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How to be Mentally Ready to Train Your Voice!

By August 25, 2017 Mindset, Singing Tips
Singing progress

I’ve recently completed some research as part of a Post Grad Certificate in Vocal Pedagogy with Voice Workshop and Cardiff Met Uni. (This is an amazing course, and I highly recommend it to any fellow Voice Geeks!) I was motivated to do this research as I wanted to have a better understanding of the ‘bad’ singing habits that I saw in my students. As a result, I can now help them move past them as quickly and painlessly as possible.

These habits included things like:

  • Speeding up when going for high notes or during trickier passages of singing
  • Exerting unnecessary amounts of muscular force (known by most as ‘straining’)
  • Language such as “I can’t do it!”
  • Pulling faces when singing, as if to communicate that they don’t like what they hear
  • Stopping entirely if they feel they aren’t doing well

In my day to day teaching I found that the singers who frequently engaged in these habits made slower progress and weren’t as adaptable when given verbal instructions.

For example, asking the singer who was straining to ‘relax’, didn’t help at all (and actually made us both more frustrated at times.) I knew that these singers hadn’t simply reached the peak of their singing ability, and I really felt that the key to their progress was somehow connected to their thoughts and focus.

Below I’m going to share with you some of the key points from my research so that you can put them into action in your own singing practice.


Human’s are wired with a tendency towards ‘end gaining.’

This means that we tend to focus so much upon our desired end goal that we lose sight of the method that will actually get us there.  In order to make progress in vocal training (and probably many other things) we need to focus consistently upon the method, no matter how removed it may seem from the end goal.

An example of this may be that for a singer who tends to strain, they may actually need to sing more quietly in order to reduce tension and develop more flexibility in their upper register. The end goal and the method are two separate things, and by sticking to a method, we are able to take tangible steps in the right direction.


SingingSinging is a sensory experience and learning to use your voice differently requires ‘implicit learning.’

Learning to sing is not the same as learning facts. You can’t intellectually will yourself to be able to do something with your voice. Vocal training requires awareness of how our body feels and moves, and getting a good handle on this is a gradual process.

I like to compare it to dieting – the process may require a lot of mental will power and you won’t see the results each time you turn down a doughnut, but if you persist there will be a moment down the line when you realise your clothes are too big/you are now smashing that high note that used to be impossible.


Our self image and our motor skills are inseparable entities.

Every time we learn a new motor skill, we are changing our brain’s sense of who we are. We can understand this better by thinking about when babies first develop the motor skills to touch their feet, or suck their thumb. Their anatomy hasn’t changed but their new motor skills have led them to discover a part of themselves that they were previously unaware of.

With each new movement, we are building a sense or ‘map’ of who we are, physically and mentally. Vocal training will require you to make sounds you haven’t heard yourself make before and move your body, mouth, face etc in ways you might not normally, and this can feel really weird at first!


How can I turn these into actions?

1. Commit to sensory learning

One way to be more in tune with your body is through the art Mindfulness. Being mindful and aware is hard, particularly if you have a tendency to be anxious, or if you have a job that requires you to think in a different way. However, it has been proven that singers who practice the art of Mindfulness are much better at correcting tensions within their own voice and will therefore progress more quickly in their training.


Book – Mindfulness Plain and Simple, Oli Doyle

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App: Headspace


2. Trust. In the process, in yourself and in your teacher

If you find a great teacher (and stick with them) the only reason for you not to progress is if you don’t practice the exercises they give you, or if you give up entirely. There may be times when you doubt whether you are progressing and this is very normal. However, remember that emotions are subjective and are not an accurate gauge of how well you are actually doing.


3. Stick it out for longer by avoiding ‘black and white’ thinking

If you notice yourself having a thought such as ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘My voice is bad,’ change the thought to something more realistic such as, “I can’t do it yet” or “I don’t like xxxx about my voice, but I’m working on it.”

Recommended reading:

The Inner Game Of Music, W. Timothy Gallwey

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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies, Rob Wilson

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Singing is an art form that requires training of both the body and the mind. By understanding this we can make the process of learning much quicker and more enjoyable. Try out the tips above and let me know how you get on!

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Gemma Milburn

Pop Music and People are my two greatest passions, and I take pride in offering a highly individualised approach to working with singers. In popular music there are no fixed rules as to how singers ‘should’ sound and I use my wealth of training in vocal science and technique in a creative way. I experienced vocal difficulties after completing my undergraduate vocal studies and as a result took a break from singing. Although I missed it terribly, this break gave me the opportunity to explore my passion for working with people with Learning Disabilities and subsequently became a Person Centred Planning Specialist. This experience has undoubtedly had impacted upon my coaching style, allowing me to offer unique and in-depth support to all of my singing clients.
An an Authorised Instructor for Vocology in Practice, I am committed to offering the highest standards of vocal training to my students, and consistently furthering my own development as a singer and a vocal coach. In my spare time I can be found singing power ballads, doing yoga (badly) and mooching around coffee shops.
Gemma Milburn
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