The People Who Can, Do

I think quite often about the statements, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” It always makes me cringe, because I believe there is some truth there. How might this be so?

A lot depends on how you look at the statements and what your interpretation is.

If we speak of singing as a career, not many people get to become singers at a high enough professional level to make a decent and consistent living by singing. Many people try but not many people succeed. Those who do not achieve this goal might end up teaching because it is a way to stay in touch with singing rather than give it up entirely. That’s not so bad.

Another way of configuring these statements would be to imply that the people who sing in any public venue are successful, regardless of whether they make a living from singing or not. It’s possible to be successful at a local level and be highly regarded  as a vocalist, even if you are not paid to sing. However, you may not be much able to expand upon this success, or you may not be really interested in doing so. I would say that such singing still counts as “doing”.

It could also be possible that there are people who aren’t really very good at singing but who think they are and through shear force of will and determination, forge their way into the music business and somehow create a viable career. There are quite a few of these even at high professional levels. Some last, some don’t, but it is certainly true that they are “doing” some kind of singing.

What about the people who choose for various reasons to teach knowing that a life on the road, a life that is transient, isn’t for them? Are they not also people who are doing? If you like to sing and get good at singing, does it mean that you have to have a career as a singer? I actually don’t know the answer to this question. It seems to me that without any professional (level) experience you miss out on some of the key ingredients that can only be learned on the job and not in a school environment. It seems to me that the kind of thing one learns singing, no matter what the venue, is only learned in front of an audience and not in front of a student or a class.

The truth is somewhere in all of this. Some people sing well and succeed at having a career. Some people sing well and don’t bother with a career. Some people sing well but don’t succeed at having a career, even though they try and would like one. Some people don’t sing well but succeed at having a career anyway. Some people don’t sing well and don’t try to have a career, but still sing at a local level here and there.

None of this has anything whatsoever to do with teaching. Any of the above people could or could not have a clue about how to teach someone else to do what they do or what they think others do when they are singing. The two skills are not the same, although it is often assumed that those who sing well can teach. That’s not the case. Some people who don’t sing well could be very good at helping others learn to sing, but those people would still have had to spend some considerable amount of time thinking about and working with singing as a concept and art. Some people who are magnificent singers who have had an easy time with singing from the outset don’t really understand what they are doing, because it is nearly effortless. They generally don’t teach well unless perhaps they encounter a student who is as gifted as they.

The assumptions we have about teaching are many. Some of them seem reasonable, but they may not be. Generally speaking, teaching something you don’t do to someone who wants to do it isn’t a good idea, because you can’t really teach from direct personal experience. But it can be argued that direct personal experience is a vastly different thing for each human being and understanding what you do isn’t going to help you understand what someone else is doing or could do.

Finding a teacher that is the “right match” for you is very important. It isn’t so that those who can, do, and those who can’t teach, but it might be true. You have to go slowly and see.

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