The Dunning–Kruger Effect and Singing

The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole.

—William Shakespeare, As You Like It

If you’re not familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect, it simply states that incompetent people, because they lack the skills to be competent, also lack the skills to judge their competency. So, in essence, it’s impossible for them to know that they are incompetent.

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

David Dunning

Man comes from behind stage curtain in theatre and asks if there is a doctor in the house. An audience member asks himself,

Moment of Truth
Vahan Shirvanian

What does this mean for singing? When people ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m a voice teacher, many say, “Oh, yes. I had choir in middle school. You have to project/sing from the diaphragm.” They are dismissing my Master of Music degree, as well as the years I spent studying functional anatomy, physics, acoustics, and the original research I have been working on for almost thirty years. In addition, they believe there is nothing they can learn from me.

Not only that: when you ask someone to explain what, exactly, projection or singing from the diaphragm means, most people can’t tell you. If you push them for an exact explanation, they walk away. A few will decide it means pushing more air through the vocal cords, if you continue to press them, and they are willing to be pressed.

In fact, both of those concepts are contrary to the way both the human body and physics work. But what is worse, is the same people offer advice to my own students, and my students throw away months of what they have learned in lessons to follow the advice of perfect strangers who have no qualifications.

The moral of the story is: don’t let that happen to you. Before you take singing advice from anyone, make sure they are qualified to give you such advice.

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