There's hardly a phrase that's been overused and under-understood in the past two years more than "Do your own research."
Research is a skill, and it means something different in academia and the sciences than it does for the general public using a search engine. It can take a bit of time to learn how to do research well, but knowing how to interact with information is an important skill for voice teachers. We want to steer our students right, so when they have questions, we are confident that we can give them accurate answers.
First, we need to know that the information we're reading or watching is worthy of our attention. Let's face it, some information is just bad, for some reason or another. It might be missing context, too dependent on tradition or untested assumptions, or filtered through a lens that is a bit muddy.
As an example, for years, the "traditional" line of thinking was that belting was bad for the voice, despite evidence from numerous singers that had long careers belting notes for eight shows a week. That assumption has been soundly debunked, though you still might come across a teacher here and there that still holds to that view. Now we have empirical data and years and years of anecdotal evidence that belting is a perfectly safe way to sing. We've added context, questioned the traditions and assumptions, and cleaned up the lens.
Second, we need to acknowledge our own biases and what we've learned in the past that might influence how we look for information and ask questions. The questions we ask can have a huge influence over where we look for the answers and how we interpret the answers that we find. Everyone has biases, and it's not a bad thing. It just is. But if we try to pretend that we don't have any biases, we might find ourselves unable to filter information adequately.
If you had been taught that belting was harmful to the voice, you might go into your research expecting to find that everybody agrees with you and that belting is harmful. And that bias might make you reject anything that doesn't jive with what you have been taught. But if you know your biases, you can still interact with information that you don't agree (at least not yet) in an objective way.
Third, the most obvious statement of this entire blog is that we must know the difference between fact and opinion, and when we can use each. Our biases may influence us to give more weight to our opinions, but if we are honestly examining our biases, we can perhaps learn something that changes our opinions. Learning new things that challenge our beliefs and opinions can be invigorating and challenging. I highly recommend it!
As you are asking questions and looking for answers about the singing voice (and in other things, too), here are some points to consider while digging through the info you find:
1. Ask your questions in a way that will get you to the best answers.
Before you get started with your search engine, get very clear on the questions you are asking. The words and phrases you use in your questions can guide you toward the sources that are going to get to the heart of what you need to know. When doing formal research, crafting the research questions is a huge part of the process, and can make or break everything that comes after. If you're using scholarly sources, asking well-crafted, specific questions can get you to the right sources much, much faster. And if you're just using a search engine, the words and phrases you use can heavily influence what results come up. Spending some time crafting your questions well can make the research process easier.
2. Ask yourself what you hope or expect the answers to be.
This is one of the quickest ways to find where your biases lie. And developing a hypothesis is an important part of the scientific method! However, when we know that we will have a tendency to give greater weight to information that backs up our beliefs, we have a better chance at judging information more objectively. Even when it contradicts our beliefs or what we have been taught.
3. Decide if you are looking for facts or opinions, and why.
This seems like an obvious thing, but it is really important because it will determine what kinds of sources you'll use. If you're looking for facts, you'll need to go toward scholarly resources, but if you are looking for opinions, you can go toward blogs, websites, forums, and books for the general public.
4. Look for what the consensus is among the experts.
It's an interesting phenomenon that we tend to gravitate toward sources that buck the conventional thinking. But logically, most of the time the consensus among the experts is more likely to be true. That means you'll need to check multiples sources so you can get a sense of what the consensus is. This part takes work.
5. Examine your sources closely to see if they hold water.
Look through methodology to see if it makes sense and their conclusions would logically come from their methods. If the logical leaps are akin to Evel Knievel jumping the Grand Canyon, it's probably not the best source to hang your hat and reputation on.
6. Remember that singing is still a mystery in so many ways, and not everything will have an answer.
I'll never get bored! The voice is marvelous, and there are so many things left to discover. Just because I can't find the answers today doesn't mean the answers will never be found. So I'll keep digging and enjoying the ride.
If you are learning how to do research with the voice in a more formal way, I'm here to help! I love voice science, and love to dig into complex questions. If you'd be interested in getting more into formal research, I'd be happy to join you! Book some time with me to read and discuss research together. It's a delightfully nerdy time available to you any time you want. To book your own nerd fest with me, click the button below.