Monday, May 05, 2014

What to say if someone asks you if they can sing

A friend asks you to comment on their singing or asks you if you think they can sing at all.


What can you say without hurting their feelings or putting them off singing entirely?

I wrote recently that you should never tell someone they can’t sing because it’s brutal, damaging and untrue. I also wrote how one unkind word can put you off singing for life and how to protect yourself. So it’s clear that you need to be careful when responding to your friend’s question.

honesty is usually the best policy

You need to consider how well you know your friend (or colleague or brother or fellow choir member). Is your friendship based on honesty? If so, then just be honest, they would expect nothing less.

Make it clear that it’s your personal opinion and ‘good’ singing is in the ear of the beholder. There are plenty of professional singers out there who I just can’t stand, but they can clearly ‘sing’ and are talented, just not my cup of tea.

You know your friend best, so craft your honest response carefully to ensure that it doesn’t put them off singing for good.

Remember that singing should be fun and enjoyable and it doesn’t matter if you have a world-class voice. But if your friend is asking because they want to audition for X-Factor, you might want to save them some embarrassment!

what are they really asking?

Even if you’re prepared to be honest, it’s hard to offer an opinion if you don’t know exactly why they’re asking the question.

Here are some questions your friend might be really asking:

  • “Is my voice nice/ good/ pleasing enough?”
  • “Do you think I can ‘sing’?” (whatever that means!)
  • “Am I getting better at singing?”
  • “Do you like my voice?”
  • “How can I improve my singing?”
  • “Am I good enough to sing in front of other people?”
  • “Do I sound as good as [insert their favourite singer here]?”

And so on. Ask them to be clear about both what they’re asking and why they’re asking it. You might also want to know what they’ll do with your response.

Depending on what they say, you (or they) might find some of my other blog posts useful:

Does your singing voice reveal the real you?

Why can’t I sing?

Learning to love the sound of your own voice

“Everyone can sing” - what the hell does that mean?!

Can I call myself a ‘singer’?

What to do if you don’t have a ‘nice’ voice

Are you tone deaf? Very unlikely!

what you do is not who you are

It’s always a problem when someone’s self-esteem is tied to some external thing. It may be their job, their sporting prowess, their ability to attract men, or their singing voice.

We can develop habits with friends and family of generally praising and being positive even if we don’t believe it. We don’t want to offend or upset. But that means we’re reinforcing this dependency on something ‘out there’ rather than encouraging them to like themselves as they are.

The voice is a very personal thing that we have a very intimate connection with. It can reveal ourselves warts and all with all our vulnerabilities. Which means that we often believe that we are our voices. If someone comments on our voice then they are making a comment about us as a person.

If someone’s self-esteem is tied to something they ‘do’ (rather than just being), then that’s their problem not yours! You should be honest, but kind.

avoiding an answer

A bit of a cop-out I know, but you could avoid answering the question. Point out that it’s putting too much responsibility on you asking such questions. Better that they ask someone who is more professional or experienced than you: their singing teacher or choir leader for example.

If they insist on you giving a response, get them to ask very specific questions so you can give them honest feedback to help them improve.

Have you ever been asked to comment on a friend’s singing? What did you say without upsetting them or putting them off singing? We’d love to hear!

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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