Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Confirmation Bias

CCM Bannder no dates

cranium-2099128_1280One thing that has puzzled me recently is how there is still a strong cohort of teachers that preach that singing “is all about the breath“ when the science clearly says something different. For instance, world-renowned SLPs Dr. Wendy LeBorgne and Marci Rosenberg begin their explanation of respiratory kinematics in their book “The Vocal Athlete” by stating

Isolation of the respiratory system alone as it relates to the singing voice is essentially impossible. All components of voice must work together for optimal voice production in vocal athletes.” (LeBorgne and Rosenberg, p. 38)

They go on to cite research which found “that elite singers do not all use the same breathing strategies to produce voice during performance” and that “singers tend to have a distinct respiratory pattern. Generally speaking, endomorph body types tend to be abdominally based in their patterns, and ectomorph body types tend to be rib-cage based.” (LeBorgne & Rosenberg, p. 39)

There is no one size fits all approach.

In “Vocology: The Science and Practice of Voice HabilitationDr. Ingo Titze and Katherine Verdolini Abbott begin their chapter on The Union of Breathing, Valving and Voicing by saying “In original descriptions of the source-filter theory of speech production (Chiba & Kajiyama, 1941; Fant, 1960), it was assumed that three independent system blocks connect serially: the flow source (lungs and trachea), the sound source (vibrating vocal folds producing pulsed airflow), and the supraglottal airways that filter the sound. For voice habilitation, these three system blocks cannot be treated independently. We will show that breathing, glottal valving, and voicing are all facilitated by biomechanical oscillators that interact with each other.” (Titze & Abbott, p. 252)

The evidence is overwhelming that the voice is a non-linear system and that vocal fold closure and resonance choices have an impact on the respiratory system. I frequently meet students who tell me that their support is off and they know that is the reason that they are not able to do X, Y, or Z. In many cases, a slight rebalancing of registration, improving tongue agility, or releasing the bite reflex will provide massive improvements in very little time. Yes, it is complicated, but the results that come from making adjustments from this point of view speak for themselves. 

It always puzzles me why teachers would not embrace ideas about teaching something other than the breath when we have so much research to draw from and so many exercises to explore. This summer I read about the confirmation bias, which has given me a whole new way to look at this issue.

Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true. Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions.” (Psychology Today)

This is a hot topic right now in politics, especially related to climate change, and I think it is worth considering how it impacts our profession. Are we drawn towards those things we already agree with and does that lead us to reject things that do work just because they do not align with our beliefs? I know I am slightly biased towards evidence-based techniques, and my initial reaction is to gravitate towards that approach. However, I am also a huge fan of Dale Carnegie’s philosophies. Carnegie says that we should “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.”

That’s the philosophy I follow when introduced to new techniques or demonstrations of traditional approaches. I try to figure out what setting the person introducing the technique is working in, what the demands their clientele face, and why that approach may work for them in that setting. I then try to look through that lens as well as my own to determine how I might be able to use the new ideas.

As I kick off this new academic year of blogging and teaching, this is weighing heavy on my mind. Is confirmation bias holding our profession back? How do we move away from science denial and grow together while dramatically improving outcomes for our students? How do we ensure that future generations do not throw away the work of the greats just because it wasn’t based on science? Essentially it all comes down to considering how we can make sure that future generations of teachers keep an open mind, explore all ideas, and teach the individual in front of them with techniques specific to their needs. I admit it is very philosophical and a touchy subject to take on. But if we don’t have honest conversations about these difficult topics, we will likely retreat to our own little corners and become more divided instead of more united.

What are your thoughts about confirmation bias and our profession? Do you observe some of the same things that I have mentioned? Have you met teachers who have been exposed to evidence-based pedagogy and end up going back to their habitual approach using techniques that do not align with our understanding of how the voice works? I would love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re not already following the blog, enter your name and email in the form below to receive an email each time there is a new post. If you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media to help spread the word about evidence-based voice training. As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful week of teaching!

Matt

Matt Edwards is an Associate Professor of Voice/Director of Musical Theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA, and Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute. He is the author of “So You Want to Sing Rock ‘N Roll” and dozens of articles and book chapters on functional voice training for non-classical styles. For more information visit EdwardsVoice.com

3 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Confirmation Bias

  1. Tamara Jenkins
    September 9, 2019

    See below

    Like

  2. Kara Quello
    September 11, 2019

    Sign me up!

    Like

  3. Alexander
    October 26, 2019

    Please sign me up!

    Like

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2019 by in Misc. Thoughts.

Ranked the #1 New Release in "Vocal and Singing" on Amazon.com (October 2014), "So You Want To Sing Rock 'N' Roll?" covers voice science, vocal health, technique, style, and how to find your artistic voice in a way that is beneficial to both singers and teachers. Order your copy today!

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