Before I start…
This post is the combination of two things: 1) A phenomenon I have witnessed many times throughout my life, often with me as the gullible subject, and 2) A post on Facebook, asking for someone to invent terminology for said phenomenon, which I had hoped would cure the writer’s block I had.
So, special thanks to Alex Green for making me aware of this actual, real, psychological term that I can totally make fun of now. (P.S. If you’re wondering why I had never heard of this before, it’s because I failed psychology in college. And by fail, I mean I never showed up because it was early and I needed my sleep)
Does this scenario apply to you?
It’s the first rehearsal of the new year, and your group sounds AMAZING! Like, they sound as good as Pentatonix and you suddenly believe all your dreams are possible! I mean, sure, you’ve only heard them sing one chord in the warm-up procedure, but who cares?! They sound incredible and you really feel like this is the year you will win the ICCA.
Later that night, you go home, happy and exhausted. You fall asleep dreaming of all the wonderful possibilities your new group can achieve and then all of a sudden Freddy Krueger enters your dreams and stabs you in the eye.
Okay…maybe not the last part, but the first part for sure. We’ve all been there. Hell, this happened to me two weeks ago, and I’ve got a doctorate in music education. I should know better.
Let me explain..
It was the first rehearsal of my Beginning Contemporary A cappella Ensemble (college-level). Every semester brings a new crop of students, with only a handful returning. The students quickly learned the first half of an arrangement and sounded pretty good singing it for the first time. It was here that I became the victim of a horror movie. I went home with more cheerful optimism than I should have had; my brain whirring around deciding how much the ensemble could handle and how difficult I could make the arrangements. I believed this group could accomplish anything with enough time and dedication, so I began to arrange our second song with the difficulty scale ramped up to 11. The next rehearsal, we read through the new, much more difficult arrangement and it was a complete disaster. That was when Freddy stabbed me in the eye.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have optimism, especially if you’re an extreme pessimist like me. But there’s a difference between optimism and misplaced optimism. That’s where Freddy Krueger comes in.
This cognitive bias is known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” (See where I’m going with this?) In a nutshell, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. According to verywellmind.com:
“The effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.” -Kendra Cherry
Okay, readers (all 4 of you) put away your pitchforks, because I’m not saying any of you are incompetent. But it is time to assess whether or not you have enough information to accurately judge your group’s ability. One good chord? No. Six rehearsals? Maybe.
I’m sure when Alex Green (Hi Alex!) first mentioned the scientific explanation for this scenario, he probably didn’t expect me to misread the first word, and then immediately think how I could compare a cappella rehearsals to 80s horror movies. But here we are.
So how do you combat this Dunning-Kruger effect? Simple. You run from Krueger.
Imagine that Freddy Krueger is stalking your a cappella ensemble and of course, you are unaware this is happening. Freddy represents “reality,” or the actual ability of your ensemble. The less you believe in him (and overestimate your group’s ability based on insufficient evidence) the closer he gets to “stabby-stabby-town.” To keep him at a distance, you have to believe he is real, keep an eye out for him, and know how to kill him.
How do you kill him?
-Plan realistic goals that ensure success but also challenge your
ensemble to work harder
-If your group is competing this year and you’re not the Socal
Vocals, consider you might not win. Instead, strive for a smaller
goal, like making it to semi-finals. Or placing top 3 in the
quarter finals. (I just know I’m going to get flak for that Socal
-Test the waters- Maybe break out an arrangement that you think is
probably above your group’s skill level and see if they can learn
it and/or how long it takes them to learn it.
-If you’re the music director, stay firmly in the land of reality. Be
the voice of reason if you suspect Freddy Krueger is behind the
-Pull Freddy into the real world and stab him in the chest with his
No matter what you do, DO NOT call Jason Voorhees for help. He does not care about your problems. He only wants to stab you in the eye.
Oh…there is no a cappella equivalent for asking for help from Jason Voorhees. I’m just saying don’t do it.
Follow the Quest
Special shout-out to Alex! http://plaidacappella.com