Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
Negative practice is an idea that comes from psychology and motor learning studies.
“Negative practice involves the repeated performance of a behavior with the goal of eliminating or reducing the occurrence of the behavior. The idea is that massed practice of the problem behavior creates fatigue or a similar aversive consequence and thus reduces the rates of the behavior in the future (similar to the process of positive punishment).” (Weems and Costa, 2005)
Simplified for our purposes, negative practice helps a student overcome a vocal fault by purposely producing the fault followed by the new approach so that their brain begins to recognize the difference. So let’s say a student is struggling with nasality and you have just helped them discover how to produce a non-nasal sound. With negative practice, instead of focusing only on the new technique, you would have them sing a vowel the old way, then immediately have them sing it the new way. During the negative practice, have them talk about what they are doing differently between the old way and the new way and how they can remember the difference. After a few repetitions using negative practice, have them vocalize with the new technique again. Then after a few minutes of successful practice in the new mode, stop and have them sing the old way followed by the new way several times again. The act of going back and forth between old and new, and asking them to articulate the difference to you will help the student master the difference between the two. At the end of the lesson, they will be more likely to be able to recall the differences on their own while practicing.
I have found negative practice to be extremely beneficial in my studio. My students improve faster than before because they leave each lesson feeling confident that they know how they were singing and how I am asking them to sing now. Try negative practice in your own lessons this week and let me know what you think. If you have other comments or thoughts about negative practice, please leave them in the comments section below. If you find this article interesting, please subscribe to the blog using the subscription form at the bottom right of this page. Also be sure to check out our offerings this summer at the CCM Voice Pedagogy Institute. Throughout sessions one and two we will be discussing motor learning principles and how they can improve student success in the voice studio.
Thanks for reading!
Weems, C. & Costa, N. (2005). Negative practice. In M. HersenJ. Rosqvist & A. M. Gross (Eds.), Encyclopedia of behavior modification and cognitive behavior therapy(Vol. 3, pp. 916-916). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412950534.n2080