I’ve loved singing since childhood, and had always had a secret desire to be a singer.
But when I had my first opportunity to sing publicly at a university “open mic” with a friend, I was both thrilled and terrified. Because of fear and inexperience, my voice was shaky and went out of tune—a lot.
In the midst of that experience, I determined I simply couldn’t sing.
Today, as a musical artist, I hear declarations like “I can’t sing,” and “I wish I could sing” on a regular basis.
And each time, my response is the same.
Yes, you CAN sing.
You have everything it takes to sing.
People often respond back with: “But I have a terrible voice—you wouldn’t want to hear me.”
It seems our culture has done a fine job programming us to think we can’t sing. It’s heart breaking.
There are many fictions out there, like: “Only some people have the gift of a good singing voice—the rest of us should just be quiet and listen.”
But most humans are born with the ability to sing and with the tools needed to do so. All we need is: 1) a voice (the voice box and vocal folds); 2) chambers that resonate (head, chest, nasal, and mouth); and 3) breath.
You may say “But I’m tone deaf”—which is unlikely.
Less than 4% of the world’s population is technically tone deaf (a condition called amusia). More than 96% of us are able to recognize and replicate musical tones. Most people who believe they’re tone deaf are simply not familiar with their singing voices. When they sing a wrong note, it’s often because of nervous tension in the throat area and from not breathing in a supportive way.
The human singing voice is a gift.
Each voice is unique, and each a wonderful representation of an individual’s heart. Our voices are being silenced far too frequently by critical messages delivered (and believed) at a very young age.
It’s true that some people are born with a predisposition for singing. And some nurture musical performance as a career—but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the innate gift we all have to create music as an expression of who we are.
If we are able to speak, we are able to sing.
Thankfully, at that fateful “open mic” night in university, my friend gave me the perfect advice. He reassured me that with practice, experience, and learning more about healthy singing, my confidence would build. My friend was right. The more relaxed and experienced I became over time, the more I was able to enjoy singing with ease and freedom.
Whether we intend to sing a lot or a little, there are many obstacles we can face when it comes to expressing our unique voices.
Here are six ways to bring back the joy of singing:
1. Breathe. Keep the air flow open and moving. We can breathe from our bellies, sit or stand in a posture that allows a free flow of air, and remember to breathe deeply.
2. Don’t Succumb to Fear. When we sing, we often fear being criticized and judged. It’s entirely possible that someone made a critical comment about our precious voice when we were younger. The solution is to feel the fear, and face it. Often when something is very important to us, fear arises. And the way to move through it is to breathe—and do it anyway!
3. Avoid Comparison. Comparing ourselves to others is a common obstacle to singing; we even compare ourselves to famous singers, expecting our voices to be like theirs. We forget that advanced recording technology can make our favourite artists sound impossibly perfect. Our culture also instills a sense of inadequacy through wildly popular TV talent shows where people are judged very critically as “good” or “bad.” In order to realize the beauty of our own unique voice, we can drop these comparisons.
4. Step out of your own way. Develop a strong connection to the song or the chant. In this way, we take our attention off ourselves. The experience becomes like a reassuring stream that we can float along.
5. Share your voice with those you trust. When we share our voices in the company of others, we allow a tender and beautiful part of ourselves to be heard and seen. This is empowering and healing. People have shared that the simple act of letting their voice be heard touches many different aspects of their lives; expressing their true selves becomes more possible. By letting our voice emerge through singing, we can begin to be heard in other ways.
6. Share your voice in community. Singing in groups is a manageable way to allow our voice to be expressed. Community or church choirs can be wonderful places to practice. Of course, my favourite community setting is Kirtan chanting. In Kirtan, we are reminded that every way we sing is welcome and encouraged; there is no right or wrong way to sound or to feel. The Kirtan environment cultivates the freedom to express ourselves exactly as we are, in any given moment. By focusing on devotion, we lose our stressful preoccupation with ourselves, placing our attention on that which we are singing about. What a relief!
When we remove the self-critical or perfectionistic aspects that often go with singing, we can step into the joy of vocalizing that is our birthright.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear your stories about your own voice and, perhaps, how they may be shifting. Thank you for reading and sharing, and I hope to sing with you one day soon!
Brenda McMorrow directs DevaTree’s 50-hour elective course, Kirtan Academy: Bhakti Heart Fire.