Our current world has many of us retreating to us vs. them, binary thinking. This attitude can creep into our views of singing and technique, which can blind us to other helpful methods and views.

In this episode, John explores the problems of binary thinking and why the ideas of “one true technique” are misguided and harmful for singers.

Episode Transcript

Episode 193 – Avoiding Binary Thinking

Hey there, this is John Henny, welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending this precious listening time with me. 

Alright, as I record this, we are just days away from the US presidential election and this is a unique experience. I know for me and just about everyone else in that I have no idea what’s going to happen. And it’s not that I have no idea who’s going to win, but rather, how long it will take to determine a winner. 

Is the determination of the winner going to go to the courts? Will there be violence and voter suppression? Will there be a peaceful transfer of power? No clue what’s going to occur. And this is all happening as the COVID pandemic is reaching new heights here in the US 90,000 plus new cases per day summed across six figures every single day. Over 1000 deaths per day. It’s just mind-boggling. And it’s just causing people to turn on each other. And we can even have civil conversations about wearing a mask about mitigating the spread of droplets, we have become so accustomed to binary thinking. And there’s just our side, and the other side has no point whatsoever.

And listen, I will give you there are sides that I feel have much better points than the other side. But that doesn’t mean that the other side is completely without some points, at least to be listened to. But we seem to have gone beyond that. And we’re now being manipulated through social media by other forces as our old lizard brains caveman brains have to deal with being bombarded by supercomputers and increasingly powerful artificial intelligence and manipulation of our minds of truth and even what is truth. And if we knock away basic concepts of truth and trust, we were just looking at chaos. But I don’t want to dwell on that because you don’t tune in to hear me talk about politics. 

So I’m going to switch over to singing. But hopefully, on the other side of this, we will have some calm and I can really only hope that we can get back to some sense of civility. But this binary thinking is really problematic. And it happens in singing. And what we do is we find things that are true for us. You know, there is absolute truth and then there’s what works and more specifically what works for us. And in the middle where those two intersect. Hopefully, we can spend more of our time there. Yeah, because just two concepts that don’t help our singing not going to do much for us. But getting stuck with concepts that are helpful for a little while can often become a trap because our thinking gets stuck there and we’re not willing to move on. 

And I have been in teaching organizations were specifically what was deemed useful, superseded what was true. And even though some of this was quite useful. The lack of ultimate truth caused these tools to be weakened, cause them to be misused, cause them to be over-relied on, and really created this myopic institution where other points of view were not seen as valid and were not embraced. And it really just became stuck. I mean, one that I’m particularly thinking about doesn’t even exist anymore. And it’s really sad because it did do a lot of good. But there were aspects of it, which is why I left where science wasn’t embraced. 

Now, science for science’s sake is not really going to get you too far. Singing is experiential. Singing is a verb, you got to do it, we have to, we have to sing. We have to take action and when we get stuck in being right, when we get stuck in defending our point of view, or our teacher’s point of view, we do ourselves and others a disservice. Now, I have certainly studied with people who feel that their point of view is the right point of view. And particularly focusing on a specific aspect of singing is more important or more correct than other aspects. And I will also say that I have gotten a lot of benefit from these micro focuses, just paying attention to one aspect of the voice, and making it more important than other aspects for a short period of time. 

But one thing science can give us is just knowing that one thing is not the whole picture and when you start looking at the voice teaching world, you will see those who really embrace the totality of singing. And they’re not quite as interesting. They don’t tend to make as many waves as the teacher that comes in and proclaims, everyone else is wrong. If somebody is teaching this, they’ve misguided you by taking a stand as to why this method is wrong, or why my method is superior. And what that does is it creates an us versus them and it and it’s very effective. In terms of building a name for yourself. 

I watched one young person, in particular, come out and just attack voice teachers left and right. And it got this person a very, very quick reputation. Now, this was a really smart singer and his attacks were at times. Actually, a lot of times there was truth within there because he was going after people who were claiming they were the one truth. But that contrarian stance got him attention. And the people he went after, they use the same contrarian stances to build their reputations. If you look at some of the more well-known people in any space, it’s going to be those who specifically say why x, y, and z is wrong. And you’ve discovered the one truth here. And that can be very powerful. Look, if I’m going to do something, I want to do the most correct version of that thing.

And what happens is you start getting into a binary situation. This is right, everything else is wrong. And we don’t seem to do nuance very well. Nuances really, really complicated. Nuanced takes a lot of thought. It is much easier to just dismiss everything else and see our way as the only correct way. And I was there. I was there at one time. I really thought that I had all the answers, I really thought that other teachers were wrong and the one thing I’m really thankful for is realizing that everybody’s right. And everybody’s wrong to some degree. Some people are more right than others. But I have not found a teacher or a method that doesn’t have something to teach me. And this can be confusing if you’re first starting out in singing. And I’ve given this advice before. 

If you are going to follow someone, take lessons from them, study from their course, then follow them, kind of tune out the rest of the noise, and get what you can. But I promise you, whoever you’re following, and I include myself absolutely does not have all the answers. And is, if not completely wrong on something is maybe less right on something than someone else.

And maybe is not focusing on something in their teaching, even though they know it. It’s not something they bring to the fore. And even in my own teaching, I will go through my toolset, and I’ll find myself using some tools more frequently. And then I’ll go “Oh, wait a minute, this was a really good tool” or focus and I’ll bring that back in. It’s constantly evolving and I would believe if I’m constantly evolving, sometimes I’m more on the correct path. And sometimes I’m a little less on the correct path. And you have to keep that mindset as you learn singing. 

If you found a teacher you love – great, if you’re a cheerleader for that teacher, fantastic, you’re recommending that teacher. But if you are proclaiming this teacher or method, correct, above all others, whoo, you may have a bit of a problem. And you may be missing vital information that can truly help you do not turn away completely from other sources of information. 

What I do, as I peck around and look at different methods, I mean, I buy all kinds of books, and I’m constantly reading books, on vocal methods, and I will buy books on every different type of method. But where I tend to stay away from just because I don’t need the vibe is someone who’s out there attacking other teachers and other methods. Again, it’s a great way to get attention. But man, it’s just not what I want to fill my head with. It’s not the type of person I choose to learn from. To me, right or wrong, it makes their information slightly suspect in that they have to proclaim other things is wrong, and they’re not open to changing and shifting, and that just doesn’t fly with me. 

My favorite teachers are people who are constantly learning and constantly studying. And as a foundation, there is voice science. Now if your teacher doesn’t know voice science, that does not mean that he or she is not a great teacher. I’ve known great teachers that know very little about voice science or even have some incorrect ideas about why something, that is working about why it works. And they have some explanations that aren’t quite correct. And they’re very effective. Now, I’ve had those same ideas, I’ve had things tools that worked, but my reasoning behind it what I was told was not exactly correct. 

And ultimately when I got a scientific basis as to why this worked, I found myself being able to use the tool better, and I employed it better and my ears got better. There’s a science that will help you be better. That in and of itself yet is not singing. It can’t read a book and saying you have to sing. But as a singer and especially as a teacher, if you know the why of something why it’s happening? You see, you know so much better. I think the how to fix it? The why gives you the how talk about the three questions that you ask, What? Why How? What am I hearing? Why am I hearing it? Or why am I experiencing it? As if I’m the singer? How do I fix it? And the what is pretty easy? string cracking, intonation, nasal sound. The why is the deep question. The why is what we spend time studying and constantly growing our knowledge. And that gives you the how. 

And the more you know the why, the less you get involved in binary thinking, the more that you see the greater hive mind of the voice teaching community, and that so many people have different tools and different ways to come at this issue. And that you can learn from everyone you can learn from your fellow singers, my gosh, even just asking a singer when you hear them hit a really nice note that you’ve struggled with. What do you feel when you do that? What do you think when you do that? They don’t have to be a voice teacher, they can give you explanations. And if and if you know more of the science, the sensations that they give the motor control, the thoughts that they use to steer that ship can become very, very powerful. 

I used to think that any instructions as a voice teacher, that weren’t caused and the effect that weren’t direct, move your tongue drop your jaw. were wrong if people talked about the overall sensation or just kind of general thoughts, even metaphysical, imagining the flow of energy from your feet to the top of your head? Oh, no, that was always wrong. But you know what science is showing us that that’s not wrong. That actually instructions like that outer instruction, not the inner of adjusting all of these little things. 

But ultimately, you just get to the outer and these greater thoughts of the complex control that we have to have over our instrument becomes so vital and so important. And you need to be open to all sources of information. And the more that you know, the more you know of voice science, the more you can, you can filter. And you can see, you know what this person is maybe exaggerating the benefits of this? Or maybe they’re not correct as to why it works. Their scientific principles are off a little bit. But there’s something there. Let me try it. You know, when I first got into science, then I became obsessed with it. And so if someone’s explanation was wrong, I dismiss everything they were saying that was a mistake because there was value there. 

And man, I can’t fix, no one can right now the political climate and just what’s going on here and the binary thinking, and the tribalism and the us versus them. And if you’re caught up in that, man, that’s a hard place to be. It’s hard to stay out of it. But it’s a tough place to be. But you know what, don’t let that come into your singing. Man, don’t plant a flag. Just be open. Be open to the flow of information, be open to other people’s experiences, be open to their knowledge, and how they explain things. And I’m telling you, you will go through this singing journey with a bit more joy and I will tell you, you’ll go through it with more success and I truly do wish you success. 

Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website johnhenny.com. Be sure to sign up for my straw warmups course you’ll see it right there on the front page. If you are interested in voice lessons, my associate here at my music academy Darlene Yam has some limited availability if you’re interested in lessons email for [email protected] and until next time to better singing.

Thank you so much. Bye-bye