caitlin joy


October/November 2016

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Don’t Let Fear Ruin Your Singing Life

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Don’t Let Fear Ruin Your Singing Life

My last Finding Your Voice column addressed the need to be in love with the songs you sing. Loving relationships allow us to discover what we can offer our voices/songs and what they can offer us. But, what if the relationship is fearful? What if we denigrate, ridicule and hate our own voices and the songs we sing?

I experience great difficulty and blockage around my voice and songwriting. At worst, fear can silence, blind and paralyse. At best, it creates unnecessary suffering and struggle. This is real and must be understood, healed and resolved if we are to enjoy our voices and sing freely.

A dear friend of mine is a great writer, yet she’ll do anything but. She’s convinced that it’s bad for her. Just because something feels overwhelming or hard, doesn’t mean we should ‘avoid it’– it’s likely the very thing we are best at and will ultimately be transformed by.

Sadly, we all too often neglect or give up on music and creativity in our ‘busy’ lives. It’s the first to slide off our priorities list – even for full-time musicians!

As Steven Pressfield’s book The War Of Art attests, the more talented and passionate we are about something the more likely we’ll be to resist it. Hugely creative people convince themselves that they shouldn’t create or sing. This is insane, but understandable – we care too much. Our level of creativity often manifests an equal and opposite amount of resistance. We’ll find excuses for not doing the very thing we most need to do. It’s like those people who feel too hurt by love to fall in love again.

The child standing atop the hydro-slide too terrified (of rumoured razorblades planted inside) to take the plunge and enjoy the ride. You know the first thing that’ll happen after they splash into the pool? They’ll climb straight back up, and do it again and again. As with music: stop standing at the end of the platform… dive!

Music, and your voice, is like a puppy. It needs to be taken for walks (literally), exercised (warmed up and used), fed (by a nutritious diet of good songs and singers), played with, stimulated (writing and learning new songs), trained well, given rest, water, compassion, treats, love and care. In return, your voice will be a constant faithful companion, a best friend. It will comfort you when you’re down, guide you if needed, not tire easily and always be pleased to see you (irrespective of how long you’ve been away).

Some people fear dogs. This diminishes when they learn how dogs operate as pack animals. Unsurprisingly, dogs fear humans if they’ve been badly treated. Let’s hope we don’t have to report you to the SPCV (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to your Voice).

For our own survival, we must clearly see how we operate. What self-sabotaging beliefs, thoughts, habits, attitudes and behaviours are preventing loving a relationship with your voice? List your fears. List what you think about your voice – its faults, deficits and weaknesses as you perceive them. List the things you suspect others are thinking about your voice. What fears emerge as you anticipate singing? As you sing? And afterwards, in performance, recording and practice. Reconcile these tendencies. Think only loving thoughts. (NB: your voice can smell fear!)

Do you think you need great confidence to sing? A robust ego? You’re either born with it or not? Do you think songwriting should be easy and spontaneously flow from you? Do you think you’ve nothing to say or that your songs are too cliché? Are you waiting for someone to tell you what to sing and how? Have you convinced yourself that certain techniques just ‘don’t work’ and you’ll never get the hang of ‘twang’? Do you dislike the sound of your voice, but fear finding out why? This is where a good vocal coach comes in – dispelling toxic myths like these!

Understanding your voice, removes fear. It’s not you personally, it’s the amount of technique you are or aren’t using. Using good technique gives confidence. I have zero self-confidence and often only hear the faults in my voice. Thankfully, I’ve unshakable faith in technique.

All fear is unfounded. All excuses are just excuses. Have a read of Charles Bukowski’s ‘Air and light and time and space’ poem to slap your face with the reality of lame-ass excuses. Sing and write now! You’re not too old or too young. You don’t need to gain confidence first, or get adopted as an adult into a musical family. The fact that you found your own musical stimulation and carved out your own territory when ‘your music’ was actively discouraged is great training in tenacity and authenticity.

There isn’t a single loss or fear that hasn’t taught me greatly. Each time I have to rebuild or strengthen my voice, from illness or injury, I learn more about the wonders of technique. Fear shows me what’s unreal from what’s real.

Fear of being judged, making mistakes, singing off-key, forgetting lyrics or melodies guides us to conceive of the song differently. I think of myself as a model for the song. I’ve a spectacular jacket that wears me! When I wear it, nobody’s looking at me, they’re looking at the jacket. Make sure you wear and model songs with style and panache.

If you fear you’re not good enough, think of yourself as a cook. Add appropriate technique as you would ingredients – the right quantity, at the right time – it’s a process. Begin following a good recipe to assure singing success. (And remember, twang is a spice and some like it hot!) Taste frequently, adjust accordingly, do the prep, customise and share your feast with friends.

Acknowledging and using new ways of looking at fear is vital to eradicating it. It’s in the pause before, not in the doing. Let the activities of singing and songwriting lead you. The dog takes YOU for the W.A.L.K. after all.

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