.

Anyway, that is a really cool thing you can do. I’m going to leave you that and that’s what neuroplasticity has to do with singing. See, that wasn’t too heavy. So anyway, I’m just thinking about all the things, I’m not looking at the time. I don’t have time to say so we’ll keep that for another podcast.

Thank you so much for listening. That is your action step and that’s the take away mentally rehearsed and take advantage of neuroplasticity and have a lot of fun with that.

I look forward to speaking to you in the next podcast, this are done quite on the fly hope you enjoy those because I should do. Will talk to you real soon. Bye for now. Bye bye.

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