When The Experts Don’t Understand Each Other

At times, the gulf between the voice disciplines is large.

A medical doctor is going to look at a vocal problem from a strictly medical perspective. That is what her training tells her to do, that is what her experience is about and that is what the law requires of her as well. A speech language pathologist is going to look at all vocal problems from the standpoint of speech, for the same reasons. A voice researcher is going to look at the physical production of voiced sound and examine it in various ways to discern its components as accurately as possible. A singing teacher is going to look at the voice from a musical perspective, or perhaps, if they have the knowledge, from a vocal function perspective as well.

Does a medical doctor understand singing? Does a singing teacher understand phonosurgery? Does a speech pathologist understand singing or surgery or vocal acoustics? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. The languages of each discipline are different. Medicine isn’t always exact, but many terms are defined by specific symptoms and are listed in a medical dictionary. Speech conditions are also catalogued in order for pathologists to be able to understand their characteristics more universally. Voice scientists seem to agree that a formant is something specific and also that vocal fold behaviors can be measured with various kind of instruments. Singing teachers may not understand any of the words used by the other professions. Frequently, they do not understand words used by other singing teachers in their own profession.

If you think you understand another profession, if you think you understand their language, how do you know that is an accurate assumption if on a daily basis you do not interact with that profession? Worse, even if you do interact with that profession, how would the other person (the MD, the SLP, the scientist) know if you were knowledgeable about your own? Maybe they wouldn’t know at all.

I ask these questions because I have seen evidence, over time, in several places, that a medical doctor really doesn’t understand whether or not a singing teacher is any good if he doesn’t sing and has no basis for comparison. I have seen this because a speech language pathologist may not be able to evaluate the skills of a singing teacher if she herself does not sing. I have seen this because a voice scientist can understand physics but not how the throat actually works when it is doing its job well. In places where I would not expect to encounter lack of understanding I encounter it on a regular basis.

It is often the case that the experts do not understand each other well, even when they are attempting to do so. There is no remedy for this situation but perhaps one day someone will find a way to create a “Rosetta Stone” of the various disciplines and how they verbally describe more or less the same phenomena. Perhaps, one day. Perhaps.


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