photo by Tsahi Levent-Levi
It turned out she was new to singing (it was only her second time!). I realised that a lot of new singers come with many preconceptions, some of which can put people off coming back. Here are six facts that may help you stay with it and not get discouraged.
1. most people in the room aren’t sure of what they’re doingIt may appear that everyone is relaxed and confident. It can seem like everybody in the room (except you) has been before and knows exactly what to expect and how to do it. You’d be surprised!
Even those singers who attend regularly still have plenty to learn. Each time the warm up will be different and the songs new to most people in the room. If they’ve been coming for a while it just means they’ve perfected the look of “I’m really comfortable and know what I’m doing.” That applies to the person leading the session also!
My motto is “Behave as if you know what you’re doing and everything else will follow.”
2. everybody thinks the others can sing better than themYou can’t tell what people are thinking or feeling just by looking at their faces (trust me, I’ve been doing this a long time!). Most singers are under-confident, worried about getting things right, not sure if they can ‘sing’ well, don’t like their own voice very much, and assume that everyone else in the room can sing better than them (See You’re not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well).
You’re not alone then, and you’re all wrong because, as a group, you will make a lovely sound. Honest.
3. like any new endeavour, it takes a while to build up your skillsYou wouldn’t turn up to your first tennis lesson and then expect to compete at Wimbledon the following week. Crazy idea. But when it comes to singing somehow people thank that if you “ain’t got it” the first time you open your mouth, then you can’t be a ‘singer’. Nonsense of course (see Putting the hours in – are singers born or made?).
Like any new endeavour, it takes time to develop your skills: listening, pitching, blending, breath control, remembering melodies and lyrics, understanding harmonies, holding a part on your own, singing without instruments … it’s a long list and it will take a lifetime to really nail it.
Be patient and it will come.
4. nobody gets it right the first timeWe are all hard on ourselves sometimes. If we don’t nail something first time round we get cross and start to beat ourselves up. We all do it to varying degrees.
Our society is set up to view ‘failures’ as somehow less than the rest. But if we don’t fail, we will never learn or improve. You won’t get it right the first time, or the second time, or even the 18th time, but that’s the process. Relax into it and enjoy the ride. You’ll be learning loads along the way.
Congratulate yourself for the bits that you do get right, and stop beating yourself up for the bits that aren’t right … yet.
5. it takes a long time to really learn a songSomebody came to a choir of mine once and left after a couple of sessions. When I asked why she said that she couldn’t pick up her part the first time she heard it which meant she clearly was not a ‘singer’. I pointed out to her that professional singers can take six months or more for a song to really bed in and become part of them. She was surprised because she’d assumed that ‘proper’ singers only needed to hear a song once before they knew it perfectly.
Once I’d reassured her, she was happy to come back to choir. See How long does it take to learn a song?
6. it’s OK to be nervous/ wrong/ lost/ confusedWe like to be in control of our lives. Trouble is, when we’re learning something new (tennis, singing, French, how our new mobile phone works) there’s that eggy time between not knowing and knowing which can feel very, very uncomfortable. We need to embrace that feeling because it tells us that we’re moving forward into something new.
Allow yourself to feel confused or lost because that’s all part of the process. As I pointed out earlier, if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not developing. And if you’re not feeling nervous you must be dead.
I feel nervous before every singing workshop and before every concert and I’ve been doing this job for twenty years (see If you don’t feel nervous before a concert or singing workshop then something’s wrong). The day I stop being nervous (or confused or wrong) is the day I give up (see The importance of being confused).
If you never feel these things then you’re not growing or you’re kidding yourself or you’ve become so complacent you won’t ever learn anything new. So there!