Posted in Music, Singing

Singer beginner? Start with your head!

Everyone is musical and can be a singer.  We all have music in us –  to some it just comes more easily, strongly, and naturally, while others have to work harder to find it, but it is there as part of our souls – that is what I believe.  And you don’t have to be ‘on stage’ to qualify.  If we don’t block the ears of our hearts and minds with the worries of life, all of us can hear music right here and now in some form.  I am not just talking about the music we hear blaring out of the radio, CDs, or through other devices, but noticing how real music feels in the rhythms of life around us.  This is the type of music that gets deep into our bodies and spirits.  We may find ourselves casually tapping our fingers to what we hear and start humming a tune, or sing a random song.  When we were babies and children we made noises and didn’t care who was watching or listening.  Did you know that these small things are the start of something wonderful?

Stop reading this post right now and take a moment to just listen to the sounds around you for a minute…

Can you hear the click-clack of a train on tracks nearby?  How about the sound of insects or birds?  Can you hear the rush of the wind in the trees or raindrops on the roof?  All of this is music.  All sounds are patterns and rhythms if you listen closely enough.  Everything is imbued with timing, mathematics, and dynamics (loud and soft sounds).  I even used to make up songs as a child while listening to the clangs of a rickety old washing machine!

Maybe you feel uncomfortable about this post because you believe that you “can’t sing” or feel that you are rhythmically challenged, but please do not click away!  I bet that by the time you finish reading you will start to think differently about music and singing, and might even be encouraged to try it.

I have been singing for many years in choirs, duets, solo, with opera / trained singers, singers who were totally off-key or singing something else, singers who were way too loud and others who were too soft or breathy.  (Pssst!  Guess what?  Even the ‘trained’ singers sometimes cracked, wobbled on their notes, made a mistake, or were nervous – we are all human!)  The common factor with all of them is that they enjoyed singing and all tried to sing their best.  But the major difference between these singers’ vocal output was whether or not they had practiced (at all, enough, and correctly), were committed, possessed the right mindset or attitude, and had self-confidence. 

I don’t like labels, but I only recently stopped flinching when calling myself ‘a singer’.  Singing has just been a natural lifelong activity and it is important not to overthink it.  Singing is not my profession, but it is a passion. I am happy being a volunteer in a choir and as a cantor, singing in the music ministry as a service to the church, but not as a ‘perfomer’.  I don’t ‘perform’ at church but assist with the Mass by worshiping God through music and singing.

For many years I sang with joy and freedom, but then a few things happened and my musical and singing journey took a detour for a while.  I eventually returned to sing at my local church but in many ways, I had changed.  I sang well, but I knew that something was wrong – I had lost my former relaxed attitude and confidence, the joy was gone or on autopilot, and even endured panic attacks.  Despite all of this, I persisted through self-doubt and continued singing, although the predominant self-talk was always “I am not good enough” or “oh no, here comes that high note” or “I don’t like my voice” even if I sounded fine or others had positive feedback afterwards. 

While I still struggle with these thoughts and the nerves have never left, the gift in all of this was the realisation that singing is not so much about how good your voice sounds, or having perfect technique, but about the singer’s mindset, purpose, and motivation.  This is critical for all singers – especially beginners – to understand even before you open your mouth.  You need to let this fact sink deep into your soul:

Singing is a mental activity. 
You MUST have the right frame of mind before you sing. 

Technique is important,
but it is not the be-all and end-all of singing well.

Joy, peace, relaxation, emotion, feeling, connection, soul
– these are the intangible stuff that truly matter for all singers!

What is this “right frame of mind”?  If you don’t support yourself, constantly put yourself down, do not feel happy or joyful with yourself, then none of the best singing lessons or technique in the world will work for you.  You may be able to sing perfectly technically but if you are unhappy, mentally or physically tired, going through a difficult time, depressed, or your soul feels joyless, these will all affect your voice.  You must address the root cause of these issues if you want to sing in a way that is natural, genuine, and free for you.  I would rather listen to a realistic, connected, soulful singer than one who is technically flawless but leaves me feeling cold and detached, wouldn’t you?

Environment and life situations also affect the singing voice.  For example, for many years I have noticed an amazing transformation in my voice every Christmas and Easter.  For church singers the time before Christmas and Easter Masses can be stressful, emotional, filled with rehearsals, sustaining long and high notes, getting your breathing, endurance, physical stamina in the right place, dealing with perfectionism, etc.  While these times are joyful, there is a strong adrenaline rush and sense of anticipation before every Mass to ensure that everything goes smoothly.  It is also important to keep it prayerful, focus on the worship of Christ, and finding the ‘flow’ of the music.  That is a lot to handle!  What happened to our joy in the process?    

Singers often put a lot of pressure on themselves, but the motivation behind this is the desire to do well and ensure that the people (i.e. the congregation) – usually consisting of many who are not regular churchgoers – feel closer to God and can hopefully leave the Mass feeling uplifted.  The whole world is (or should be) focusing on the love of worshipping Christ, and as singers, so should we.

So the voice responds to motivation and mindset, and what you tell yourself before, during, and after singing really affects the outcome.  At these times I especially feel myself becoming more focused, committed, and elevated by the spirit of these major events in the life of Christ, and by the spirit of the community and musicians around me.  The whole world seems to stop, especially at Christmas.  The result is that I sing more freely and with joy.  I can reach the highest notes with ease, my breath is just right and relaxed, and I don’t care what other people are thinking.

But after Christmas or Easter, things go back to ‘normal’ and the doubts can return.  How do we maintain that positive motivation, momentum, and spirit throughout the year?  How can singers energise our minds and souls so that we give our best without forcing, faking, or stressing about it too much?  How can we train our minds to affect our voices the way we want them to?

I’m not a ‘woo-woo’ person.  I don’t believe in hypnosis or engage in any occult activities.  But I do believe in the power of self-talk, prayer, positive thoughts, the mind and how it affects the body, and the power of the spirit that God has given us – as long as it is all in line with Christ’s teachings in the Bible.  So why not use these to improve your singing?

Everything begins in the mind.  To start, let us reach for the Bible for our inspiration – after all, God is the one who made and gave us our minds and voices: 

…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(Philippians 4:8-9)

So with this as our inspiration, below are some tips for developing a positive singer’s mindset to begin your singing journey.  If you don’t feel comfortable trying all of these just pick one and work on that for a few weeks, or make up your own: 

  • Start setting aside time for meditation, especially in the morning if you can – 5 or 10 minutes – or even just 2 minutes if you are struggling.  Just breathe, then follow below.
  • Find a list (or create your own) of positive singing affirmations about your voice.  Use your quiet daily meditation time and repeat these phrases.  Positive self-talk will help you replace your negative thoughts.  Some examples are:
    • “God gave me my voice – I love my voice.”
    • “Sing like no one is watching.”
    • “I don’t care who is watching!”
    • “I am brave – I can sing”
    • “Just breathe” – a good one to focus on while you are singing.
    • “My voice is good enough.  I am good enough.”
    • “Who cares if I make a mistake?  I do my best”
    • “I sing with ease.”
    • “Singing is just talking on air”
    • “My voice is free”
    • “I smile as I sing”
    • “I love to sing”
    • “My singing delivers an important message”
    • “I focus on the words as I sing.”
    • “I can do this.  I’ve got this.”
  • Dedicate at least one day every week to singing just for fun – don’t take yourself seriously.  Be silly.  Sing a nursery rhyme, karaoke (you can find free tracks on the internetnote: you will need to click on this link twice to get to the ‘free’ tracks page) or TheKARAOKEChannel or something from a completely different singing style or genre.  Just let loose.  (ABBA, anyone?)
  • Find examples of good singers you have heard of and listen to them.  Defining a ‘good singer’ is very subjective, so start by selecting the genre of music you prefer first.  Do you like classical singing?  Do you love choral singing?  Do you like belters, punk, rock, or jazz singing?  Do you enjoy musical theatre?  Look at what other cultures do.  Find artists who sing in the style you like and listen to them.  If you find them on YouTube you can watch how they sing and behave – look at their mouth, face, emotions, and demeanor.  Learn from all of this and apply it to your own singing to find your own voice.  If you want to get going with singing lessons or professional advice you can check out my list of top vocal coaches in The Music Room.
  • Find good singing and music books at the library or buy your own.  Read musicians’ autobiographies.  Get stuck into some music theory.  It is not as boring as it sounds!  If you want to sing well, you should obtain a good grounding in music theory especially regarding timing, pitches, and the basics.  Get children’s books – don’t feel embarrassed to start learning from the ground up!
  • Are you more of a visual learner?  The Singing School YouTube channel may help!  The exercises on this channel are fun, and will help you to feel motivated and good about music in general.
  • Pray.  Say again?  Yes, pray.  God gave you your unique voice – pray to the One who made it.  Prayers to the patron saint of church music and musicians – St. Cecilia – are a great start.  If you have a lot of anxiety about your singing or about life in general, St. Dymphna can also help you.
  • Trick your brain and change your self-talk.  Don’t think of yourself as ‘singing’ or ‘performing’ – but that you are just talking to other people and riding on the breath.  That is what singing is!  We are just ‘talking’ on different pitches while holding out the vowels and consonants on the breath. 
  • Write up to five things you love about your voice.  Do you have clear high notes?  Are your low notes rich and resonant?  Do you enunciate well?  Do you smile as you sing?  Do you have a pure voice or terrific vibrato?  Read this list every day and it will boost your confidence! 
  • Above all, don’t give up!  Sing or hum something every single day – with the radio, while doing housework, while exercising, in the shower – anywhere!  Forget about sounding good but focus on feeling great and before you know it, singing will become second nature.

Do you have any other ideas, suggestions, or thoughts?  I would love to read your comments!

Image Credit: pixabay.com

Author:

I enjoy musing, observing, reflecting, singing, writing, gardening, exercising, and dogs - usually not all at once. My Catholic faith and church is an important part of my life. Check out my blog, The MuSinGer, at musings.music.blog

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