Learn to love your voice with Kathleen Hansen
You sing because you can — because you must. What about people who are afraid of their own voices?
Many of us LOVE to sing in groups, but become emotional …or insecure… or just less satisfied when we sing alone. Now, I know that singing alone is certainly different than raising your voice with others – but wouldn’t it be great to experience even just a little more joy while you’re practicing, singing along with something, or busting out a tune while you’re folding your laundry?
I realize the bold statement of loving your voice might be a daunting thought or feel unachievable. I’m here to tell you, you CAN learn to love your voice. But first I’d like to tell you that the phenomenon of not really liking your own voice is common! It is TOTALLY NORMAL! It’s so common that it has a name: voice confrontation.
Voice confrontation: we’re not what we expect
Voice confrontation is the phenomenon of a person not liking the sound of their own voice. It is generally caused by disappointment due to differences between what a person expects their voice to sound like to other people and what they actually hear in recordings.
Remember that the sound we hear when we speak or sing is different than what others hear. Whenever we speak or sing, we hear (and feel) vibrations routed INTERNALLY, AS WELL AS vibrations that leave our mouths, bounce around the room, and come back to our ears. No one else in the world can hear us as we hear ourselves. Which is more real—what they hear, or what we hear? Does it matter?
A culture of shame around singing
Getting past the science, we need to take a moment to address the collective hurt that many of us have experienced directly or witnessed indirectly. I have SO many adult voice students come to me with stories about how when they were eight or six or sixteen they were told by someone that they couldn’t sing, or that they had a bad voice. Not only do many of you share this experience, but also have in common that the person giving that very mean feedback was someone that you trusted or admired. This kind of blow to the ego can leave people silent for years.
THEN we have the harsh critique of reality singing competitions shows. Many of these shows have hosts that make faces and roll their eyes, videos are edited to showcase or mock performances that are less than amazing … they make it seem like there are those who can and those who can’t – and if you are in the can’t column, social media seems to think it’s fair game to rip you apart publicly.
The good news is that this is NOT real life, and all of us can fight against this culture of shaming to find beauty in our own voices and voices around us. People have been singing for AGES, and it is a fairly recent phenomenon that has de-centered the communal aspect and the culture that singing is for everyone.
People are not unable, they are unpracticed
Singing is a ALSO skill that can be developed. Yes, some people start from different place, but it’s the same as something like riding a bike or learning to write by hand. Some take to it naturally, and others have to work harder. And how hard you work, how much dedicated time you spend on it WILL make a difference.
Modern studio recordings use all kinds of pitch correction. Just a handful of decades ago that wasn’t the case. We are expert listeners with high expectations. So the first thing I’d like to encourage you – wherever you are – is to have a beginner’s mindset. One of my favorite illustrations of this is thinking about a small child learning to walk. They fall down, they get back up. You ENCOURAGE THEM. You say, YOU CAN DO IT! That’s ok! You’re ok! Get back up and try again! Walk to me!
You would NEVER SAY “You’re a TERRIBLE walker. You should just give up now”. …So why would we do that to ourselves as singers?
Love your own distinctive voice
Every voice is unique. Your instrument is physiologically different than anyone else’s - as with standard instruments: you may be more of a piccolo or a saxophone or a tuba. Don’t expect to sound like another instrument. Be the best YOU you can be. And as we get older and our voices change, we need to know that the timbre of our instruments may change as well. And that is ok. That is beautiful.
I have a challenge for you. I really want you to do this.
- Record yourself singing something simple, something that is in the middle of your range. It might be a children’s song or maybe an easy hymn – try to pick something that doesn’t have a famous voice associated with it. Mary Had A Little Lamb or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
- Play it back. Find one thing you like about your performance.
- Was it full of heart?
- Could you hear a smile in your sound?
- Did it sound authentic?
- Was there a single word that had good character?
- Was there a lightness or a richness?
- Say it out loud. “I liked the way I sang the word “star” – it had a sparkle to it”.
- Then BUILD on this.
Encourage yourself, encourage others
When I was studying music education in college, my major instrument was trumpet. I was NOT a singer. I sang. I didn’t hate singing. I just wasn’t “a singer.” We had to take one semester of “class voice.” We learned vocal basics, warmups, and some fairly simple art songs. THEN…. Then we had to sing for each other. People kind of collectively freaked out. But, we had a very kind and encouraging teacher, and a good group of students. When we sang for each other, we were ONLY allowed to give each other positive feedback. When it was my turn, I sang. Kind of quietly, kind of awkwardly… my voice sounded young… probably a little thin. …I took a breath and waited for my feedback.
You know what someone said? She raised her hand, looked right into my eyes, smiled adoringly, and said, “You sounded like an ANGEL!” How could this classmate, who I barely knew, interpret what I heard as kind of a small and thin and underdeveloped sound as beauty. It blew me away and taught me a lot – not only about looking for the good in my own voice, but about how important a little encouragement can be.
So what comes next?
- Take that exercise I gave you earlier and do it again. Record yourself singing! Play it back. Make some adjustments.
- Play with your voice! Make weird sounds that go too far with a goal of experimenting. Like a young child would while learning a new skill – sometimes you don’t want or need to critique… just play.
- Then when you’re ready, listen again and state what you love…or like… or can tolerate. That is absolutely an ok starting place!
- You don’t need to imitate other singers, but you can emulate the good things you hear. Listen to singers you like – what do you like about their voices?
- Be your own best coach. Learn to give yourself a voice lesson, and a safe, practical, and positive self-critique. I have a video dedicated to that.
- Learn how to change things safely – work with a vocal coach or teacher for fastest results – right now there are a lot of people teaching online (I’m one of them) or make an appointment in person when the time comes to do that.
I hope I’ve given you some good things to think about. Be brave. You have nothing to lose. I hope to hear from you about what is working for you.
Kathleen Hansen directs multiple groups in San Diego including the Sun Harbor Chorus, San Diego Chorus of Sweet Adelines International and San Diego Women's Chorus. Contact Kathleen for performance coaching, projects, adjudication, workshops and seminars at her webite www.khansenmusic.com and her YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/c/KHansenMusic