Sunday, May 05, 2013

The only thing stopping you from being a better singer is ...

... YOU!

photo by Stephen Mcleod

Your job is to get out of the way and allow your unique voice to shine. Easier said than done.

Last weekend I ran a course called Better harmony singing – the small group challenge. Before the weekend I asked each participant what they’d like to work on. I got answers like:

  • I want to get the best out of my voice
  • I carry a lot of tension and want to be able to relax more when I sing
  • I want more confidence in holding a harmony part
  • I need help with breathing and tuning

During the course I offered fun exercises to help with listening, vocal placement and quality, breathing, interval training, etc. In some of the more playful game-like sessions (which didn’t focus on individuals) I noticed that the singers’ voices sounded free and resonant and they easily held long, sustained notes.

But as soon as the stakes were raised (singing in harmony with others, getting your part right, singing solo in front of the group, learning complex songs, remembering the foreign lyrics, etc.) it was as if the voices went back into their boxes.

getting stuck inside your head

I realised that everyone who had come on the weekend knew all the technical stuff (even if it was intuitively), were quite capable of holding long phrases, had plenty of confidence, could sing through quite a big range, and so on. The only thing stopping them was their own heads:

  • too much thinking and over-analysis;
  • trying to focus on too many things at once (posture, breathing, larynx, placement, pronunciation, etc.);
  • doubting your own ability or competence;
  • comparing with others (“They’re all picking it up quicker than me”);
  • fear of getting it ‘wrong’ (and being told off?);
  • judging (and not liking) your own voice;
  • worrying that you won’t hit the note (or remember the lyrics or the melody or will run out of breath);

... and the list goes on.

If only you could silence your mind, then you could just get on with the singing!

focus outside yourself

It’s hard for most of us to quieten our minds, but one trick that can help is to focus outside ourselves.

Don’t try to focus on more than one thing at a time, but make sure it’s something external. Examples to focus on might be:

  • communicating with the audience;
  • listening attentively to the other harmony parts;
  • watching your fellow singers’ mouths and breathing;
  • staying loose and relaxed in your body. 

choose one point of focus at a time

It’s impossible to focus on all the things you might want to improve or have worked on in rehearsal. Leave the exercises and rehearsing there and trust that the work has been done. It’s like when you first learn to drive a car: it all seems so overwhelming because there are so many things to focus on (steering, pedals, mirrors, watching the road, etc.).

But you can choose one element to focus on each time you perform (or maybe a different element for each song). For example, posture or breathing or relaxed shoulders or pronunciation or balance and so on.

how do you silence your mind?

I’m sure there are other tricks and ways of getting your head out of the way of singing. Do you have some tips you can share? Do you find your own mind getting in the way? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do drop by and leave a comment.

Chris Rowbury’s website:

PS I will be running another Better harmony singing – the small group challenge weekend in Cambridgeshire, UK in April 2014. Keep an eye on my website for more details.

Chris Rowbury


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