The March/April 2022 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Attention or Autopilot? Motor Learning and the Choral Warm-up” by Christopher Loftin and Matthew Hoch. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
Most choir directors consider the warm-up portion of rehearsal to be of considerable importance. In general, warm-ups that conductors develop and use daily are goal-oriented in nature, focusing on specific aspects of vocal and choral technique. Further, many directors seek to develop their choristers’ musical skills, valuing the creation of lifelong, independent musicians.
However, with many constraints and pressures on the choir directors—including time shortage, teacher fatigue, and concert preparation—many directors may sacrifice part or all of the choral warm-up to focus on more pressing tasks. These constraints often result in directors using the same warm-ups over and over, forgetting to consistently provide positive and corrective feedback during the warm-up, and failing to promote a culture of student vocal exploration and self-correction during this critical time at the beginning of rehearsals. Perfunctory routines like the ones described above usually cause students to go on “autopilot” during the warm-up, which neither builds skill nor internalizes techniques presented. This habit represents a missed opportunity for all involved. When developed to their full potential, warm-ups can unify an ensemble both mentally and physically while preparing the voice to sing freely and musically throughout the rehearsal. A basic understanding of the core tenets of motor learning theory can be particularly fruitful when applied to the choral warm-up.
Motor Learning Theory: Core Principles and Practical Application
Daniel Willingham discussed the importance of motor skill learning and broke it down into its three fundamental parts, all of which occur outside of conscious awareness: awareness, proper sequencing of skills, and making the skills a learned behavior.1 The principles of motor learning adapted to choral learning include several key factors: (1) awareness of desired vocal health and an individualized set of vocal, physical, and mental needs that should be met in the choral warm-ups; (2) proper sequencing of these tasks in the warm-up; and (3) consistent practice and reinforcement of skills in the choral warm-up. Exploring these concepts in the daily warm-up helps to foster a culture of vocal exploration, more internationalization of desired learned vocal skills, and greater vocal health and longevity. This brief article operationalizes these concepts by providing some ideas for practical application of motor learning theory in the choral warmup.
Read the rest of this article in the March/April 2022 issue of Choral Journal.
1 Daniel B. Willingham, “A Neuropsychological Theory of Motor Skill Learning,” Psychological Review 105, no. 3 (1998): 558–84.