(To sing or not to sing . . . you already know
never gave nothin' to the Tin Man, that he didn't already have."
That line from a song by a group called America is a perfect
summery of what I do for a living. People come to me on a daily
basis for permission to sing. They ask if they are good enough;
if they have what it takes. I always answer that everyone has
what it takes provided they are willing to work. When I tell people
this they seem a bit disappointed, it sounds too simple. It's
hard for them to imagine that a big, glorious voice is buried
inside. Well, it isn't that simple. What they have is their instrument,
flaws and all, and excepting that is the first step to improvement.
are really asking me to do is convince their internal critic
that they should sing. I wouldn't dare. I don't want to dignify
its presence with a response. Besides, it knows you too well.
Your internal critic is armed with all the emotional baggage
necessary to win any dispute. It keeps a file of every past
disappointment, and will bring one up in a flash if you start
thinking something crazy like you can improve your voice. Arguing
with the critic is fruitless. The good news is you don't have
to in order to move forward.
the internal critic so powerful is that we have come to believe
that it is the voice of reason. That's not true. Most likely
that voice came from some authority figure in your past, like
a parent or teacher. As children, we were required to ask permission
before we did anything on our own. Over time we figured out
that permission was only needed for fun. No need to ask if it
was okay to clean the dishes; you already knew the answer. However,
if there was a party coming up the timing had to be just right.
Ask at the wrong moment and your desire seemed unreasonable.
Request denied. Fast forward to the present and the same permission
is required to do anything enjoyable. Only now it's you asking
you. It's time to let your inner child have some fun. Or, at
least compromise: Sing while doing the dishes!
it's important to learn to live with your internal critic is
that it will never go away. Yup. You read that right. Even mega
super-stars deal with that little demon. They dragged it kicking
and screaming all the way to the top. They didn't wait for it
or anyone else to grant them permission to follow their dream.
Even though it's been done a thousand times before there is
no map for success. The stories of those who reached the top
always sound courageous. While it was unfolding, though, they
were just as scared as you and I would have been. The only difference
was, they went ahead and did it anyway. In general, the length
of a warm up should be in opposite proportion to the performance.
If you're going to be singing all night, a quick check of your
instrument will do. Usually, singers are still warming up during
the first couple songs of a set. But if you're only up there
for a song or two, the stage is no place to deal with stiff
muscles. Short performances require lengthy warm ups. That way,
you'll be loosened up and in control when it's time to sing.
the advice of your internal critic does not mean ignoring the
effect it has on your instrument. After all, it plays a great
role in determining the physical character of your voice. It
can easily restrict things like range and volume. Personality
is a good example of this. Shy people don't give themselves
permission to talk, let alone draw attention to their singing!
This means there is very little stimulation of the vocal muscles
from day to day. Introverted people tend to be shallow breathers
as well. The result is that their voices will have much less
projecting power then, say, a blabber mouth. While this may
seem like a given, all is not lost. Shyness is not genetic.
It's the product of a frightened internal critic. This doesn't
mean that introverts should head for a psychiatrist; it means
they'll have to work to change the underlying behaviors they
have attached to singing. It means they should head for a voice
work of developing a voice is a two step process: Release and
strengthen. First, restrictive tensions are pealed away and
then stimulation is needed to make the smaller muscles within
the larynx stronger. There are usually many layers of tensions
to get rid of before things start sounding better. To speed
up release, it's important to realize that simple tensions may
be driven by your internal critic. Belief systems can tighten
muscles, forming a protective barrier against our fears. Don't
let this hold your voice hostage! Talk to yourself. Negotiate
with your critic as you vocalize. Tell it there's nothing to
be afraid of; you're just playing around. (You might want to
do this when alone so people don't think you're crazy). Remember:
First things first. You're not trying to convince yourself that
you have a great voice; you're just trying to loosen your jaw.
way we sabotage the process is by asking, "Where's the
beef?" Looking for power too early will cause you to push
undeveloped muscles, making them tense in reaction. The more
you push the more tense they'll get. This, too, is the work
of the dastardly critic! It knows you're not ready to be compared
to other, more advanced singers. It will use the obvious short
coming as ammo against your desire to improve. It's the same
game we play when joining a gym. People want big muscles immediately.
They over extend themselves right off the bat and when things
don't change in a week they quit. Instead, give yourself permission
to explore the potential of your instrument at a moderate volume.
You'll get far more power out of your voice later once your
muscles are relaxed and coordinated.
these head games so perplexing is that, deep down, you don't
agree with the internal critic. If you really believed those
negative feelings you wouldn't have read this article. You would
have calmly pursued other interests. There would be no guilt
or jealous feelings nagging you each time you heard a great
voice; just pure enjoyment. Instead, the desire to sing remains,
for years perhaps, unfulfilled, unchallenged and unexplored.
Why you won't give the need to sing as much attention as the
need to walk the dog is definitely worth exploring. It's holding
you back emotionally and physically. There's a wonderful book
by Julia Cameron called, "The Artist's Way," which
I strongly recommend. What's important right now is that you
start taking the steps necessary to develop a better voice.
Just because you've got nothing better to do! That way, should
you ever give yourself permission to sing well you'll have an
instrument that's ready and able.
Baxter is a vocal therapist
who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call:
(800)659-6002. Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
with the kind permission of Mark