The thought of singing for some people is petrifying, even for the experienced.
The fear of making a mistake or sounding bad is crippling and can really hold some singers back, even when they are not on stage.
But the path to a kick ass voice and an exhilarating experience is one that is full of cracks, breaks, squeeks, yells and punch-yourself-in-the-face moments. Embracing those IS the key…
So many students are restricted by the possibility of making a mistake when busting out a song or exercise. And, for sure, that mistake that is feared so much may actually happen and sound like a Banshee. Que the punch-in-the-face moment.
However, with a bit of technical knowhow it’s usually really easy to help a singer hoover up that mistake and remain intact mentally and physically but…
In steps the Self-critic.
A level of self-criticism can be important for a singer, but this attribute can leave many rigid because of the disappointment it causes. One scenario where this becomes an issue is when a singer is first exploring a new register in their voice, and the most tricky new register to be getting to grips with is chest voice. Almost entirely an issue with the female voice, discovering and settling the chest register can generate some squeezy and uneasy sounds on the road to comfort. If the singer has a strong tendency to judge their own sound too quickly and harshly then it is quite likely that resolving chest voice for that singer could take a long time and potentially not be solved at all. You must know the thought process when you sing something and think “Oh god, that sounds bladdy awful”. Looking at the bigger picture though it’s best to leave the critic at the door, as the sound of a new vocal coordination is often not perfect but is technically on its way to the right destination.
Looking at different situations when singers are trying to extend range or sustaining notes higher up, this practice will also inevitably have its own instances where you may accidentally sound like a bullfrog but hey, that’s all part of the process. Again, singers avoid parts of their voice or certain repertoire because they have fluffed it in the past and sometimes that has been on stage, which will definitely be part of the root of fear. But as technical bods we know that the singer is probably a vowel change away from success, but with an unwillingness to attempt it through fear of screwing up they may never get to find out. Say the singer did attempt it; creating consistency hitting those tricky pitches then requires repetition which will never be 100% successful and you’ll break occasionally, but every time it goes wrong you learn a little more about why and will be able to readjust for success. That learning process is priceless and will ensure your consistency in future. If you are not prepared to make those mistakes then breaking new barriers can’t be experienced.
Putting aside the problem solving approach above, when it comes to being an artist self-criticism also stops the flourishing of musical improvisation and interpretation. It takes a singer who is very comfortable with their own sound and isn’t afraid to make mistakes to be able to explore new boundaries in style too. You don’t want your mind cluttered with a dialogue that is judging yourself, but rather be completely free of those thoughts and feelings so that you can connect with your audience, deliver a song with pertinence and improvise without limitation. Approaching a song like this will all have MASSIVE impact on your performances.
In brief, find a teacher who can help you with whatever it is you want to achieve but also make sure that person is someone who you can trust and be comfortable with. This will make the naffing-it-up nature of great vocal education much more comfortable. Also, put your trust in that teachers ability to critique you and lead you to the right sound, which may not be instantaneous.
With that easy environment in place (and creating that will hopefully be in the teachers prerogatives) you are free to explore and experiment until your hearts content. You’ll sing new things you don’t like, and you’ll sing new things you do. This WILL add to your voyage of discovery and WILL help you achieve a voice that is a joy to use and to listen to you.
Please reach out to us with your stories of achievement and the mistakes you had to make along the way. Of course if we can help in any way then please contact us.
Chris is also a writer for iSing Magazine, a founder/presenter of The Naked Vocalist podcast, a voting member of Pan American Vocology Association, and a teacher trainer/vocal coach with the Vocology In Practice network.
All that aside, he's a pure and true music fan with a penchant for Donny Hathaway and songs about heartbreak.
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