Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Learning to love the sound of your own voice

This is an updated version of a post which first appeared as Why people think they can’t sing in August 2008

Last week I wrote about some of the reasons why you might think you can’t sing.


Suessian megaphone by theparadigmshifter

One of those reasons is that you might not like the sound of your own voice, especially when it’s recorded and played back to you.

I don’t like my voice!

Some time ago I was lounging around the house watching daytime TV and came across an interesting little item.

The programme encouraged a diverse bunch of people to sing one line each of “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” then stitched it all together into a complete song.

But one woman refused to sing.

First of all she said she couldn’t sing; then she said she had a horrible voice; then she said her voice was really gravelly and not nice to listen to. Finally she did sing a part of the line (beautifully I might add), but cut it short by saying: “That’s all you’re going to get”.

There was clearly a huge mismatch between what she thought she sounded like and what she actually sounded like.

We all get embarrassed by our own voices sometimes. We’ve all had that experience of hearing our recorded voice for the first time and realising that it sounds nothing like the voice we have in our head.

That’s understandable since we are hearing our voice from a very different perspective, projected across space rather than through bone and gristle. But I think it’s more than that. Somehow we have an internal perception of how our voice sounds to others and are shocked when it doesn’t match reality.

inside or outside – which is real?

It’s rather similar to when we catch sight of ourselves in a mirror and we don’t look as beautiful as we think we do! At the extreme, this is called body dysmorphia and is thought to be the basis of illnesses like bulimia and anorexia.

Of course most people don’t have such a drastic mismatch, but I wonder if there is something similar at work here with our voices?

Our brains maintain an internal map of our body, but sometimes there is a disparity between what we see externally and what our internal map is telling us. As well as the illnesses mentioned above, this is also the cause of the phantom limb sensation sometimes experienced by amputees. Although they can see that the limb is no longer there, their internal body map still gives them the internal sensation that it is. Hence the mismatch.

What if something similar goes on with sound? Maybe there’s an sound version of our internal body map which gives us the sensation of our own voice, but when we hear a recording of our voice, there is a mismatch.

I’m sure it is much more complicated than that since our voices are an integral part of ourselves and are also connected to our emotions and memories, not just our hearing.

So the woman who was reluctant to sing may have an internal sensation of her voice being unattractive or gravelly. Perhaps she has never heard a recording of her voice, or if she has she might have not believed what she heard.

learning to love our own voice

After we’ve heard recordings of our voices many times, the mismatch between what we hear in our head and what the recording device is telling us starts to become less. Eventually we might even get to like what we hear! Perhaps if this woman experienced hearing her own voice more often, she could grow to love it.

This is just one possibility, of course, and I’ve mentioned some others in my previous post Why can’t I sing? Maybe someone many years ago told her that they didn’t like her voice because it was too gravelly and that opinion stuck. Or maybe her own sense of a ‘singing’ voice is one that is high pitched and not low like hers.

But maybe, just maybe, if her voice was played back to her more often, then she would get used to it and be able to share her beautiful voice with the rest of the world.

So sing out, share your voice, listen to recordings and learn to love what you have to offer.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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