Kinds of Knowing

tree of knowledge

“Boy, she really knows how to sing!” Then you strike up a conversation with the singer and ask “How do you sing so well? What are some tips for great singing?” and she replies “I don’t know, I just sing.” But you just heard her, and have heard her many times, always singing well. She DOES know, but she can’t tell you in words.

What kinds of knowing do we strive for? Intellectual knowing, somatic knowing, experiential? We can know by doing, witnessing, reading, feeling, conceptualizing, among many others. Which knowings are better or worse? Which does a singer need to have in a performance? Which does the teacher need in order to help a student improve?

How is knowing different from understanding?

If I am a teacher, do I have to convey all instruction with words? Can or should I deliberately not use words some of the time? If a young man learns to scat by listening to Mel Torm√© and Ella Fitzgerald for 1000 hours, and learns how to play guitar by listening to and watching Dave Matthews daily for years, is that not time well spent, and skills truly learned? In addition to that, what does he need to be “told”?

What about the teacher who hasn’t sung for 30 years, who seems to be a “star-maker” with many high-achieving students who sing at a higher level than teacher ever did? What is the form of his knowing, that allows him to help young singers excel? What is the form of his students’ knowledge about singing, to be able to perform well? Is it the same? Is it a set of verbalized rules? Is it a program of physical conditioning? Is it following good models by ear?

How can an artist-teacher, who has sung at A-level opera houses, or in featured roles on Broadway, or at major festivals, be a poor teacher? They know how to sing, so how can they fail to convey their knowledge to students in a way that the students can use?

What is knowing how to sing, knowing what good singing is, knowing how to teach, knowing how to learn, knowing what is needed?

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