Is Confirmation Bias Affecting Your Ability To Sing?
It sounds complicated, but Confirmation Bias is the tendency to interpret information in a way that supports your existing beliefs – basically, we often search for information and confirmation that supports our views.
Basically, we push threatening information away from us; we pull friendly information close.
How does this relate to singing?
For me personally – learning that I had a HUGE confirmation bias as a beginner-through-intermediate singer was a huge piece of the puzzle for me as a singer.
The idea that you ‘have to start light’ and ‘go slow’ and ‘brighter is best’ all seemed pretty foreign to what I thought my favourite singers were doing when they sang – so I avoided practicing light and gentle, and avoided the basics like connecting chest and head voice in place of pushing my chest as HIGH as possible; and obviously that didn’t work for me in the long run.
Basically, I thought high notes just weren’t POSSIBLE for a guy with a low voice like me – so I really resonated with singing teachers who said things like “Baritones can’t sing above an E4” and “Your voice will only ever sing Johnny Cash songs” or even “the only reason any man can sing high is because they are a Tenor” – as a singer who struggled with high notes and strained and struggled to sing anywhere close to an E4; this truly resonated with me. This seemed like MY TRUTH. These guys really seemed like MY people.
And of course, with this confirmation bias seeking out coaches that would tell me that singing past an E4 with my naturally low voice isn’t possible – I was confirming what I thought I already knew, and thwarting any possibility of progress or improvement as a singer.
“Can’t sing an E4? That’s because your voice can’t do it”
Until I learned about Confirmation Bias, and how this evolutionary construct was effecting my ability to improve as a singer – my progress as a singer flatlined (actually – it started to decline with show after show after show of bad technique).
There’s a reason we follow our parent’s footsteps – even when we swore NEVER to turn into our Dads or Mothers; and that’s because confirmation bias makes us seek out the familiar, and our choices tend to “friendly” rather than anything new, scary or threatening even when we want something else.
Examples of Vocal Confirmation Bias
It’s easy to be general when it comes to something like confirmation bias – so let me give you a few examples of how it can effect your ability to sing better.
Terry has trouble singing high notes. He googles “baritone issues with singing high notes” and finds a blog by an amateur singer who states that “baritone’s don’t have an E4 in full voice”. This resonates with his experience as a singer who struggles with high notes, so he stops trying to improve his technique and puts his issues down to “having a baritone voice” – he sees no further improvement as a singer.
^ The truth is, vocal fach (Baritone, Tenor, Soprano etc) are all just ways to label tonal character, not limitations in your potential range. But, Terry has found a ‘confirmation’ and ‘reason’ for his issues rather than a solution. The key here would have actually been to develop the vowel overtones by learning to modify his vowels correctly while balancing weight/tension by using mixed voice in the centre of his range rather than trying to sing everything in fully contracted chest voice.
Cherise has a great voice and loves singing – but she often gets tired after an hour of singing; and even sometimes has a sore voice the next day. So, she looks through a bunch of YouTube singing tutorials and finds a guy who says “it’s normal to feel tired and sore after singing”, which resonates with her experience – so, she continues singing the same way she was singing before with the idea that “it’s okay to be sore”. Unfortunately for Cherise, the glottal onset and wide vowel that were causing the soreness result in vocal nodules and she eventually loses her ability to sing at all.
^ The truth is, singing SHOULD be easy, and it SHOULD be painless. Sure, you might feel a little tired after concentrating on singing with great technique for two hours – but pain means the end of the game. The key here would have been for her to develop a healthier balanced onset and improve her approach to vowels. This would have improved her vocal health and helped her avoid nodes and polyps.
Pierre buys a singing course. While the exercises in the course are very light, slow and gentle – the coach in the videos repeatedly says that you need to “take chest voice higher to become a good singer”. This makes Pierre push, shout and yell through the exercises as he tries to drag chest voice higher like the instructor has told him to. After a few weeks of practice (and many days of a sore, tired voice), he gives up on the course and stops trying to learn how to sing.
^ The truth is, chest and head voice are designed to function together – “high chest voice” is actually a function of a well developed mixed register. Basically, the full ‘body’ of the fold that we associate with chest voice and the ‘edge’ of the fold that we associate with head voice come together to create connection between the registers and the illusion that you’re “singing high chest voice notes”. To a beginner singer who doesn’t yet have access to mixed voice – the intention of “taking chest voice higher” actually stops their ability to connect chest and head voice and ultimately affects their ability to sing in mixed voice. While the course itself demonstrated the exercises super light, gentle and with the right intention and instruction – because Pierre has made the incorrect assumption that his favourite singers like Bruce Springsteen, Danzig and Chris Cornell are belting absolutely everything in chest voice all the time; he tries to sing absolutely everything in the course in full chest voice as loud, full and heavy as possible. It’s a wonder that Pierre didn’t damage his voice in the process!
Don’t make the same mistake with your singing voice that Terry, Pierre and Cherise made in the examples above – you don’t know what you don’t know.
If you really feel like there’s MORE to your voice, and there’s MORE range, and there’s a BETTER tone and you’re capable of something truly spectacular as a singer – it’s time to let go of the Confirmation Bias that’s been holding you back and try something new, proven and perhaps challenging to your current beliefs as a singer who is struggling with high notes, trying so hard to improve your tone or maybe even questioning whether you even have what it takes to be a good singer in the first place.
If you’re SERIOUS about taking your voice to the next level and breaking past the bias that’s been holding you back – let me show you a Before and After of my own voice before I realised that I was holding myself back as a singer, and after I finally broke through the limiting ideas that you’re also struggling with.
Having BIG DREAMS as a singer means you need a BIG VOICE to match – watch the video above to hear my “before and after” and learn how you’re going to build a big voice too!
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