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The Curse of the Smart & Talented: Procedural Learning in Singing

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

How to Help Your Students Learn Faster & Better

It’s happened to you as a teacher. It may have happened to you as a voice student yourself.

You’ve asked your client for a new or modified behavior or skill. You’ve made a recommendation for treating a phrase a certain way, for instance, or you’ve introduced a technique. Your student tries and assesses that they are "doing it wrong."

The student may then do one or more of the following:

· Give up (I can’t do this!)

· Get angry (I hate this!)

· Announce a personal flaw (I’m so stupid!)

· Decide they have no talent (I suck!)

· See the future (I’ll never be able to do this!)

· Feel defeated (This is too hard!)

· Feel frustrated (Why can’t I do this?)

Then you reach into your tool box and try to find the Thing that will help that singer.

You’ve probably become good at helping them detach from that charged emotional state so that they can make use of their lesson time with you. But not always. And, honestly?... wouldn’t it be nice for both you and your client if that hadn’t happened in the first place?

The article is about why that happens. It’s about why smart, talented people don’t get things the first time, and why that causes them to become emotionally reactive. It’s about how people learn. It’s the 10,000-foot fly-over, and worth knowing.


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You’ve probably noticed that your brain traps things. Some things, but not everything.

It trapped a list of the intransitive verbs, but not the “eight word groups of grammar”. It trapped the memory of your daughter’s first birthday, but not your dad’s Christmas visit, 2005. It trapped all the lyrics from the entire Just Whitney album, but refuses to remember a single new song. It remembers how to ride a bike, but not how to do a cartwheel.

So, what’s going on with that?

Two things: neuroplasticity and functional memory.


Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to continually change its structure, chemistry, and neural connections. It’s the process by which a thought, behavior, or skill is created or altered.

Scientists once believed that we were born with a certain number of brain cells, and that once they were gone, they were gone. We now know that the brain is a very vital and active organ that is always changing.

Our bodies birth new neurons (brain cells) throughout our lives. The functions of each neuron are defined by the conversations it’s having with other neurons. If certain neurons keep having the same conversation (e.g., getting from home to work, the first verse of Crazy, or typing on a keyboard) that creates a very strong neural connection. The stronger the neural connection, the easier the thing is for you.

You have a catalog of thoughts and behaviors that have strong neural connections, and are therefore easy for you to access. Said another way, thoughts and behaviors that are familiar and easy represent a strong neural pathway (connection) in your brain.

Functional Memory

You constantly create different types of memory. Each type of memory is created, processed, stored, and retrieved differently in the brain. They fall into the categories of implicit - those you remember unconsciously and express in behavior - and explicit - those that can be consciously remembered.

Declarative memory

Also called semantic, this is your memory for facts. Information, figures, dates, lyrics, and other things you memorize and remember fall in this category.

Episodic memory

…is your memory for events. These memories are often “tagged” with emotion; we can have emotional experiences when we call up a memory of an event.