Most of the people I work with are folks serving in their local churches. These people, of which you are mostly likely one, are typically singing, leading worship, heading up worship teams, and working very hard to make the times of worship in their church meaningful and powerful. They are dedicated and hard working. What they are not doing is taking a lot of time or spending a lot of energy working on their own voices. They are more than likely NOT taking private voice lessons, nor do they have access to a vocal coach. Therefore, it’s very difficult to get honest, objective feedback about how they are doing vocally. They often rely on random pieces of feedback that may trickle in, but these are more often than not simple expressions of gratitude and appreciation rather than a candid assessment of how they are doing vocally. So how can we get the feedback we need? The answer is simple-look in the mirror!
Sounds easy enough, right? But you know what? Most people won’t take advantage of this essential part of becoming a better singer. In October of 2017 I wrote an article about getting feedback via recording yourself. If you missed that article I suggest you read that in addition to this one, as it explains the importance of self examination and some of the pitfalls. Reviewing your voice through a recording is an excellent way to grow, but what can best prepare you while you practice is to sing in front of a mirror. But why is this simple technique so often overlooked?
It’s much easier to create a good habit than try to undo a bad one.
Sadly, many of us are not thrilled with how we look, so the prospect of studying our facial movements, or our bodily movements for the duration of a warm-up session and then on to singing the songs we are preparing seems tedious as well as uncomfortable. Often when I tell a student to watch themselves in the mirror as we are working together, they simply won’t do it! They will look down, around…anywhere but at themselves! The time to fix something you are doing wrong is in the moment. When you notice an issue on a recording you make a note to yourself to do it differently next time and this is important. But what’s even better to correct it on the spot and start to create a good habit. It’s much easier to create a good habit than try to undo a bad one. So, it’s important to get over any insecurities we have about how we look so that we can take advantage of this vital aspect of preparation.
There are so many things we (perhaps inadvertently) do with our faces, our mouths, and even our bodies while we are singing that are not only distracting for our audience but can also even be vocally unhealthy. But here’s the good news; most singers recognize these behaviors immediately. Once they see them, they fix them. The problem is that the minute they turn away from the mirror they often return right back to the old behavior! That’s why it needs to be done regularly. Then, new habits can be established.
What Am I Looking For?
Like I said before, the good news is that many things are obvious to most singers, and they immediately fix them. But just in case you’re unsure, here are a few things that you should be keeping your eye on:
Any Facial Tension
Stay completely relaxed! Facial tension can be distracting and also add unnecessary tension to your tone. Make sure your facial expressions are natural and relaxed as you are singing.
Relaxed and Open Vowels Shapes
Two fingers is a good gauge for how open your mouth should be.
Make sure you are standing straight and tall. Keep your rib cage up off your diaphragm so it can move freely and give you the power
Relax your shoulders. It’s easy to carry tension in your shoulders, and that can carry into your overall body tension.
Pay close attention to any veins popping out, or strain you might see in your neck. These are indications that you are not supporting your tone properly from your breathing muscles, but are instead using your throat to support
If you play an instrument while you sing, then make sure you get feedback while you’re playing as well. I always recommend practicing with and without your instrument to make sure that you develop and maintain good habits.
So, it’s important to watch yourself in a mirror (if at all possible) while you are practicing. If it’s not feasible, then get a recording while you are practicing. Stop and review throughout your practice session. This will be the next best thing to a mirror.