Singing is easy. It really is. Just about anyone can do it.
Singing is natural to human beings. If you think you can’t sing, it’s probably because when you were not very old some well-meaning individual told you that you couldn’t sing. So many people seem to think that singing means making a particular kind of sound that they personally like. Whether or not someone else likes the sound you make has nothing to do with whether or not you can sing. You were born to sing. By telling you that you can’t sing they have deprived you of your birthright.
Little children can sing. They naturally know how to use their voices to produce sustained sounds at a variety of pitches, and automatically vary the pitch and rhythm of their voice to create a tune. They don’t sing in tune, of course – well, accurate control of pitch only comes with practice, just as it does on the violin – and some of the sounds they make may not be pleasant to our ears, but they definitely can sing.
Teachers and parents interfere with children’s natural singing voices. They tell them to sing “nicely”, which means quietly and in tune. They pitch songs to suit themselves, which is too low for most children, and expect the children to adapt, which of course they can’t without either shouting or growling – which the adults then complain about. They tell children to take big breaths (which they are already doing) and open their mouths (ditto). They criticise, instead of helping, children who don’t sing in tune, or who are strident, breathy or mouse-like. The result is that by secondary school, many children have lost their joy in singing and find it difficult and boring, and a substantial minority, especially boys, think they can’t sing. This is tragic.
I work with adults and children of 11 and upwards to help them to rediscover their natural voices and learn how to use them to sing loudly, confidently and joyfully, using all their natural resources. Most people I see find singing unnecessarily difficult, usually because they have been told a lot of stuff that makes it harder to sing and doesn’t improve the sound they make in the least. They are convinced that they have to work terribly hard to make a decent sound. Actually, the reverse is true. Nearly everyone sounds a lot better when they stop working so hard. The easier your singing is, the better you sound.
On the next page I summarise the essential “ground rules” that make singing easy. They look like no-brainers, but actually it’s surprising how often we break them. Don’t beat yourself up if you realise that you are breaking some or all of them. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t finding singing difficult, and that always means that you are ignoring one or more of the ground rules. I’ve broken all of them in my time, and I still do now and then. The important thing is to REMEMBER that when singing seems like hard work you are breaking one or more of these rules. Then you can work out which one you are breaking, do something about it, and singing will become easy again.
IF IT HURTS – STOP!!!
Ok, this is obvious, yes??? Actually most singers break this one at some point, usually because they are trying to do something that their voice doesn’t want to do, or sometimes because the show must go on even with a throat infection. That’s why so many end up in the voice clinics with physical damage. Pain, particularly throat or ear pain, during or after singing is ALWAYS a sign that something is wrong. Stop, and get help before you do serious damage.
EASIER IS BETTER
Actually this should really be rule 1, but I see so many cases where people are abusing their voices and hurting themselves that I had to make a dramatic point about pain. If you remember this rule, however, you are very unlikely to break rule 1.
When your singing feels easy to you, it nearly always sounds better to everyone else. You don’t have to push, strangle, fight, squeeze or hammer your voice to sound great. Let your poor voice do its own thing. Your job is to nourish whatever sound your voice naturally makes with your breath and your muscles – not to try to change the sound.
The trouble is that when you are singing easily and comfortably it can sound rubbish to you. It can sound squeaky, boomy, strident, thin or frankly pathetic, depending on your voice type and anatomy. It can even sound out of tune. Trust me, it probably isn’t. You just can’t hear it properly. Which leads me to rule 3.
DON’T LISTEN TO YOURSELF
You can’t hear your own voice. Did you know that? (“Rubbish”, I hear you say). Well, it is unfortunately true. You are the one person in this world who will never hear what you really sound like. The closest you can get is a very good recording with minimal enhancement. Often, when people hear themselves recorded it is a terrible shock. You don’t sound anything like you thought you did. You may not even like the sound very much.
Don’t waste time and energy trying to improve the sound you hear. You will get nowhere, and are likely to end up breaking rules 1 and 2 because it sounds better to you that way. You must rely on other people to tell you whether or not you are making a great sound. Good singing teachers are great at this – you could say that we are there to be your ears for you. Your job is to FEEL your voice, not hear it. Next time you sing an easy and comfortable note in the middle of your voice, instead of listening to the sound, try to be aware of what physical sensations you experience in your head, throat and body. Where does the note “feel” in your head and chest? What muscles in your body are you using? You need to develop physical awareness of how your voice works, and stop relying on your unreliable ears.
So, this in a nutshell is easy singing: it doesn’t hurt, it feels easy and you can’t hear it properly.