This post is part of a series of occasional Questions and Answers. Just use the contact form if you want to submit a question.
Here is a very familiar story.
“I started singing at a very young age, maybe four or five and sang mostly rock stuff like Elvis my mother was listening to in the mid-to late 50's. I thought I was good and sang my heart out but one day my mother listened and told me how bad I was.
“Then in about the fifth grade I had a music teacher telling me to lip-synch when my class sang a song at Christmas. Wow, did those two things curb my enthusiasm and give me a complex about even trying to sing!
“So ... I've sung to and for myself in my car, in the shower.
“The funny thing is that I think I know when I'm on or off pitch. I had a good speaking voice as a kid did a lot of that in HS, like radio plays and morning announcing. And I've taken some basic ear training online to know that I can tell when one note is higher or lower than another very accurately, which surprised me. I also play guitar and jam with some friends. Most of them don't sing very well and I can tell (!).
“But I will not try to sing in front of others. Seems I have a bit of a complex about this. If only that music teacher had been able to teach instead of just criticize! Now at 61, I really want so bad to feel confident enough to sing with my guitar. Please give me some advice, thanks.”
Pretty much all the people who come to my workshops or join my choirs have stories like Fred’s about lip-synching at school or being told to stop singing by someone close to them. Yet there is a need within them to sing and they come back to it 30 or 40 years later. I blame the teachers. How dare they crush a youngster's enthusiasm!
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. It’s so very common.
Singing for yourself, in the car, in the shower ... why not??!! There's no need to sing for anyone else. And if you’re just singing to your guitar, the guitar won’t mind at all.
Knowing when you’re on or off pitch is an excellent start. As Fred says, LISTENING and ear training are the keys, not the PRODUCTION of the sound. Playing guitar (or any other instrument) is a good start and means that Fred obviously has a good musical sense.
If you’re not even sure whether one note is higher than another, then there is plenty you can do to train your ear on your own. You might want to start off finding out how you know if you’re singing in tune or not. Then check out my series of posts Learn how to sing in tune.
Do you judge your friends when they're a little bit out of tune? Does it bother you that much or are you all just having fun? If it's not a problem for you, why not throw your own voice in the mix, sing out loud, and all have a laugh about it if anyone goes a little 'off'? After all, singing out of tune isn’t always a bad thing.
It’s very easy to get a complex about singing out of tune, especially when (like Fred and many others) important people in your life have told you that you’re a ‘bad’ singer.
But the solution lies within you. You need to get to a point where you just don't care whether you're perfectly accurate or not. Isn't the point to enjoy your voice? You're not in an exam!
I don't feel that you need any outside input. Anything online is a waste of time. Singing teachers are expensive (especially the top ones). You have everything within you to succeed, you just need to build up your confidence.
If not now, when are you going to let rip? Why not join a local community choir (i.e. non-auditioned) who sing just for fun? You can hide in the back for a while as you slowly get more confident. Even when you’re feeling comfortable you'll have a whole bunch of other singers to support you. It's just a matter of time. Be patient!
Chris Rowbury's website: chrisrowbury.com