Monday, April 30, 2018

Finding your voice can be scary – but don’t let that stop you

I’ve heard a couple of stories this week from otherwise confident individuals who find it scary and embarrassing to sing with others.

make your voice heard
photo by Howard Lake

What’s going on here? And is there a connection between our singing voice and “having a voice” in the wider sense?

we are our voices

Our relationship with our voice is very personal and letting others hear it can make us feel very vulnerable. We might sing regularly at home or in the car, and feel comfortable making silly noises in the shower, but suddenly clam up when other people are present.

I’ve taught theatre at several drama schools and found that students usually have no problem making up silly dances or improvising dialogue, but they go mute when asked to play around freely with their voices.

So it’s not just a fear of being judged otherwise we wouldn’t be able to be playful and improvise with our bodies and speaking voices.

Most people can do silly dancing or play party games without too much embarrassment, especially when everyone in the room is joining in.

It’s something to do with our voice and our relationship to it.

We identify very strongly with our voice. It is something unique and easily recognisable. We can usually pick out a friend’s voice in a crowd, or immediately know who’s phoning us, or recognise a famous actor doing a commercial voice-over.

A study reported in the journal American Psychologist in 2017 suggests that the voice can be a better indicator of emotion than a face. “If you want to know how someone is feeling, it might be better to close your eyes and use your ears” (read more…).

Our voices then seem to reveal far more about us and our emotional state than our bodies. No wonder it’s scary to use our voice freely in front of others!

finding your voice and having a voice

I believe there is a connection between singing with others and how we perceive our place in the wider world.

Most of us have felt inadequate or inferior in particular situations. We felt that we didn’t really belong and tended to go quiet and hide at the back.

But some people feel this regularly. They literally feel that they don’t have a voice in the world.

Having a voice means that you feel safe and secure enough to state your wants, needs and opinions. It’s a way of letting people know who we really are. To stand proud and be ourselves without fear of criticism or judgement. It means that you’re being listened to. That you matter.

Sharing your singing voice with others involves letting others see who you really are. If you can rise to the challenge of doing that and learn to be comfortable singing with others, I strongly believe that it will have knock-on effects in the rest of your life.

Once you have found your singing voice with others, you will be well on the way to finding your authentic voice in the wider world.

singing in harmony

I’ve seldom come across any ‘difficult’ people in my choirs or singing workshops.

My theory is that if you’re attracted to singing in harmony with others, then you’re naturally a supportive team player. People who want to be pop stars or opera soloists are normally not attracted to singing harmony with others.

The groups I have led over the years have been supportive, non-judgmental, patient, inclusive, welcoming, fun-loving, easy-going and keen to learn.

Individuals in these groups have also been (at one time or another) hesitant, under-confident, worried and unsure. (see You are not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well).

And yet the music made by these groups has been wonderful. No matter who is in the group, at the end the songs sound great despite what any individual thinks of their own abilities.

It’s because it’s a team effort.

feel the fear and sing any way!

So if you find singing in a group scary, or if you’ve not tried it because you’re worried what will happen, just feel the fear (everyone else does!) and sing any way.

As we in the Natural Voice Network say:

“Singing is everybody’s birth right. For thousands of years all over the world people have sung — to express joy, celebration and grief, to aid healing, to accompany work, devotion and the rituals of life — without worrying about having a ‘good’ voice or ‘getting it right’. Singing has been a part of life, a way of binding communities.”

And who knows you may find that you begin to feel more confident about having a voice in the world in general.

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Chris Rowbury



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