The Personalization of Pedagogy

It sure is hard as a teacher not to personalize the way we sing, the music we sing, and way we teach others to sing. So many of those things ARE highly personal, and singing is a very personal act.

But personalization is dangerous and gets you into trouble psychologically. I know because I catch myself becoming rigid from time to time. That stupid ego is so powerful. It prevents you from seeing the forest for the trees because you can’t see outside yourself, or the fact that someone else may also hold a grain of truth in the opposite opinion.  It causes rigidity of thinking, and prevents you from listening to others who have equal opportunity to teach you as well.

“You must do (X pedagogical directive) to sing Y (song, style, phrase, aria).”

“If you want to sing like an X singer then you need Y technically.”

“If you’re going to have a career, you really need to focus on your X, Y, or Z.”

“I have never sung without (pedagogical directive) Z.”

“I distinctly feel pedagogical directive B, so you must too.”

“My teacher taught me to sing with pedagogical directive D, and they were right. Now, you must sing that way too.”

“I made a career on Broadway while singing (insert pedagogical directive) Q.”

Declarative pedagogical sentences held fast by psychological attachment.

Statements of fact based on personal experience.

And dangerous logical and rational territory to claim for oneself.



Questioner: “What if you’re wrong about that? I haven’t seen evidence to support your proposition.”

Practitioner: “Why are you persecuting me? I am offended by your remarks. I am really good at this, and I am upset that you are criticizing me.”

Further personalization.

The inquirer asked, “What if you’re wrong about those pedagogical beliefs?” Not, “You are a terrible person and human being for singing, teaching, believing those pedagogical things.” The authority’s core humanity and personhood was not being questioned; merely their particular beliefs.

This was not a personal attack. It was a statement of questioning and inquiry based on another’s experience. This pattern is repeated all the time in our world: whether the beliefs are national, familial, scholastic, experiential, philosophical, or religious, beliefs have a funny way of attaching themselves to our persons as ‘personal’ as if though we own them. These same things happen to religious people when their belief systems are questioned: they become threatened and attack.

In wanting to leave the vocal world better than I found it, truth and serious Socratic questioning have become part of my teaching process. As well as deep reflection of the following:

WHY do I teach what I teach?

Is what I’m teaching true? Can I support it?

What am I basing my teaching upon and is it trustworthy?

Is it true that you have to do X to get Y?

What if it isn’t?

Can I find other ways of thinking about it?

Do I feel safe exploring other ideas that are contrary to my own beliefs? Or is that too scary for me?

What if instead of personalization and assertion of facts about pedagogical directives, we adopted the stance of “perhaps”? We should be ruled by rational thoughts, our own study and research, logic, and common sense (and science helps occasionally, too).

That’s why I set such store in older writers on singing. I TRUST THEM and I was open pedagogically to seeing if what they did worked in my studio and in my own voice. Science now shows us much of what they taught as functionally true within a framework of the laryngeal complex and its muscular action. That’s at least a good place to start, right? When something works in the studio I get excited too, “See, I’m not making this up! These Old Guys and Gals were right!” I don’t OWN their knowledge, I merely transmit it to others based on my own study and application.

“Perhaps” is a good skeptical place to be, it also leaves you open to continue learning yourself. What you assert as personal truth may not be true. How do you know what you know when you speak in absolutes without questioning why you believe them in the first place?

We won’t be around on this planet forever, folks. Why don’t we stop being so focused on the self and our attachment to our pedagogical ideas, and turn outward to others that are standing before us and need our help? Let’s help each other here, not hurt each other and tear each other down.


“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” ~Dalai Lama



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