Triangle Speech Services Logo 600 dpiCommunication Matters

The Magic of Muscle Memory
May 2017 
Issue 105

 Triangle Speech Services is the private, professional practice of Judith L. Bergman, a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) who specializes in foreign accent and regional dialect modification and related communication skills. I offer customized, individual tutorials to corporate-sponsored and self-enrolled individuals who speak English fluently but with moderate to severe accents that create challenges and frustrations in the workplace. 
    We take "muscle memory" or "motor learning" for granted as we grow up and watch our children grow up and master skills such as riding a bike and tying their shoes. My clients who "grew up" with soccer know that watching the game on television didn't help much in trying to master a specific skill in that sport. It took lots and lots of practice with feedback from the coach before this skill could be used in a real game.
    In my own life, in just the last four years I have participated in two very different activities where my skill level has increased as I have developed muscle memory through repetitive, strategic practice: Tai Chi and Ringing Handbells.  
Muscle Memory and Brain Changes
  Muscle memory is created for a specific task when a movement is repeated many times over a period of time and eventually this task become automatic. "Hebb's Rule" states that brain synapses form new connections. In March 2015 a collaboration of researchers at the University of Electro-Communications and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, and the University of California, San Diego documented these changes.  Their findings suggest that multiple plasticity mechanisms in the cerebellar cortex and cerebellar/vestibular nuclei participate in long-term motor memory formation. In simple language this means that a part of the brain NOT involved with thinking and planning has taken over.
   This explains why simply "showing" a client how to pronounce a new sound and  say it a few times in a word and then in a sentence never "sticks" with minimal practice and "thinking about it."  The problem is that my clients are brilliant and used to learning intellectually and quickly.  To change complex speech habit patterns learned automatically in their first language, they have to practice, practice and practice for many days, many total hours using feedback before any of the new patterns can be stabilized in speech. Changes in the brain are necessary and can only be created with patient, persistent practice.  
 Watch Two Hands, Four Handbells, Two Handchimes Weaving and Passing in "Precious Lord" 

  I ring in a very special handbell group called "Music Made in Heaven."  Most of the ringers, including myself, have in the past lost a child and each bell is donated in a child's memory with a special inscription inside the handle.
  Many of the ringers have been in various handbell groups for many years and have mastered advanced techniques. Although I read piano music easily, in order to "survive" in this group, I have had to make copies of each piece, find the exact recording on line, set up an identical standing notebook and practice at home in between our weekly rehearsals. I practice with surrogate (substitute) "handbells" which are sets of round and rectangular hair brushes and use candlesticks for substitute chimes!!
   On Sunday, May 21 we played seven songs in our special yearly "Gathering" concert in which we take time to read the memorial inscription on each bell and ring that bell.  My adult son, Jeff and I hear my son's inscription read:  "Steven Harris Bergman, September 7, 1966 to June 22, 1975, Always loved and remembered."    One of our songs, "Precious Lord" was the most difficult I have ever had to learn. I practiced many many days for weeks, many hours, many repetitions. Look at this video and watch the lady (me) who is fifth from your left.
Notice how I have to pick up, put down, pass bells from one hand to the other in order to play the B flat, B natural, A flat and A natural,  one after the other  in varying order and also ring chimes at the right time, in rhythm and musically, AND I turned all the pages!  Here is proof that one is NEVER "too old" to benefit from practice and to develop the brain changes for muscle memory.      


   We invite you to click on Triangle Speech Services  to visit our informative website.    We want to help you and know that we can if you are truly ready to do the work.
    I am writing this two days after our handbell concert and one day after the ringer whose neighbor recorded our songs, sent us this video.  I sincerely hope this will convince any skeptical potential clients that repetitive practice is the key to success in MANY "non-intellectual" activities including accent modification.
  Managers, forward this newsletter to your international "stars" who might be interested in this professional training opportunity.    We are looking forward to hearing from you.


Judith L. Bergman M.A. CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist and Corporate Speech Trainer
Founder & Director of Triangle Speech Services