Pedagogy Advent Day 2:
Mirror, Mirror in My Brain
Brains are my favorite. There's so much going on behind the scenes in our brains that effects our day to day lives and we aren't even aware of it. One of the things that happens, often without our conscious awareness, is due to our mirror neurons that help us to relate to another person.
These fascinating little synapses analyze what they are seeing from another person, and direct you to mirror that behavior. Full disclosure, there is still some debate about how all of this works, but I think we've likely all experienced it. The thinking is that our brains want us to relate well to others. It's something akin to making friends so we can all survive this thing called life together. That would be really important if you were out hunting in pre-civilization times and you needed a group to live with in order to survive. Mirroring the actions of others can make you seem more likeable and relatable, and therefore more trustworthy.
We don't have to go out and hunt saber-toothed tigers anymore, but we do need to direct choirs, or make a good impression during job interviews, or empathize with a friend who is having a rough day. Our mirror neurons will lead us to lean forward when someone else leans toward us, cross our arms when we see them cross theirs, and moderate our tone of voice to match the person we are speaking with. Most of that happens without our express intent, but I bet you can think of instances when you've noticed all of a sudden you match your conversation partner's stance!
What does this have to do with voice lessons? Well, we might be able to influence how our students behave. More often than not, the person who is seen as less of an authority in a situation will mirror the person with more authority. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, a student is more likely to imitate the teacher than the other way around. You might be able to influence your students' posture simply by sitting or standing with good posture when you are meeting with them. You can exhibit excellent speaking technique and influence them to match your vocal quality. You can even express confidence and help them to match that confidence in themselves. This is all an oversimplification, but if mirror neurons are going to be engaged, why not try to harness them for good?
I think this is especially important in our current mostly online context. How we show up on camera may have an effect on how our students will show up, as well. And I've told students before that it may be possible to interact with an audience in such a way that their mirror neurons will also be triggered. If you are having fun and are projecting interest in your audience from the stage, they may very well project that back to you. It's fun to at least try!
If you'd like to read more about this, here is the mirror neuron rabbit trail starter kit:
From the Barbershop Harmony Society on conducting gesture
Thesis by Dr. Jeremy Manternach on conducting gestures and singer behaviors
Mirror neuron responses in monkey calls and bird song
Have you noticed any of this in your studio? How do you intentionally influence your students with your behaviors? Write me back and tell me about it!
By the way, because this is a tricky topic, today's download might be best accompanied by some explanation from you in the post, but that hopefully will also give you an opportunity to really talk to your clients about how wonderful and fascinating their neurological lives are. You can take any of the words I've written in this email and use them, but I do ask that you give credit. And tag me so I can jump into the conversation!