I’m going to start this off by saying that by no means am I a professional voice teacher. I haven’t gone to school and studied voice like many professionals. I’m merely an enthusiast with a ton of practice and experience who wants to impart that knowledge to others.
Even more than having a decent range and writing a decent song, one of the most important elements of singing is a little thing that makes a big difference: confidence.
Singing is about more than just singing notes. It’s about bearing your emotions and letting others into your heart. And if you don’t have the confidence in yourself to believe that you’re good at what you do, you won’t get anywhere. Your audience will be able to tell that you’re not really feeling it. More than that, you won’t sing nearly as well as you could.
I should know.
I loved singing when I was a kid. Then, when I was about sixteen, not long after I joined the choir, I lost my confidence and became shy about singing in front of other people in a solo capacity.
I could’ve quit choir. But I stayed because I could hide behind everyone else. I did sing some solo performances at our yearly talent shows, but those always came with a lot of trepidation. I only did them because I was trying to push through my confidence issues. Unfortunately, I was so into my own head that I didn’t sound great at all, which only led to more frustration at my own abilities.
It took me years of mistakes and growing as a person in order for me to not get scared singing in front of people. I couldn’t even do karaoke until a few years ago. Now, I’m happy to sing to myself, even when other people might be nearby. I can roll the windows down on a nice day and sing with my music without caring what people think. I’ll hum as I’m going about my work at the store too. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally slip and go into a negative spiral. Old habits die hard. As I type this, I’m coming out of one of those. I’m not perfect. Fortunate for me that it only lasts a few days.
It’s been my experience that you could be the worst singer in the world, but if you believe in yourself and THINK you’re great, then you’re going to sound great even when you really aren’t. I’ve seen it at karaoke night. I’ve seen it at open mic nights too. I once listened to a guy whose whiny, nasal voice made the guy from Blink 182 sound like Frank Sinatra. I cringed at and hated his voice. But that guy owned the stage. So it made all the difference, even if I didn’t come away a fan by any stretch of the imagination.
One of the hardest things to do when you’re trying to build up your confidence is getting out of your head. The moment you get on stage and think you’re going to screw up, you will. It’s the power of negative thinking.
When I realized I wanted to get through my confidence issues once and for all, I began taking voice lessons again in 2010. The first song my teacher gave me was Plaisir d’amour. I looked at the sheet music, saw the higher notes in the song, and immediately clammed up. I went, “no way, I can’t sing those high notes, I can’t do it.”
And guess what?
I couldn’t sing those notes very well at all. I believed that I couldn’t do it, and therefore I couldn’t. That first lesson was almost a disaster because I was so into my head and feeling negative about myself that I physically could not sing that note. I’d warmed up past that note, but I couldn’t sing it in a song. My throat always clammed up when I got to that section of the song. It took me months to be able to hit that note with ease.
Most of my problem was that I was always too much in my own head. I was so focused on what I didn’t think I could do that I allowed it to affect my performance. I couldn’t understand how people like Kelly Clarkson or Janis Joplin could get on stage and own it. It took my voice teacher reminding me, “you can sing higher than you think you can, don’t be so scared, you can do it,” practically every week, before it finally set in. It took a while though. Several years.
A way to help you get out of your head is to just know the song or songs inside and out. Know them so well that you could sing it in your sleep. Get the melody well and embedded in your head. Then, as you’re singing, close your eyes and focus on an image to help you convey the song’s message. It will help you to concentrate on something besides yourself. I do this all the time when I’m singing, even when I’m not feeling too much in my own head. Rather, this helps me to emote more. I have a few images in mind when I sing my songs.
You can also pretend that your song is a monologue. Think of what you’re singing about. Are you supposed to be happy? Sad? Languid? Sing that song like you’re an actor giving a monologue in a play. Then emote those lyrics with the emotion you want the audience to feel. If you’re singing a sad song, sound sad. If you’re singing a joyful song, sing with a brighter tone. You may just be surprised at how much more emotion comes out.
Something else that helped me to grow my singing confidence was to practice practice practice. Know those songs inside and out. Sing scales to warm up your voice before going into singing songs. Perfect your singing technique with a teacher who can give you good feedback who knows what they’re talking about. Breathe deeply, drink lots of water, and sit up straight. You won’t sound good all slouched over. Believe me.
You should also be proud and accepting of your own voice. If you don’t like your voice for any reason, it will show on your face and in your body language. Be accepting of your own vocal quirks. Think of all the famous singers who really don’t have great voices, but who own it.
Learning to accept and be proud of my voice was a difficult process. Until a few years ago, I had trouble appreciating what I have. And it showed in my vocal performances. I listen back to my old music and I sounded so timid and strained. I disliked my own voice, and it showed.
Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Singing should be fun. Start out singing with a few close friends and family, and when you feel you’re ready, venture out for a night of karaoke. People will be too drunk to care what you sound like. And if someone laughs at you, just shrug it off. Not everyone is going to love what you do, but if you truly enjoy singing, keep doing it. The more you perform, the less you’ll worry about what other people think. If you feel a little nervous, concentrate on people who are truly engaged with your performance.
On that note, if you make a mistake while you’re singing, just keep going. Pretend like it was part of the performance. I mess up all the time, especially if I’m playing a difficult piano part. I’ll play a wrong chord and just keep going. Or if I forget a lyric, especially if it’s in French or another language the crowd doesn’t understand, I’ll just make something up. I screwed up a French song once when I blanked on the lyrics and I sang the French equivalent of, “I can’t remember the lyrics here, but that’s OK, you can’t understand me anyway.” Don’t stop in the middle of the song.
Learning to sing with confidence takes a while. You won’t get better instantaneously. I didn’t. It’s taken years to get to where I am now. But if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to be able to have fun singing with friends at a karaoke bar on a Friday night instead of being scared. It’s worth it to have a hobby that you’re proud of. Not to mention that singing offers many great health benefits, as seen here.
No matter what, make sure you’re always having fun with what you do. And the rest will follow!