There are some that say that the use of the word believe should be eliminated for our vernacular. I will not go so far as to agree with that, but I do think looking into our belief system and how it serves, or doesn’t serve us is a worthwhile venture.
Years ago, I was invited to conduct a few workshop/masterclasses at the San Fransisco Conservatory. This, to me at the time, was the pinnacle of opportunities in my world. I was a lowly voice coach in San Fransisco and the conservatory was THE conservatory. I remember preparing my class and being excited to give my knowledge to the students. While this ended up being a very positive experience (actually I think I did 3 different classes), I was surprised at a couple of student comments to me. I remember one particular students saying “My teacher says that as long as I can work out my breathing, I don’t have to worry about anything else. Correct breath will fix all other vocal issues…”.
That struck me as odd. The reason that it was so odd to me, was that I was learning many other aspects of vocal development. Breathing was just one of a handful of items to be addressed and dealt with. However, there was no explaining to this student any further. The conversation was over before it had begun.
Since that experience I have spent years observing the process of the human belief system and learning. I am still surprised at the power of this.
My most recent expedition was back to Japan. I have been to Japan a few times on teaching tours, and as with any experience of traveling, there is always something new to learn. This trip has re-ignited my interest in the human belief system and how it affects growth and learning, due to resistance that is happening with some of the teacher training. The administration at one of the schools made a comment about the difference between the voice department and the guitar department. The guitar teachers all just teach a common methodology, while the voice teachers have “their way” and are resistant to a universal process.
But, before I dig into vocal training, let’s explore the actual process of the belief system.
How many of you know someone who believe something you consider odd or nutty? Why do they believe it? Have you ever asked them or had a discussion about the topic? How does this usually end? Do you ever present logical information to them, and in the face of that knowledge, they change their mind, or do they usually stick with whatever it is they believe?
Humans believe some pretty crazy things sometimes. The further to the edge of normal the easier it is to see this, but even with mainstream beliefs, the process for which we deiced what to believe is the same. It’s only the content of the system that changes. Believing my neighbor is an alien or believing coke a cola is bad for me, is a system, often, of irrational feelings that lead to a “belief”.
The big question then is, why? What makes the human experience so susceptible to beliefs that don’t serve us, or limit our ability to grow or learn?
Much of the research around why has to do with survival. Unquestioning following of beliefs keep us from being killed or harmed as when we are young. There might not be time to question the one giving us guidance when we are young, for us to survive a situation. It’s a key element of our existence to have such a unwavering ability to “just believe”. The second part of this system is the human mind’s to resist change, which also serves a purpose in our survival. Changing our beliefs to quickly or frequently could cause harm or death. We need to take time to analyze why we would change our beliefs and instincts, otherwise we run the risk of making fatal choices.
Ok, so we have a built in, hardwired system for why we believe things. Let’s accept that it’s part of all of us and it’s probably not going away anytime soon.
The big question then becomes, does it serve us? Do we reach our greatest levels of growth with it?
Einstein, whom I’m sure we all can agree, was one who lived a very full and productive life, could not accept quantum physics. He limited his ability to continue growing, because it didn’t fit his belief system, so he created the theory of super strings. Which, by the way, has produced nothing other than a dead end theory. Most of us would be happy to leave this world with our mark being on the level of Einstein, I’m sure, however, the point is that he stopped learning, due to a belief system.
We are all at the mercy of this human condition UNLESS we are able to recognize it in ourselves and control it, rather than it controlling us.
So, let’s move on to vocal training and how this ties together.
I hesitate to talk about religion or politics… most of the time. But, let’s use them to as an analogy to voice and vocal training.
Religion is the ultimate example of a belief system (otherwise it would not be called faith) and politics might be a close second. In third place comes the belief process about vocal training. Not because vocal training lacks a verifiable system, but rather there are so many factors (many are invisible to the naked eye) and because it’s an emotional experience. The human experience of singing brings up everything from fear, to elation, to euphoria, to an over developed sense of ego, to empathy and many other emotions. The singing instrument is also changing while it’s being played, making it somewhat elusive at times. Add to this the effect hormones have on the body, and there is a recipe for a manic experience.
THIS IS what makes singing magic.
As singers we all want three things from our singing: Freedom, Empowerment, Joy
Yet, our instrument does not always cooperate with us, so we look for ways to get this. Enter the voice teacher…
Voice teachers are generally pretty emotionally driven people. They are artists who are also mentors and guides, and have emotional connections with those they instruct. It would be safe to say that a voice teacher/singer relationship is more intimate than that of a guitar teacher/student relationship. This is where it gets tricky and the human belief system can trip us up.
Let me step back for a minute here and address “my beliefs” about vocal training. Here is rule #1: No one person has ALL the answers.
There are many ways to achieve freedom, empowerment, and joy with singing. There are techniques that work wonders for you now and in time are less effective and vise-a-versa. There may be something that someone says or explains that sets off a light bulb in a singer’s thinking and makes a HUGE difference. That something might even come from another “less developed” singer. One never can tell where it might come from.
Which is why a rigid belief system is the enemy of growth.
The most powerful words you, your voice teacher, or for that matter, anyone can say is “I don’t know.”. The person who says this will most likely be your best teacher. They have shown you they are not locked into a rigid belief system.
However, we want our mentors or teachers to be infallible and have absolutes. So, they often start to play that role for us, and we begin to believe that they are an absolute, meaning always right. When they say “I don’t know”, it flies in the face of what we are comfortable with and is counter to what we’ve decided we believe. Our mentors often feel that from us and they in-turn begin to stop saying they don’t know, and play the role we impose on them as absolutists.
Welcome to the world of limited growth.
We need to lower our beliefs about what we know and what we expect our mentors and teachers to know. Notice I didn’t say lower the bar or standards, but merely our BELIEFS.
If what I am saying is lower our beliefs, we can actually raise our standards and increase our ability to grow.
If our minds are continually looking for the criticism of what we are hearing and learning, then ALL of what we learn is up for re-evaluation always. If something that is serving us now stops serving us, we will recognize that right away and find what does serve us. Additionally it keeps us from being caught in the cult of personality – the confused state of combining information with the messenger. Charisma and charm can sometimes cloud our ability to filter the information. It makes it easier to accept the information as a truth we should believe in, even when it is verifiably inaccurate.
Then how can we rely on anything if it’s always up for criticism?
Well, there are some parts of this that can be placed in the “Most likely outcome” section, and some that are placed in the “extremely variable” section.
There are 4 houses or areas of essential knowledge for voice teachers and singers. They are the science of voice and singing, the pedagogy and synapsis of singing, uniqueness and style development, and the psychology of singing.
The former fall in the realm of testable knowledge and the latter in the subjective zones of belief. While we have clear understanding of formants and harmonics, muscular function and myelin development via synapsis, we have an artistic approach to the use of this information. With the latter two houses we don’t even have a testable knowledge of them, but rather experiential and anecdotal knowledge. This, by the way, is the reason there are more problems with belief and cult of personality when it comes to the latter 2 houses.
You will reach your best and highest potential if you begin with an understanding of the testable information and then always relate back to that as you move into the more subjective and variable areas. When working with a vocal instructor, you should always feel they know how vowels, consonants and arpeggios move the voice towards different muscular coordinations and when working with a vocal coach you should always feel that they will step back when they don’t know enough about technique to guide you on the physical aspects.
It takes a great coach to say “I don’t know…” and will make sure you have the best information.
Recommended reading for more information:
Vocology – Titze
Science for singers – Luchuck