Ah, the joy of singing! So many people love to sing, but a great deal of them has all kinds of hang-ups about their voice or singing in public. Why is that? Well, your voice, emanating from your own body, is a blueprint of who you are. Making music with it means showing a very intimate part of yourself. You can’t hide behind an instrument. It’s my personal experience that it feels much worse to sing a note out of tune, than hitting a wrong note on the piano.
OK, your voice is your very own unique instrument, that’s fabulous. But the consequences are that if you’re being criticised on your voice, you can experience this as critique to your deepest self, ouch. So beware: if you ridicule or dispraise someone’s singing, you might give this person a sense of unworthiness as a human being. Not something to take lightly.
And yet, this is what a lot of people experience at some point in life. Maybe you remember – I do, at least – the moment when you expressed your joy by singing, and there was this grown-up or classmate who told you to shut up because “it sounds horrible” or “you can’t sing”. And for a lot of kids this is just enough to never sing again in public, and restrict their vocal expression to the bedroom where no one can hear them.
Negative feedback like this gives birth to your inner critic. I sometimes still have a hard time dealing with it, and I see it in a lot of my pupils when I teach. You judge every note you sing, labelling it ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You get so scared of making mistakes that your voice gets tensed and you feel it gets stuck. Your singing teacher might want to solve this by focussing on technique, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
You’re trying more and more to control your voice with your mind, instead of letting it flow freely and with ease. There actually is a good chance that nothing is wrong with your voice, and that your mind is stuck in negative beliefs about yourself: “I can never hit this high note”, “People won’t like my voice”, or “My voice is in bad shape because I have a cold”. In my opinion, the vital role of these psychological aspects is not always acknowledged enough in voice training.
So, what does it take then to sing freely? I think you only need two things for this: your voice and your heart. If you can manage to connect these two without the mind interfering, that’s when your voice can experience total freedom. When you sing from the heart, it doesn’t need to be technically perfect. You don’t have to sound pretty, or even good. This doesn’t make it easy, though. You might feel terribly exposed, bud naked or – at best – vulnerable. But this is a good thing!
Sometimes particular singers touch us. We then say they have a ‘talent’ or a ‘gift’. But what happens here is that the singer connects to you on the level of the heart, something we don’t get too much in everyday life. How often do you meet someone for the first time that appears to be completely frank and authentic, without any social masks or ego strategies? This is exactly what the human voice can represent to us, and why it’s able touch us so deeply. Those singers are brave and vulnerable each time they stand in front of an audience, to share a bit of themselves and reflect our own vulnerability back to us.
So whenever you feel like singing, please do, and let nothing hold you back. Make sure you enjoy every single part of it. Tell your inner critic to shut its mouth, and especially don’t listen to others judging you. Remember that when people criticise, it’s not necessarily about you. They might just project their own insecurities. People like talking someone down because it makes them feel better about themselves. But there is a strategy so much more positive and powerful to feel good about yourself: Free your mind and sing your heart out!