Singing: Can I Really Sing?

Singing: Can I Really Sing? - Red Lipstick RosieThe doubt is always there. Can I really sing? I’ve been doing it a long time, but that doesn’t mean I’m any good. I suppose it’s a subject of opinion, and my own opinion is no. I’m not really very good.

I can sing in tune (most of the time), I know that much. But does that make me good? Not particularly. There’s so much more to it than that. I have a lot of training, and as a result I employ a lot of techniques and emotions when I sing, but that still doesn’t mean that when I hear a recording of my own voice I don’t cringe and immediately think I should never sing again. I started singing because I wanted to, I continued because I enjoyed it, I pursued further training because I needed it. I’m not sure I could ever have enough training, because the voice is something that changes and needs to be honed. 

But for my voice, there’s only so much technique can do; the rest is what I was born with. The tone of someone’s voice is the most personal and individual part, and while it can be improved, the foundation of it will always be the same. And I hate mine. Every time I hear my own voice I feel unbearably embarrassed that I ever thought it was acceptable for me to sing in public. To me, my voice sound childish and forced, and for lack of a better word, ‘yucky’. There’s so many singers I’ve come across in my life that have had little or no training, and their vocal abilities far surpass my own. It’s a source of wonder and envy for me, that these lucky people have needed nothing more than their natural talent to be wonderful. Although I must be clear, I don’t mean to say that these people haven’t worked hard. And then there are those who have had a similar level of training to me, and who are still a hundred times better. It’s frustrating.

I am a very self-critical person, especially when it comes to singing, I analyse every wobbly note, every moment of bad diction, every time I use the wrong technique, every time I use the wrong emotion. I want it to be perfect, and it never is. Unfortunately, this outlook does not help my confidence in the matter, doesn’t make it any easier to appreciate what I have. I often wonder what made me think I was ever good enough to go away to college and train,why I ever thought I was good enough for a career in singing, when I really don’t think I’m a good singer to begin with.

Perhaps I’m comparing myself to others too much. Everywhere you go, all over the world, there are wonderful singers. There were better singers at school, better singers at college, and better singers making careers. But as with most things in life, there’s usually someone doing it better than you, and it doesn’t mean you should give up. I struggle to believe anyone who’s ever complimented my voice, because I’ve heard it, and it ain’t pretty. And any time someone has said that I’m not a good singer, it has reinforced my own opinion. Who knows if I’m right or not, who knows if I really can’t sing or not. Opinions are subjective.

Self-doubt is a terrible thing, and I have plenty of it. But I think if you asked all singers ‘do you think you can sing’ and ‘do you like your voice’, a lot more than you think would say no. And not because they’re being modest, or because they’re looking for attention, but because they really believe it. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your own abilities, being confident, and saying yes, I can sing. But not all of us believe that to be true. Not all of us are confident. And that’s ok.

I’ll keep singing, because I enjoy it. I’ll still pursue it, because I enjoy it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t like my voice, because I do like to sing. And that’s all that really matters.

Singing: Learning To Belt

Singing: Learning To BeltIn my first few years of singing I was taught just to ‘belt’, or an approximation of it which was basically shout-singing. For those who don’t know, belting is one of many vocal techniques or sounds. It is generally set in the lower or chest register (generally speaking, the voice you speak with), and is a strong clear sound, used in pop music and musical theatre. When I started learning to sing, I didn’t know the proper technique, and I wasn’t taught it. I was told I had to belt everything (people seem to most impressed or consider you a better singer if you can belt high), so I shouted most things that I sang, which resulted in many sore throats and losing my voice several times. I had no idea that this was wrong, because it was all I knew.

Then I had my fourth singing teacher, and she changed everything. She was classically trained, so taught me the same way. I started using my ‘head-voice’ more and more (higher register), until I was almost solely using the higher register. My voice became very strong in this area, to the point where I was able to create a sound fairly similar to that of belt technique, but without the damage to my voice. It lacked the same tone and clarity, but it’s volume and control lent a similar sound. I continued like this for several years, with my next teacher reinforcing the same technique. By the end of this, I had a very classical and ‘legit MT’ sound to my voice, and my range was approaching soprano. My teacher had said it was important to make your head voice strong, because the lower you can sing in you head register, the easier it would be to blend with your chest register. This is true for classical singing.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I learnt to belt again. I was so terrified of trying it again, afraid of cracking and making mistakes when surrounded by so many more talented singers. For the duration of my first year, I mainly cheated it, using my ‘fake belt’ head voice to get by. However, in my second year, I had a bit of a breakthrough. Up till then I’d been managing to belt B below middle C (B5), but during an audition for a section in the end-of-year showcase, I accidentally belted a C# at the end of What Kind Of Fool (Saturday Night Fever). This may not sound like a huge difference, but a semitone can make a surprising difference, and this was two! It happened quite by accident, but I was chosen to sing the song in the show, which I honestly could not believe, as I felt my audition had gone so badly.

For the rest of the term, I worked on strengthening that C#, and added a new song to my repertoire (one which is now probably my most favourite to sing), How Did We Come To This from The Wild Party. This song is so dramatic and stunning, but it has a lot of sustained C#’s throughout, which terrified me. But I mastered it. My singing teacher was so encouraging, and so determined that I could do it, that I almost started believing her. I find it hard to pinpoint the exact technique that helped me achieve it, but it was mostly to just go for it and not worry about how it sounded. Then came the placement, finding the most comfortable way to place the note to get the sound I wanted. I think this may be different for each person, and it’s certainly different for each note and vowel sound.

My favourite technique – or maybe it’s just the one that physically feels like it’s working – is anchoring. Anchoring is a technique used to shift tension away from your throat and vocal cords, freeing them up to work. There’s different ways to do it, some people like to stand up against a wall and push their back into the wall, or face the wall and push their hands into it. The one I use is planting my feet and anchoring them down, or pushing them down. I prefer this one because it feels like there’s no tension in the whole of my upper body, so no risk of tensing my vocal cords or neck. 

By the end of my 3rd year at college, I was much more comfortable with belting up to a C#, and even started touching on a D. I was still very wary of trying new notes, and would always be asking and checking with my teacher if it was a note I could sing, rather than just trying and seeing if I could do it. But I had gone from not being able to belt anything higher than an A to starting to practise a D. Three whole notes probably doesn’t seem a lot, but for me it was a huge difference.

After I left college, I didn’t sing properly for a long time, but once I did I realised my capabilities had improved further. Upon trying to belt a D I found it quite comfortable, which shocked me. It turns out, for me personally, having no one there to hear me crack and make mistakes made it so much easier to find out what I could really do. Employing the same techniques I learnt at college, I could suddenly hit notes I’d only ever dreamed of before. Recently I hit an F (!!) while messing around in my kitchen singing Hurt by Christina Aguilera. I was actually singing in the wrong key, which meant I sang a whole tone higher than the original (the note in question is an E in the original song). It was unintentional, and I couldn’t believe what I’d just sung once I checked the note. I sang it again, and again, and again, reveling in how comfortable it felt. Eventually I recorded a little clip to see how it sounded (a little rough, but I hit it!).

 

I’m going to continue strengthening this area of my voice, and see if there’s more I can achieve. I often slip back into my ‘fake belt’ head voice, because it’s so comfortable for me, and it’s hard to break a habit of several years. But I’m working on it.

If you’d like to here more, I’m posting some clips to my instagram here.

Have a lovely day x

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