At The Vocal Academy, we’ve taught thousands of lessons down the years and although we’ve been blogging for a while we’ve not really broached this subject in Blog format. “Sorry!” Over the last few months we’ve particularly noticed a LOT of you out there are very apologetic when you come into the studio.
Here are some instances we’ve noticed you lot apologise for quite a lot:
- Not being instantly able to remember a scale that you’ve never heard before
- Not understanding why there’s too much ‘weight’ or heaviness in your voice as you bridge causing you to strain
- Not understanding why you flip
- Not understanding why, why, why… (you get the gist)
- Not being instantly able to perform a task you’ve never been asked to do before
Seriously, I could go on!
We get a lot of singers come into our studio all looking for guidance. Whatever it is about their voices they want to figure out and improve, or just get over, or understand something that happens in their voice, we are always happy to help out. But we’ve noticed that a lot of you are embarrassed about the sounds your voices produce. In MOST cases (like about 99%!!!!), these sounds or glitches or imperfections, whatever you want to describe them are simply technical issues.
To be fair to you, these are very normal feelings to have. We understand that they can and do affect your confidence particularly and that there are literally thousands of people that suffer in silence because of similar issues. Not YOU though, because you’ve come to the Vocal Academy for help! That’s another blog though!
Don’t worry. Be Happy!
What I’d like to focus on here is those of you who are constantly down on yourselves because of your existing vocal skill set. Question: Why so hard? A typical example of this form of self flagulation rearing it’s head in the studio at a lesson will be when a singer gets to a particular note and their voice unbalances and falls over or just wobbles a bit. In our experience, in some cases you will apologise!!! OR in other cases you will go so far as to say how “awful” you must sound.
There is of course something inherently personal about the voice though, don’t you think? I mean a guitar or a piano or a violin or even a football, is actually something else really. They are not part of your physical being and even though they can be used as a means to explore or exhibit your personality, they are in fact outside of you. Your voice however simply is not. We can speak. We should be able to sing, no?!! And sing well!!!!
We use our voices for so much. Our voices are windows to our emotions. Our voice emotes our personality. We are all only ever born with the one we have. That’s it. We learn to communicate with our voices almost from day one and as long as we can speak with clarity and learn to communicate, along with some guidance from our parents then our voice is generally left up to it’s own devices. And so it should be unless of course there are obvious speech impediments that we need to have looked at by a Speech and Language Therapist. But for the most part our voices convey happiness when we are happy. Sadness when we are sad, etc. etc. If we don’t like it, we need to learn to get to like it!
The thing is (and this is really for another Blog altogether!) early on, when we begin to engage with music, some of us humans will try to sing straight off, others will internalise immediately or soon thereafter and some will just not engage as much as others do. They are generally the three most common options. (Lots of grey areas though…)
Of those that will sing either straight away or even a bit later some will sound better than others. And so starts our personal relationships with our singing voices.
Like any other skill or “talent”, our ability to perform has A LOT to do with how we’ve practiced the skill. How engaged have we been with the skill up to this point? What was the quality of the engagement? These (and some other) questions can go a long way to helping you understand why your skill level or “talent” is where it is today!
For example, if you’ve always been singing (lucky you!), but for as long as you can remember you always strain on the ‘high notes’ you may think you are an Alto or a Bass. Futhermore this can be cemented in by a choral master or teacher early on in your life and then you become defined by that tag. I digress,… Now, when you sing in your comfort zone you sound pretty good. You’ve been labelled an ‘Alto’ or a ‘Bass’ or a ‘Baritone’ from your days in the school choir or what have you – The chances are you’re actually not an Alto or Bass by the way… (another Blog… sorry). – You do sometimes lose breath however and sometimes can’t reach the end of a long line. Yet no matter what you do you cannot seem to get finish that line in one breath… But then again you’ve aways been told that you have a beautiful voice.
Answer: You need to do something different.
“Practice doesn’t make Perfect. Perfect Practice makes Perfect”
The thing is, even though you may have practiced, you may have been practicing only at the certain point in your voice you are already comfortable in – obviously – because you ‘lose your breath’ or ‘can’t go high’. Well here’s a thing… Hypothetically. Take a sport. Golf. Happy Gilmore learned to strike a golf ball by running up to the ball and burying his Club into the ball. We’ve all got a friend like that!! (joke!). The point is, if this is how this person found a particular amount of success early on their life then they will unlikely have had the need or motivation to change their technique. Your parents and extended family and your friends all underscored your talent with their praise. The reality is that the real Happy Gilmore in our life will most likely never win a Major with this technique. And unless you are Super Lucky, neither will you be winning the X Factor or BGT.
The thing is, all of the ‘practice’ you’ve put in to this point can and will only keep you where you are because the ‘practice’ needs to be different in order for you to grow more and improve. Still with me? Now I’m not suggesting that your practice to this point has been wasted by any stretch. You can still get the tone you like in your comfortable area so you’re not necesarily in a bad place. You just want to be able to reach a couple of higher notes so you can sing more of the songs you’d like to or not run out of air or not have that break in the middle of your voice.
Here’s the news (again!): You need to change your practice, your habits, your technique.
The point is, none of the above is anything to be apologetic for. As trained Vocal Technique Instructors, what we listen for are things like Connection. So if you make a good connection using the unfinished sound we asked you to exercise with and we say say “That’s BEAUTIFUL” we do not mean that your voice sounds aesthetically pleasing to our senses becauase that would be a lie, unless you had a particular penchant for bratty, nasal, unfinished sounds!! What we percieve as ‘Beautiful’ in this case is the QUALITY OF YOUR CONNECTION compared to where you were previously.
Here’s some more news: You have NO DIVINE RIGHT to automatically understand what this is AND as you are most likely not trained yourself nor have the years of experience we have listening to voices day in and day out to determine automatically what we are looking for, don’t sweat it. You’re not supposed to nor does anybody expect you to.
Keep It Simple
I suppose this comes down to the nub of the issue for a lot of people. And that nub is the unrealistic and/or very high expectations too many untrained singers place on themselves to be better than they are.
This is why we hear lots of “OMG! That was terrible!” and various varieties of shrieking and things like “I must be the worst singer you’ve ever heard!” and mad stuff like that.
Only when you learn to acknowledge your successes, will your self criticism carry any worth.
When you look at it, it’s actually quite contradictory. The singer has come in for guidance yet they apologise when they cannot immediately sing or do something they’ve never heard or been asked to do before?…
In any case, at this point you’ve done the difficult thing! You’ve made contact with a Vocal Instructor (big step). All you have to do is to trust that the Instructor you chose knows what they are doing and follow them. That is what you pay your fee for. In return a good Vocal Instructor will offer you the benefits of their eduaction and experience and hopefully some of your fee can also contribute toward his or her training so that they can pass on what they learn to you the next time you come in for your vocal workout. It’s all part of the service! All you need to do is package up a little box of your trust, give it to your instructor. They will keep it safe for you and give it back at the end of the class, unharmed and intact!
So stop saying sorry for not being able to do something first or second time. Stop putting yourself down. You’re in the capable hands of the professionals!