Knowing Is Not Wisdom

You can be book smart — learning a lot of facts on any particular topics. You might know every tidbit on a particular subject and be impressive in a game of trivial pursuit, but knowing is not wisdom.

Wisdom is about applying knowledge in a useful manner.

When dealing with singing, you can recite every operatic role played by this famous diva or that, or own dozens of recordings of Traviata and Boheme, and have read all the books about vocal technique, but still not be able to sing a note. You might have a lot of knowledge but no actual wisdom. Unfortunately, that would not stop you from setting up shop as a teacher of singing.

What information is useful and to whom and under what circumstances? Does what I know work only for me or also for you or does it also work for many other people who sing? Just because I think I know what I am doing, does that mean that I know what you are doing, too? If I make up a fancy explanation for what I decide is happening, using big words and elaborate descriptions, and I impress you with this display, will it actually help you sing more successfully?

My husband and I are fans of the cable TV show “American Greed”. In each episode we see example after example of how innocent people were duped out of their money by unscrupulous crooks. Intelligent, well-educated people are taken in by their various crazy schemes to make a lot of money. Sadly, there is no end of misery caused by these despicable villains, but the investors do not really look deeply into what is being offered. Of course, in the end, the bad guys go to jail, which is as it should be, but I am always reminded how quickly people can be lead astray.

Let The Student Singer Beware

When you begin to study singing, unless you come from a family of performers or singers, you may have no clue at all what singing training should be or how it should work. There is no one to ask and no place to go for a clear-cut, definitive answer. The profession itself is more than willing to support “artistic teachers” who are inspired about music and its expression but may not even know that sound is produced by the vocal folds when they close and vibrate. Now that the internet is available, you can find many individuals who claim to be using “voice science” in their teaching but the things they say could not possibly have come from voice science because they are factually wrong. Of course, you may not know that. And, you can find people who teach using tenets from voice science that are correct but who sound dreadful when they sing or don’t sing at all. It can be very daunting to know what to do.

Knowing is not wisdom if all you know is what makes sense to you. If you convince someone else to do what you do even if it works for that person, it still doesn’t mean that it is grounded in a universal principle that can apply to everyone who has vocal folds (that’s most of us).

If you want to study singing, you want a teacher who makes sense in plain English, who can sing and sound good*, who understands how we make sound (and whose explanation is in line with actual voice science), and who is musical, expressive and patient. You want someone who is knowledgeable about various styles of music and, if you expect to sing professionally, who understands the music marketplace and its expectations. You want someone who doesn’t spend most of the lesson talking about their big career years ago or the most famous teacher they had while they were young. You want someone who is interested in you as a person, who values your time, your money, your goals, as well as your voice, body and heart.

Knowing is not wisdom. Wisdom comes from knowing many things and being able to apply them effectively. Don’t go down the garden path — it’s a seller’s market, so you, the buyer, be aware.

*In some cases, a teacher might have lost capacity to sing due to an illness, but they should have been a good singer in the past. You have to ask.
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