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Do you love your voice?

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Do you love your voice?

As a singer and teacher, this is a big deal to me.   It is an aural stamp of you as a person.  Your voice is the instrument that expresses your thoughts and feelings.  It connects you with people and plays a critical role in your relationship to others. It is a BIG deal.

I was recently in a lesson and one my students was very honest with me about how much he dislikes his singing (and speaking) voice.  He doesn’t like to hear himself.  He doesn’t like how he sounds in a microphone.  He doesn’t like to sing in front of people because of it.  Yet, he loves to sing. I said to him if there was one thing we could accomplish in our time together, it would be that he falls in love with his voice.  He sort of scoffed at me (he’s a teenager).  But I mean it.  That is more important than expanding your range or even singing in tune (which is usually way up there on my list).

Here’s why. Your voice is part of your body. You are your instrument.  You already have an intimate relationship with your voice and your vocal cords.  To improve your voice, you have to foster that relationship, understand how the vocal cords cooperate with the rest of the body, and exercise it like a muscle.

But when a singer hates their voice, they react to most sounds that come out of their mouth with criticism or even disdain.  There is a distinct “pull back” from the sound coming of their mouth.  I’ve found it manifests as tension.  There is a fear of letting go and distrust of the stability of the voice.  You are essentially working against your voice instead of with it.

A: THE VERY FIRST THING I’D SUGGEST IS TO CUT YOUR VOICE SOME SLACK!

Let’s separate the body and vocal cords for a minute.  Go with me on this….
1) Take your hand and imagine pulling your vocal cords out of your larynx (throat).
2) Hold them in the palm of your hand (you can picture the vocal cords about the size of your thumb nail).
3) Now imagine them vibrating together very fast and working very hard to make sound.
4) In your mind, think any criticism you have for your voice (I hate it, or I can’t stand to hear myself, etc.).
5) Then, as you are saying those things close your fist and hold them tightly.
6) Then, imagine them still trying to vibrate in your closed fist.
7) Now open you hand back up imagine them vibrating freely again.

Did any thoughts pop in your head?  Did any realizations?  Any more connection with your vocal cords?

There are a couple things I want to take away from this analogy.

  1. Your Vocal Cords work really hard to make sound.  Can you cut them some compassion for doing the best they can?
  2. When your body, including neck/shoulders/face/jaw/tongue is tight, it’s hard for you vocal cords to move freely (like a fist closing over them).  The more you tighten, the harder it is for them to vibrate/work. That is the opposite of what they need.  The need to vibrate freely and be supported by the rest of the body.
  3. That INCLUDES being supported by the mind.  Often with negative thoughts, come tension. Singers are afraid their voice will do something they won’t like (crack, not come out, shake) so they try to control the vocal cords with tension which inhibits their ability to move freely/vibrate freely.

B: FOSTER YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR VOICE!

Try to adopt the mindset that it is part of your body, but has its own energy and mechanism. You can start to work with your vocal cords and learn what they need to vibrate freely.  We know they don’t like tension.  We know they need to be lubricated to work…hydrate!  We know they need consistent air flow to make consistent sound.  We know they need support to sing loud and softly.  So play.  Take the pressure of “having to sound good” and just play.  Make funny noises, play around with tongue position, and breathing body position.  Play around with pitches and tone placement.  You have to spend time singing and experimenting to get better at singing.  I don’t mean 20 minutes a week to make sure you know the melody or lyrics of the song.  That doesn’t even count.  And focused time is better than practicing while multi-tasking.  You have to be paying attention to your voice.

C: RECORD AND LISTEN TO YOURSELF

This one is tricky because students who hate their voice don’t want to listen to themselves.  At some point you have to listen to yourself.  I promise, after listening to a minute of you singing something 10 times.  By the 10th time, you have gotten over the “ugh” factor and have started to listen past that.  It might take 2-4 times to listen past it.  After that, you can be more of problem solver and pin point particular words or notes you didn’t like.  At that point, you play around with how to change it and have specific goals for changing certain notes as opposed to just hating all of it.  Remember you fostering your voice not there to abuse it.  If you are taking lessons, even better.  Once you have those specific things you want to change, your teacher can’t give you ways to adjust how your are singing it.

D: START WITH EASY SONGS

One way to get quickly defeated is to start with a hard, 2 octave range, loud, and high song.  Unless you are someone who can do A:B:C without getting down on yourself and acquiring lots of tension, it is better to start with a 1 octave, mellow song that you love to sing.  Sing it not just 5 or 10 times, but 100 times.  Even without lessons, it will get better if you are doing A:B:C.

Good Luck! Jocelyn

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