As a voice coach, I’ve heard a few of my clients say they don’t like their voice and how it sounds, thus they are reluctant to sing, sometimes even to speak up in their own lives.
Our voice is a natural and integral part of who we are, which means that if we dislike our voice and how we sound, it is basically a form of self-rejection.
From the time we were born, we had full use of our natural vocal abilities without being taught how to do so. Even without words and intelligible speech, which is a learned skill we picked up later as we grew up, babies naturally use their voice to sound out what they need and express how they feel.
As a baby, without the use of words or the ease of mobility, our voice was the primary means of communication to our caretakers and how we express our joys and discomforts. And even when we became familiar with words and their meanings, verbal communication remains our primary form of interacting and engaging with the world around us.
And as we grow older, our voice continues to evolve and develop in ways that are unique to each of us, because it carries every single experience of our life. Our adventures, encounters, traumas, breakthroughs, wins, losses, emotions, thoughts… all of these are reflected in our voice when we speak and sing. And while words allow us to understand each other on an intellectual level, most of what’s really being communicated lies in our facial expressions and body language, as well as the tone and resonance of our voice.
While there are specific technical and psychological aspects of our voice that we can pinpoint as areas to improve on (e.g. more power and resonance, more confidence and less nerves etc.), a general dislike for our voice or wishing we could sound more like our favourite singer, speaker or celebrity indicates a misalignment within ourselves.
While we seek to improve and develop ourselves in our expression, the journey still begins with an acceptance of where our voice is currently at.
Because the thing about our voice is that our current limitations are also indicative of our current strengths.
For instance, if you disliked your limited vocal range and keep trying to extend it, you may overlook the fact that your limited range is where your voice is currently at its strongest, and further honing that should be your initial focus. Or if you dislike that you sound too masculine or feminine and you keep trying to compensate for that, you may miss out on discovering the natural resonance and power that your voice already possesses.
Thus instead of focusing on what you’re lacking, get present to what it is you already have, because what you already have is the best place to start. This is where, in our voice coaching sessions, we’ll look at strengthening what you’ve already got, and then we’ll push that comfort zone a little bit at a time until you get more comfortable with expanding your current limits. Then we’ll repeat the process of strengthening the new developments, and continue to expand a little further, and so on, until you have a wider access to the natural vocal ability you were already born with.
This is where self-rejection can be a little sneaky, because sometimes when we talk about self-improvement, or becoming “better” or to “Improve” our voice, it can come from a place of lack where we believe we are “not good enough”. And in the realm of singing and the voice, we believe we should sound more ________ — fill in the blank with your adjective, e.g. feminine, masculine, sweeter, powerful etc. — all sorts of things we put on ourselves because we believe we lack something, and hence we think we should attain that which we lack.
And we may even reject what we’ve already got, thinking it’s not as “good” as the ideal that we desire. While it’s a viable motivator for growth, in the long run it’s not the most sustainable because it comes from a place of lack and scarcity, rather than a place of self-acceptance and knowing our strengths and weakness, and understanding that growth and evolution is an ongoing process for its own sake.
From my own experience, I often tell myself I’m “not good enough”, thus there’s always an unconscious need to prove myself, and proving myself means I have to show I’m “better than everyone else” (in order to feel “good enough”), and of course that rarely ever happens — and it’s really a never-ending loop in itself, and doesn’t forward me or anyone else.
In terms of my voice, when I was younger I somehow always believed my voice is lower than it “should be”. Of course when I watch videos of myself as a child, my voice sounded just like an average kid’s voice, but somehow at that age I always heard myself as sounding “too much like a boy”. This, coupled with my belief that boys liked girls who are feminine, demure and sweet, I started to worry that my voice was too “masculine” and would make me less attractive.
Thus I used to purposely make my voice sound higher, so I’d sound sweeter and more “girly”, plus when interacting with boys I tended to appear more accommodating, more people-pleasing, more pleasant and friendly and caring towards others — all because I was trying to portray an image that I believed would make me more attractive as a partner.
Most of the time it didn’t work, because the problem was never with my voice or how I sounded, but it had everything to do with my own inability to accept myself as I am. I tried to be likeable to others so they would accept me, thus convincing me that I was loveable, but once again it was a never-ending, self-sabotaging loop, because since I didn’t even like myself to begin with, a part of me always believed that nobody else will truly be able to accept me, and even when they did, I always had doubts about that.
So an important part of the singing journey is learning to accept your voice as it currently is, utilising your strengths and further developing them, and continuing to build upon that.
At the same time, are you also allowing yourself opportunities to express your voice? Chances are if you dislike your voice, you’ll be less likely to want to use it. But allowing yourself to express your voice, no matter how much you cringe when you hear yourself, is a necessary part in the process of confronting your rejection of self, and ultimately overcome it.
Over the past year I’ve been using my voice and allowing it to be expressed more through singing as well as vlogging, and the more I’ve listened to myself over and over again (through watching my recordings as well), I’ve found that I’m not as irked as I used to be about my voice.
In fact, I’ve started to enjoy hearing my voice the way it sounds. Is there room for growth? Yes, there always is. But I’m far less cringe-y about hearing my voice, and less hesitant or embarrassed about singing in front of others as I used to be just a year ago.
In singing and in life, if you can’t accept your voice or yourself, then no matter how you try to improve or become “better”, it’s never going to be enough. And it also won’t be authentic, because it’s coming from a place of lack and needing to prove something, and that will always be in the background as you’re singing, expressing, communicating, or developing yourself.
As a voice coach, my work with you isn’t just about improving your voice and expression, but also to bring you to a place of love and acceptance not just for your voice, but also for yourself, and from there we can discover the unique ways in which you can continue to grow and evolve, and become the best version of yourself in ways that are true and authentic to you.
Because to me, this is the basis of the singing journey, that we grow to love and accept ourselves for who we are.
Watch my vlog series “Find Your Voice” here.
Find out more about working with me on your voice here: maryannloo.com/singing