We’re two months away to the end of 2020, how has your journey been this year?
What has your progress been like in terms of your new year’s resolutions, the goals you had set out to achieve, and the dreams you intend to fulfil?
One of my goals this year is to cultivate a singing practice. Although I’ve been a voice coach for two years, and have had many years of singing experience, I haven’t always been intentional in honing my vocal abilities. At the same time, I used to be quite a devout Catholic, thus most of my previous singing experience had been as part of a music ministry with various church and youth groups, which meant my singing then had never really been for me, but to serve a larger purpose in those religious practices.
I haven’t practiced any religion since 2013, which also meant I wasn’t singing as much, until I attended the first TruSelf Singing Weekend in 2016, and slowly I started again on a singing journey that was no longer for an external purpose like praise and worship, but purely for the enjoyment of expressing myself, finding my voice, and discovering more of who I am.
This year I’ve really ramped up my singing practice. Before we went into lockdown in Singapore in April, I had been performing at open mic sessions. Once we were confined to our homes, I recorded and published singing performances on YouTube. Each week I make time to practice some of the voice exercises that we teach in our singing workshops, and explore others taught by other voice coaches on their social media accounts. I also picked up playing the guitar again, this time to learn songs that aren’t for praise and worship.
Having spent more time now on singing than I had done before, I’ve begun to realise three things about the singing journey, which I previously had misconceptions about, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Misconception #1: Singing lessons and voice coaching are only for improving our voice and singing.
Yes, we can improve our voice and singing with singing lessons and voice coaching, that’s pretty obvious. But there’s also much more than that, because the singing journey is also about our personal growth and evolution, overcoming our limitations, and discovering more about ourselves.
Our voice is such an integral part of ourselves, and we don’t even realise this because it is so! From the time we were born, we possessed the full use of our natural vocal abilities, and nobody taught us how to express our joy, discomfort, hunger, fear or need for attention. As babies, we expressed naturally as our needs arose, and we expressed freely without inhibition.
Even though we’ve grown up learning to exercise control over our emotions and the ways in which we speak and communicate, our voice continues to be an integral part of who we are, and is thus directly affected by our emotional, mental and physical states, usually without us being aware of it.
Thus a good singing coach will understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, because our voice is also affected by our personalities, our emotional states, our distractions, and our psychological barriers to expression such as fear of judgement, embarrassment, and performance anxieties — all of which occur in combinations that are unique to each individual.
And when you work with such a singing coach, the improvement in your voice and singing is part of a much more holistic experience of personal growth and evolution.
Misconception #2: One singing lesson is enough to improve our voice.
In a fruitful singing lesson, we expect to learn a technique or exercise, and after we run through it a few times, we would hear or sense an improvement in our singing by the end of the session, and that’s how we know the technique or exercise is effective. Yay mission accomplished!
Then we return to our lives, and we don’t practice what we’ve learnt, and then a month later we try singing again, and we’re confused as to why the improvement didn’t last. Then we conclude that perhaps the teacher wasn’t that good after all, the technique doesn’t really work, “my voice is just hopeless”, “I’m just not meant to be a singer”, etc.
The truth is that there is no magic quick-fix in improving our voice and singing. We can learn all the techniques and exercises there are, and we can practice for a few minutes and see immediate improvement before and after, but if we don’t develop a consistent practice, and/or if we don’t practice correctly (which usually happens when practicing on our own without a voice coach), our voice will most likely return to its previous state.
This is because the way we use our voice and express ourselves has become second nature to us since our formative years. When we learnt to speak our native language by imitating our primary caregivers, we unconsciously picked up their vocal habits, as well as the range of their expressive abilities and quirks. And this is how we’ve been expressing ourselves for our entire speaking life!
Thus in voice coaching, what’s really happening is the undoing of some of these vocal habits and limitations we’ve inadvertently placed on our voice and expression. And the process of undoing these requires patience, effort, and discipline to develop a consistent practice over time, before the improvements we anticipate become more lasting.
Misconception #3: Improvement and progress is constant and continuous, like a linear graph going upwards.
It’s a common misconception to believe that when we consistently work on something, our improvement and progress can be charted as a linear graph going upwards. This may be so if we track our progress on a monthly or yearly basis, but the daily or weekly progress would most probably appear like a stock market graph, with numerous rises and falls along the way.
One day our singing sounds amazing without much effort, the next day we find ourselves unable to perform. Then on the third day our singing moves us to tears, but on the fourth day it takes so much effort even just to sing one chorus of a song…
Sometimes, this may not even have anything to do with our physical voice. Some days we may be mentally preoccupied by a situation at work, or our emotional state simply doesn’t fit the song we insist on singing. Some days we’re really in tune with ourselves and resonating with the song. Some days we’re physically exhausted from a long day, and some days we’re well-rested and relaxed. All of these affect the quality of our voice and our singing on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis, and require a certain level of self-awareness for us to determine what makes us sound better or worse on those days.
Without an understanding of how daily progress is really like, many people feel discouraged and quit before they’ve invested enough time to discover what the journey of progress and improvement really looks like.
To sum up, improving our singing and expression is an ongoing holistic journey that requires consistent and regular practice, and the understanding that progress over time comes with good-sounding and bad-sounding days.
Like all other personal growth journeys, it comes back down to our desire for the changes we wish to see in our life, our willingness to overcome our barriers and limitations, and our commitment to consistent practice.