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More to Karaoke than Singing!
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Tips for Singers:
"Let Yourself Sing"
(If only it were that easy . . . hey, it is!)
by Mark Baxter
Youíre thinking it canít be that simple. If all you had to do was let yourself sing, then everybody would be belting out songs with ease. Well, everybody can sing.

By definition, singing is uttering a series of sounds in a musical fashion. Look up the word music and youíll find the simple phrase "to amuse." This means that singing is nothing more than producing sounds which make you feel good. Nowhere is it written that singing, or music, is for the purpose of impressing others. Unfortunately, the anticipated reaction of others is the real reason that some of us sing and most of us donít.

Although singing is unnecessary for our physical survival, it is integral to our emotional well being. What food, water and sleep do for your body, singing does for your soul. Every religion, every race and every country has incorporated singing into their rituals. Archeological discoveries have uncovered sophisticated instruments, over fifty thousand years old, indicating the human race has always been drawn to music. Joining voices with others is a bonding experience. We instinctively sing to our babies to comfort them. Researchers have concluded that many animals, such as whales and birds, also produce organized melodies (sing songs) for pure enjoyment. Neurological studies are always exploring just how the brain perceives and appreciates music. Someday science will prove what people have known long before there were scientists: singing makes you feel good.

What a shame, then, that most of us deny ourselves this wondrous experience. We procrastinate on the simple exercises needed to improve, excusing ourselves by thinking that great singers have gifts requiring no work whatsoever. Not true. We become trapped in negative beliefs, convinced that people wonít like our voice, before weíve even sung a note. This pessimistic attitude is sure to compromise coordination, creating the cracks and bad pitches we then use as evidence that we were not born to sing. Worse yet, we punish those who criticize us negatively by remaining silent. Just because a parent or teacher threw a comment our way, we sit on the sidelines pouting as others partake in the joy of singing.

Not so fast cry babies. Singing is a simple physical activity. Anyone who possesses the necessary body parts can play the game. Like throwing a ball, muscles and reflexes can always be strengthened and coordinated to improve range and accuracy. Obviously some people are born with better skills, but this does not prevent the rest of us from developing. In the end, does it matter how much practice it took to learn to throw a ball well? Of course not. Unlike throwing a ball, though, singing is also an art, which means everyone is entitled to an opinion.

What is music to one pair of ears is noise to another. Without a universal definition of a "good" voice or "correct" singing, itís easy to get confused when it comes to improvement. How can skills grow without a target? Even the medical community struggles with this issue. Doctors who specialize in voice have incredible diagnostic equipment, which can diagnose minute vocal characteristics, but the final say of what is acceptable ultimately rests with the singer. When Iím working with singers in the studio, I always ask them if they are happy with what theyíve recorded. If theyíre not, we keep working. However, if everything came out exactly as the singer intended, then Iím happy for them. It doesnít matter if I like the result; a successful artist is one who fulfills their inspiration.

Unfortunately, what inspires most of us is praise. We use approval as a sign that we are on the right track. This is a bad gauge for singers. In fact, fishing for complements is the surest way to become tangled in a frustrating web of contrasting comments. Like a desperate angler casting an array of lures in every direction, trying to satisfy everyone guarantees disappointment. The fear of criticism often causes people to abandon their passion for singing. What a crime. Think of it as a bonus if you reel in a complement or two, but just like the faithful who return to the waterís edge after many days without a nibble, you should sing because you love to sing.

The only opinion regarding your voice that matters is yours. If you look to someone for approval, you automatically grant them the power to disapprove. No teenager in their right mind would ask for a parentís opinion of the clothes they wear. I often receive e-mails, though, from teens who feel held back due to a lack of encouragement from their parents. The same thing applies to spouses and bandmates. Do you think the humpback or the hermit thrush care what other animals think of their singing?

The thing to remember about negative remarks from those closest to you is that they are rarely about the subject at hand. Are they commenting on your voice or on your chances of making it big? Do they really want you to stop singing or just stop practicing where they can hear you? Or, are they jealous that youíre attempting something they wish they had pursued? There is a big difference between constructive criticism and family tension. Forgive your detractors -- chances are they are unaware how much singing means to you.

The only appropriate reaction to cutting comments is to let the words roll off your back, just as you would treat a remark about an outfit you think looks great. Iím not suggesting that you simply turn off insecurity with a flip of a switch. I am suggesting, though, that the criticisms which dig the deepest are the ones you agree with. What makes a particular comment upsetting is when you know, deep down, that itís true. Okay, so youíre not the next sensation. Time to go into the closet -- literally. Find a private place and let yourself explore this thing called singing. Just remember, no one is allowed to comment on your voice, including you, until youíve given it a chance to develop.

The hardest part is getting started. The good news is you already have. Any causal singing youíve ever done in the past counts, including in the shower. Itís dark inside your throat; your larynx doesnít know whether youíre alone or singing for thousands. Your mind is what causes the problems, which is why Iím suggesting you lighten up a little. Distract your doubting side by asking simple questions. How many animals can you imitate? Both the moo of a cow and the howl of a wolf are excellent ways to loosen up tight vocal muscles. If that feels too silly, then pretend you just took a bite of something delicious. What sound would you make to convey your delight? Once you gotten your voice active, explore the boundaries. How high and low can you sing without changing any facial muscles? Is it easier move your voice around while humming or when producing an EE or an AH vowel sound? How long can you sustain a comfortable pitch? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Everyoneís voice is unique. These kinds of observations, though, are a better monitor of development than what other people say about your singing.

Vocal free-play is important even if youíre already knocking them dead in the talent shows or at the local clubs. Your skills can always improve. Experiment with the ideas and exercises outlined throughout my web site. My goal as a teacher is to educate singers about the big picture. Once you understand the physical and mental requirements of the voice, youíll be able to release the habits which compromise your potential as a singer. The point is not to compare your abilities to other singers, itís to see your voice as a work in progress. The first step occurs when you give yourself permission to have some fun, and let yourself sing!

Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website at:

(reprinted with the kind permission of Mark Baxter)

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