Nowadays, the topic of singing is bitter-sweet. We see so many new singers making it big, either through record labels or huge TV talent shows. Like our idols in any genre of the arts, we love them but don’t think we could ever be like them.
Learning how to sing is still a concept that crosses a lot of people’s minds, in a similar way to keeping fit or taking up a new hobby: we all want to do it as we know somehow it will benefit us.
However, learning how to sing is often ruled out because it seems intimidating or just too challenging.
What’s wrong with singing?
In our modern society, there is a trend for singing (and music in general) to be overshadowed by sport. There are thousands of programmes designed to get people into sport, but not singing. Both have been proven to contain lasting physical and mental benefits, so why is this the case?
Well, the mental attitude towards singing is the biggest cause preventing people from getting into it. The term “tone deaf” is tossed around a lot. Singing has become something reserved only for the shower or karaoke sessions for most people – or the arena or concert hall for the professionals. The problem is that there’s nothing to bridge that gap.
Often, I’ve heard people singing on a whim and I have said that they are good, and that they should learn to sing properly. This stops them in their tracks and they make excuses: “I was just messing around” or “I can’t really sing.”
For many years I have tried to work out why there is this attitude towards singing and why more people don’t try to learn (or in some cases start learning and then back out). There are many psychological reasons behind this, but a very significant one you can change is how you feel about the sound of your voice. If you want to succeed with singing you must learn how to love your own voice.
Every voice is unique
The reason why so many people sing in the shower is because they think people can’t hear them. They have an underlying urge to sing, but they can’t stand their own voice being heard by others. People are often disappointed that their voice doesn’t sound the way they want it to, and there is an expectation that your voice should sound similar to the professionals you like to listen to.
Let’s take a step back to your speaking voice. You are used to it because you use it and hear it a lot, which probably isn’t true of your singing voice yet – so it should be no surprise that you will need to get used to how your singing voice sounds. Don’t be surprised either if it doesn’t sound the same to your speaking voice! One of my own vocal characteristics is that my speaking voice is naturally much lower than my singing voice. If you are interested in singing but have always felt reluctant about it, think again. Every voice is unique – and this can be a very good thing!
It might help to compare the singing voice to other musical instruments for a moment. A specific make of violin, or clarinet for example, can be important to the player – but if the worst comes to the worst it can be replaced with another instrument. Some also like to use multiple instruments for different styles of playing. With the voice, you can’t replace what you have.
This may sound disheartening, but even though you have the same vocal cords all your life, the voice itself can actually change dramatically. My voice certainly doesn’t sound the same as when I was twelve, or even eighteen for that matter. Further down the line, a singer may also train themselves in one style before moving onto another, and different styles require a change of sound. Therefore, not only is your voice different to other instruments, but it is unique to every other voice.
If applied correctly, this can be a very good thing. We as humans learn to distinguish people’s speaking voices from each other, and we do the same with singers. All your favourite singers sound different to each other, and that’s how you recognise them in songs. One thing all your favourite singers have in common though is that they all had to get used to the sound of their own voice.
The science of sound perception
One common piece of advice for those who are curious about learning to sing to record themselves singing so they can listen back and get a chance to hear their voice. This can be helpful but there are also problems with this. I would certainly be put off hearing myself through a medium, so I understand it when people turn away from singing when they hear their voice recorded. There is a reason for this:
The way you perceive the sound of your voice is different from how other people perceive it. For example, when you listen to other people’s voices, sound waves travel and are picked up by your ears, which in turn get transmitted through the regions of your inner ear so your brain is able to process auditory information. If you are listening to your own voice, other effects happen on top of this:
- Firstly, sound waves are coming from all around your head rather than from a more concentrated external source.
- Secondly, sound is also being transmitted to your inner ear internally as sound waves are conducted around you into the inner ear through air conduction. This is due to the structure of the bones in your head, including your skull, your spine and your ear bones, and this is called bone conduction.
Therefore, when you hear yourself singing or speaking, you are in fact hearing a unique combination of sound waves that others cannot hear, which is coming from sound waves outside and inside your body. This is why to you, your voice seems to contain more depth and presence.