As I travel, one of the hallmarks of singers that I meet is a sincere love for Jesus and desire to serve Him. I am consistently, deeply blessed by the sector of people I have the privilege to work with. Another characteristic of note is this: over 90% of these singers have little to no training. This is striking on a number of levels. These folks are out on the front lines of ministry, working hard week in and week out without the basic necessities of knowledge under their belt. They are warriors without armor. There are two really good reasons for this lack of training: no time, and no money to give to this. It’s expensive to get good vocal training, and it takes precious time out of an already crazy busy schedule. I get this.
We believe everyone is comparing us to other standards and that we fall short in their eyes. Well, I’m here to tell you that in my experience, the person who is hardest on you—is you.
I have a very special and unique love for these folks serving in the trenches in their local churches, and I would like to help. I want to help people help themselves – that’s why I write this column. But in order to do so I need to start with this admonition: you have to be kind to yourself. Most of us think that our audience is our biggest critic. Or perhaps we think our family members are the cruelest in their assessment of us as singers. We believe everyone is comparing us to other standards and that we fall short in their eyes. Well, I’m here to tell you that in my experience, the person who is hardest on you—is you.
I often teach all day Master Classes. Sometimes I will have the opportunity to teach people over a period of days and really get to know them. My favorite part of many of the Master Classes I teach is when I get the opportunity to allow singers to get up in front of the group and sing for each other. This is SO FUN. Everyone learns during this process. It’s fun to help coach others and get lots of feedback. One thing that always brings me joy is how really astute these folks are at picking up on important issues that singers face. I always tell the group to focus in on some positives in each person’s presentation. Then we give the positive feedback to the singer we are focusing on. This is always encouraging to watch. People are so upbeat and easily find great things to say. Then we try to find a couple of things that the singer could work on to improve. People are always careful and lovingly constructive with these critiques. I have never had to be concerned that someone would walk away feeling verbally abused or discouraged. I have never had to intercede to “soften the blow” of the comments. Never.
Now let’s change environments for a minute. Let’s switch to you. Let’s recall the first time you ever heard a recording of yourself singing. Were you kind to yourself? Did you first try to find some things about your voice that you really liked? Or would your response have been something like this: “There WASN’T anything about my voice that I liked”? If you are like most of the singers I work with, you went with the second option more than the first. And you were NOT kind in your criticisms.
Can I please implore you to stop being hard on yourself? Do I want you to be the best singer you can be? Yes. Do I think your voice is perfect and that you’re doing everything right? No. But a realistic picture is what you need. Not a picture filled with self (voice) loathing and (unfair) condemnation. I need you to learn to be objective about your strengths and weaknesses as a singer so you can work toward genuine improvement. So…
Here’s the plan. I want to encourage you to record yourself singing on a regular basis. When you hear the recording, I want you to refrain from instant criticism. Instead, listen for three things that you like. You are not allowed to move to the next part until you find three positive things to say about your voice/presentation. After you have found those, then, and only then, are you allowed to find one (max two) things that you would like to focus on improving before the next recording. Then take some time to work on those things. When you record and review the next time, look for progress and be encouraged before looking for more things to work on.
I know that most of you will never have the opportunity to get private vocal training, but you can learn to improve through this technique. Obviously, having a rudimentary understanding of how the voice works (breath support, relaxation, proper intonation, etc) is vital, but with those things in the back of your mind as you approach improvement, you will get better if you try this!