The Secret to Effective Voice Training

Breaking down the study: Effect of Practice Structure and Feedback Frequency on Voice Motor Learning in Older Adults by Steinhauer, K., & Eichhorn, K. (2023).

Are you interested in understanding the most efficient ways to train your voice, whether for singing, acting, or even recovery from a vocal injury? This blog post delves into a recent scientific study by Steinhauer & Eichhorn (2023), on the most effective methods to train and retain vocal skills. The focus is on two main principles: Practice Structure and Knowledge of Results (KR). Let’s break them down.

Intro to Voice Motor Learning

Motor learning, as described by Steinhauer & Eichorn (2023), pertains to the process of acquiring and retaining skills related to voice training. It focuses on understanding how individuals can effectively learn, practice, and master various vocal techniques. Let’s look at the foundational principles and findings that influence effective (or ineffective) voice motor learning

1. Understanding Structure: Blocked vs Random

Contextual Interference (CI): CI refers to the effects of practice structure (either blocked or random) on motor skill acquisition and retention. Practice Structure refers to how a training session is organized. There are two primary methods:

  • Blocked Practice: Repeating one skill before moving to the next (e.g., practicing a particular vowel repeatedly).
  • Random Practice: Mixing different skills within a session (e.g., alternating between different vowels)

Example:

  • Blocked: Practicing ‘A’ for 10 minutes, then ‘E’ for 10 minutes.
  • Random: Mixing ‘A’ and ‘E’ within a 10-minute session.

According to the study by Steinhauer and Eichhorn (2023), while blocked practice may lead to short-term acquisition, random practice enhances long-term retention and transfer to new tasks.

2. Knowledge of Results (KR): The Power of Feedback

KR is the feedback given about the performance, such as “Your target was 80, your score was 72.” The study by Steinhauer and Eichhorn (2023) showed that less frequent feedback could be more effective for long-term retention.

Example:

  • High Frequency KR: Feedback after every practice trial.
  • Low Frequency KR: Feedback after selected trials.

3. Understanding the Complexity and Task Demand

Steinhauer and Eichhorn (2023) found that the effectiveness of structure (blocked or random) and KR varies with task complexity and age. For example, elderly adults and those with Parkinson’s disease reacted differently to various combinations of practice structures and KR, especially when task demands increased.

3. Application to Specific Vocal Needs

The study also looked at the effectiveness of applying motor learning principles to varying motor skill levels, including hypophonic (weak voice), novice (untrained vocalists), and expert (trained vocalists) populations:

  • Hypophonic Voice Treatment: The research introduced “Twang,” which narrows the aryepiglottic sphincter (AES) for improving hypofunctional voice. This method has shown significant improvements in vocal power, airflow, and vocal fold closure.
  • Different Levels of Skill: By comparing different skill levels, the study highlights the need for customized interventions. The effects of practice structure and feedback frequency may respond differently in an untrained, perturbed (hypophonic), or expert vocal system.
  • A New Treatment Paradigm: The study sets the groundwork for new therapeutic strategies, targeting specific voice conditions such as hypofunctional voice due to bowing, atrophy, or vocal fold paresis or paralysis.

4. Implications for Long-term Success:

The study’s findings have profound implications for long-term rehabilitation and training in voice-related fields:

  • Tailored Strategies: Voice clinicians and teachers may benefit from understanding the role of CI and KR in motor learning. Implementing motor learning principles based on scientific evaluations could lead to more effective practice during training and treatment.
  • Influence of Feedback: Recognising that a high relative frequency of KR may increase motor performance in the short term but degrade learning in the long run, offers valuable insights for devising feedback strategies.
  • Innovation in Techniques: The use of “Twang” quality and other techniques, such as the controlled practice of isolated vowels and customised visual feedback may represent innovative methods for treating specific voice disorders.
  • Broad Application: Whether treating patients, coaching singers, or training actors, these findings can be utilised to maximize long-term, positive changes in vocal skills.

Conclusion

This comprehensive study opens new doors for understanding and applying motor learning principles in the rehabilitation of voice disorders and training. By exploring the intricacies of complexity and task demands, the specific needs of different vocal systems, and the long-term success of different practices, it offers valuable insights that could reshape the way voice training and rehabilitation programs are structured. It underscores the need for scientifically grounded practice structures, innovative therapeutic techniques, and the consideration of individual complexities and demands in the pursuit of long-term vocal skill development and rehabilitation.

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