A while ago I read an interesting blog post by Bill Plake on Two Habits Of Thinking That Will Limit Your Growth As A Musician. One of the limiting thoughts he elaborates on is:
I won’t let myself sound bad.
I spot this limiting thought in a lot of the singers I coach. And I know it pretty well from being a singer myself too. “I won’t let myself sound bad” and other fear-based thoughts are part of the talk of our “internal parrot”.
Some singers block already before opening their mouths to produce a sound, because they have already told themselves that the sound coming out needs to be good – or even worse, “perfect”. Others make excuses afterwards. “Sorry, that sounded horrible.”
But think about this:
If you want to develop or change something in your sound, you have to be prepared to go through the process of learning – which means it will not sound “perfect” right away.
When you try out something new, it’s pretty much like throwing darts. We don’t necessarily hit bullseye right away. But if you don’t allow yourself to hit the dartboard at all, there is not even a chance of getting anywhere near bullseye.
“Perfect” is not interesting. It’s the road of getting there that is. And on that road, through allowing yourself to “sound bad” or make mistakes, you might even discover new things that add depth to your voice and expression. Discoveries often happen through “mistakes”.
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein
I’ve been thinking about where this fear of sounding bad comes from. I think we can blame that “inner parrot” for a big part of it. If we examine this “inner parrot talk” closer, we will very often find out that the fear of sounding bad is based in a fear of failure. Fear of failure is based in a fear of non-acceptance, which in its turn is rooted in the fear of not being liked or loved. We connect our sound to our person, and put so much value on what other people think about the way we sound, that it blocks us from developing (or in the worst case, from opening our mouths at all).
We can analyze the roots of these fears in many ways, and if you think it helps you move on with your development, go ahead and analyze. But do keep in mind the problem of over-analyzing, which can become a block of its own. My best advise would be, recognize the fear, and then do it anyway. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen if I sound bad? You will find out that ‘horrible things’ like if your voice “flips” or “breaks”, or sounding flat, sharp, a bit constricted, wobbly, uncontrolled, [insert your favorite word to describe a ‘bad sound’ here] etc…are not the end of the world. These things can (and do) happen to everyone at some point of their singing careers, and to everyone brave enough to step out of their safety zone and explore new sounds and techniques.
Allow yourself to “sound bad” and learn from your mistakes. Mistakes are good because they can point you in the direction of what you should be doing differently in order to get closer to bullseye. You are doing it in order to develop, aren’t you?
So what should you do if the fear of sounding bad is blocking you from developing as a singer?
1. Recognize the fear.
2. Define what is the worst thing that can happen if you do sound ‘bad’.
3. Acknowledge that feeling these (silly) fears is human, not sounding ‘perfect’ is a necessary step in a learning process, and mistakes and ‘imperfect sounds’ happen to everyone.
4. Remember that without making mistakes, we cannot learn.
5. If you’re still blocking because of fear of sounding bad, follow this piece of advice from Bob Newhart.