“Trust, but verify” might come from the Ronald Reagan era but it is certainly applicable today.

The internet is a wonderful explosion of knowledge, and singing is no exception.  The disruptive force of online content means anyone with a microphone has access to billions of followers – which is good….and bad.

In this episode, John talks about the problems of simply trusting singing teachers because they are online (John includes himself in this scrutiny) and why it is important to get to the original (or multiple) source of information to make sure you are gaining an accurate understanding of your instrument.

Show Links:

Ian Howell, Vocal Acoustics Researcher: https://www.ianhowellcountertenor.com/

Episode Transcription

Episode 38 – Trust, But Verify

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist.

Today, trust, but verify. Those of us at a certain age remember this back from Ronald Reagan and the Cold War with the Soviet Union, as Russia was called then, and he (Ronald Reagan) was talking about nuclear disarmament, and it was an old Russian proverb he used -Trust, but verify.

So I’m using it in the context of learning voice. And what do I mean by this?

We now have so many different avenues of information. Just the fact that you’re listening to this is an example of the explosion information. I may be able to sit here in my studio in the Los Angeles area, and I’m listened to by people in country such as Uganda and Iraq, which is mind-blowing and would not have been possible in just, I don’t know how many years ago, it’s really only a very very short amount of time that we’ve had this kind of global reach. So what’s occurring is I’m using this podcast to information that people around the world are taking in and digesting. This method of distribution of information is really really quite simple. I record this with some quick editing, upload it to my hosting service, and if you’ve subscribed, you’ll very very quickly get the new episode to listen to on your computer or phone. And there’s very little barrier for entry. So anybody with a microphone and a laptop, or even an iPhone, can get in on this Information Revolution. And certainly the Voice Teaching Industry is no different.

It used to be that exchange of information was much technically controlled. You either had to write a book, it tend to more academic papers, which had a whole different criteria for publishing. One of those criteria that they still have that academics need to adhere to is that, they have to be able to back up what it is that they say. But now, I, myself, speaking here on my podcast, can say whatever I want, and I don’t have to necessarily back it up. You can choose or not choose to listen to me. And so, therein lies the danger. And I want to point out the way the information basically works in the voice teacher world:

What you have is, you have voice teachers such as myself, and a lot of our information is gleaned from our own lessons and is passed down, is experiential in that – I utilize exercise and I find that it works, then I use it on my students. I train other voice teachers, I give them these exercises that I learned from other voice teachers, and then they kind of put their spin on it in a way that works for them.

And so, that information – let’s say I do a Youtube video entitled “My Three Favorite Warm-ups”. Well, you really can’t debate that because the criteria is, This is My Three Favorite Warm-ups. They may or may not work for you. They may even ultimately be rather worthless as warm-ups to most people, but if they are my favorite, they are my favorite. But if I say, “This is how vowel tuning works” suddenly I’ve stepped into more concrete and verifiable information.

Then therein lies the question because in this method of information in the Digital Age, we really don’t have proper fact-checking. People can go along and comment on your Youtube video, etc. but most people aren’t going to look on those comments, and quite frankly they’re going to come off as trolling to most people anyway. So it really becomes in common upon you the listener, and you the student, to find somebody you trust. But then, verify. Check out their sources. Hopefully they will tell you who their sources are. And there is a call for more and more teachers to do this. I try to be good about this certainly as I’m going along and spouting off information. I’m not always going to think to give my sources      . Quite frankly, sometimes after I’ve done this podcast, I don’t listen to them again, so I’m not going through and go checking to see everything I’ve mention to put a source.

Actually some of this information is either from multiple sources or has been filtered through in such a way I honestly forget where the original source was. But if I am, and I do my best to remember this, if I am talking about a very specific issue that I’ve learned from a specific source I will mention it, as I have done before on the podcasts. This type of information will come from voice researchers primarily. These are the people who may or may not be voice teachers – most of them teach on some level but they don’t have too – but they’re the ones really digging in and doing research. And then they write peer-reviewed papers, and, if you’ve ever know anything about the scientific method, it’s rather brutal. What somebody does is they give forward a hypothesis, and what they’re saying is “I believe that this is a truth.” Then it is the job of other researchers or other scientist is to find ways to attack and disprove this hypothesis. And if this hypothesis can withstand the attacks and still show its self to be true, as far as we can tell, it becomes a theory.

That’s why people often misunderstand the word “theory”. A theory is not just a guess. A theory is a hypothesis that has withstood the breakers of scientific testing and scientific method. However, theories can always be changed, because people are always trying to disprove them. That’s how we know what is true. In order for something to be true, as far as my understanding, it has to be disprovable. I can’t say there are magic fairies on Mars that live inside of Mars, because that’s not provable or disprovable. We don’t have a way to check that. So that can never be a theory.

These researchers spend a lot of time, and under a lot of scrutiny. And what they are doing is they are pushing the edge of our understanding. Now not everything that they are discovering is easily applicable to voice teaching, or atleast we haven’t found a way to utilize it practically.

And this is where some cutting-edge voice teachers come into play, because they will read these papers that are honestly can be very difficult understand because they’re not written certainly for the lame mind. But if they educated themselves enough that they can read these papers, then part of what their gift often is, is that they can take this information, they can boil it down, they can explain it in their words, and they can make ways to make this information applicable. However, the source of the information is not theirs. Again, their gift, their product if you will, is taking the information and making it – basically curate-ing it, bringing it together, and then parsing it out in a way that the singer can utilize and understand, or other teachers understand in order to improve their teaching or their singing.

But for those teachers and singers who want to really dig in and know a little more, when you hear a voice teacher talking about a concept that sounds like concrete information and not “Hey this is my favorite exercise..” to expand your voice, that’s great. Now, as soon as they start saying that, “This is what the vocal folds do in order to do that” “Or this is what the vowel is doing, this is what the resonance is doing..” if they are not backing up and if you’re not finding a source there, it’s okay. Google it. I mean, I hate to be Captain Obvious here but you need to start researching and looking us up and finding things. If you find a video on a certain subject of the voice, continue to look further. Verify this information.

Now, there is a concept in voice. There is What is useful, and What is true. And we can debate what is of more value. Obviously, if something is useful and true it’s of the most value. But if something is useful, that is quite powerful. Singers are just looking for things that are useful. They essentially want to drive their car. They don’t want to know how to rebuild the engine, that’s more of the voice teacher’s job. However, the more the singer can know more about the voice, and I’ve said this before, the better they are able to make these shifts and these changes.

I’m going to go back to the three questions that I say singers and voice teachers need to constantly ask when dealing with the voice. And that is What, Why and How – What am I hearing, why am I hearing it, how do I fix it, if it indeed needs fixed.

Very often, we can skip from what to the how. “Oh I sound breathy, I guess I’ll try this. I sound strained, I guess I’ll try this.” And the question that becomes really really paramount and really really important is the second question – the Why. This is the deeper question. The more deeply you can get to the root truth of why this is happening, the better your how will be. The better you will know how to fix this. And this is what scientific information, and in my opinion, really really helps you do.

So as you’re going and doing your own research to get deeper into the Why, I would suggest that you do a little more research and find out where that information is coming from. Verify this information. If you are a teacher who is doing information products like writing blogs, doing podcast videos, etc. think about putting your sources. This is something that was brought out by Ian Howle in a couple of discussion groups. Ian is a voice researcher. When you hear me talk about vowels and vowel perception – being frequencies, how vowels have different frequencies, and how the different frequencies change vowels – I am referencing mostly Ian’s work. I referenced others, but he has done some great stuff on vowels. And he has talked about attributing sources, and I agree with what he is saying.

So if you’re putting out information, just leave a trail of breadcrumbs for those listeners who really want to dig in and to learn more. This podcast, my hope for this podcast, is not just that this is the only podcast that you’ll listen to, and not just that it’s a vehicle for you to buy some of my vocal products, or perhaps study with me, although I obviously do welcome that. But I really want you to use this as a spring board for further education and to get more deeply into the voice. The more you know about how your instrument works, the better you’re going to be able to self-identify, fix problems. And if you’re working with a teacher, you’ll understand more what the teacher is going for. And quite frankly If the teacher is not going for the right things, you’ll be able to figure that out quickly as well so you don’t waste time and money with a teacher that’s not working for you.

I believe that information makes all of us step up our game, it makes our industry better, and it really starts putting us all in the same page. It begins to eliminate the voice teacher’s woes which I would love to see happen. I think that the more voice teachers come together and speak the common language, the better it is for everyone.

Now, talking about voice teachers who are online, who are creating content, who are marketing, I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with that. Voice teachers who market – I actually tip my hacks to them because they are putting themselves out to be criticized, they are taking risks. But that doesn’t mean that they are always right, or they have explained the information correctly, or that they have explained it a way that you’re understanding it correctly, etc. So again, go look it up. If they have sources, check out those sources. Educate yourself a little bit. Get a little more fluent in some of the language so that you can more deeply understand what’s going on with your voice.

This is a little bit of a short podcast today. But I just kind of wanted to cover this one because it is something that’s being discussed recently. And I want you, the voice teacher or the singer, to really keep the power in your hands. And unlike my podcast, listen, just don’t take my words for it because sometimes I could be wrong. There’s my disclaimer.

Hey! If you want more information on me, you can always go to Johnhenny.com I’ve got some online products there. If you’re interested in lessons, if you think we would be a good fit for working together, I do have very limited openings. But you can check on LESSONS tab, and see if we would be a good fit.

Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.