Measuring vocal motor skill with a virtual voice-controlled slingshot


J. H. Van Stan, S. W. Park, M. Jarvis, D. D. Mehta, R. E. Hillman, and D. Sternad, “Measuring vocal motor skill with a virtual voice-controlled slingshot,” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol. 142, no. 3, pp. 1199-1212, 2017.
Paper2.14 MB


Successful voice training (e.g., singing lessons) and vocal rehabilitation (e.g., therapy for a voice disorder) involve learning complex, vocalbehaviors. However, there are no metrics describing how humans learn new vocal skills or predicting how long the improved behavior will persist post-therapy. To develop measures capable of describing and predicting vocal motor learning, a theory-based paradigm from limb motor control inspired the development of a virtual task where subjects throw projectiles at a target via modifications in vocal pitch and loudness. Ten subjects with healthy voices practiced this complex vocal task for five days. The many-to-one mapping between the execution variables pitch and loudness and resulting target error was evaluated using an analysis that quantified distributional properties of variability: Tolerance, noise, covariation costs (TNC costs). Lag-1 autocorrelation (AC1) and detrended-fluctuation-analysis scaling index (SCI) analyzed temporal aspects of variability. Vocal data replicated limb-based findings: TNC costs were positively correlated with error; AC1 and SCI were modulated in relation to the task's solution manifold. The data suggests that vocal and limb motor learning are similar in how the learner navigates the solution space. Future work calls for investigating the game's potential to improve voice disorder diagnosis and treatment.

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