Outside Looking In: Becoming Your Own Singing Teacher

There are no bad students, only nondual teacher.” Or maybe you’ve heard it phrased the other way around, “there are no bad teachers, only bad students.” But the distinction between teacher and student is strange, if you think about it. For every great teacher is also a great student (although often not the other way around) He or she MUST be a great student because learning anything to a degree of high competence requires ridiculous amounts of study, analysis, trial and error, drive, and above all, genuine curiosity and love for the subject. I’ve mentioned in previous articles that the average debut of a Met opera singer is 40 years old. Can you imagine? Spending one-half of your natural life to only begin working where you always wanted to work? That’s love right there!

Artists who go on to do great things often give their teachers and mentors high praise and credit for their hand in the artist’s success. Often, the praise is justified and well deserved. However, in studying many successful people in widely differing fields of endeavor, I’ve discovered a common thread among top achievers: they find ways to observe themselves from the outside. What do I mean by that? How can you observe yourself from the outside?

Well, let’s think about what a teacher really does. He or she is in possession of a large rule book, if you will, in their head. “Do this, don’t do this, a little to the left”, etc. Often times a teacher isn’t even AWARE of the principles guiding his or her instructions to a student. That’s because the vast majority of people, and sadly this includes the majority of teachers, hold one particular form of knowledge that’s useful to THEM but not always useful to a student.

You see, there are two broad types of knowledge: implicit and explicit. Implicit knowledge is stuff we know but couldn’t really explain if somebody asked us. For example: walking. Imagine if you had to explain HOW to walk to somebody who had been in a car accident and suffered minor brain damage. They were totally fine in every regard, except that they’d forgotten how to walk, and it was your job to rehabilitate them. Most of us don’t think of the mechanics of walking. How to tense the muscles in our lower bodies just right to maintain balance; how to shift weight from hip to hip; how to move efficiently so we don’t waste energy unnecessarily or cause strain to our backs. Welcome to the world of an occupational therapist, who has to know not only HOW to walk (implicit knowledge) but what the principles behind walking are, and how to impart those principles to others so that they can walk as well, which is called explicit knowledge.

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