Become A Confident Singer By Working On Your Listening Skills

Why is it often easier for us to say what we don’t like about our (singing) voice, than saying what we do like about it? Why is it easier for some to accept negative feedback than to genuinely take in positive feedback?

Some time back, I decided to ask all the singers I worked with what they like (or think is beautiful) about their voice. Most of them could not answer the question. Instead, they started laughing or blushing and became all uncomfortable even thinking about the possibility that they could think or say something positive about their own voice. They said they had never even thought about it.

I used to be like that. I did not even think there existed such a possibility as me having my own positive opinion about my own voice. That would have felt arrogant. I allowed other people to have an opinion about my voice, be it negative or positive. But not myself…unless it was a negative opinion.


Photo credit: jpellgen via

Suffering From Selective Hearing

I find a positive learning environment extremely important, but I also do believe the teacher is not the only one responsible. The singer is responsible too, for their own reactions, thoughts – and for their hearing!

I used to think I was being ‘realistic’ if I thought negative things about my singing. But boy was it confronting to find out I was actually a negative listener!  I realized I suffered from selective hearing, meaning I had a difficulty hearing the positive things being said to me because my mind decided to only listen for negative things.

I found out I was paying lip service to ‘accepting positive feedback’, while actually constantly fishing for negative remarks. If there were no negative remarks, I’d ASK for one (“for the sake of getting it even better” of “for the sake of my development”). Can you believe it?! That’s like asking someone to slap you in the face, just because you have heard it ‘helps build character’!

If you are suffering from selective hearing, like I did, it can be a hard habit to break. It will require some serious training, and thought-stopping. But it is possible. Do yourself a favor and stop slapping yourself in the face. You deserve so much better.

Becoming a Positive Listener

In their book ‘Power Performance for Singers: Transcending the Barriers’ Shirlee Emmons and Alma Thomas write about the importance of becoming a positive listener.

Very often, because of the nature of their training, singers may have an inclination to hear only the negative things that are spoken to them. The ability to hear the positive things that are being said is an important skill to learn.


Does “Inclination to hear only the negative things” sound familiar to you? Here are some tips for developing positive listening skills (Emmons & Thomas 1998, p. 105):

Listen for the positive things that are said to you. No matter how small they seem, they are important to you.

Set yourself this goal before you go to your lesson or coaching: to listen for and hear the positive things that are said to you

Try to practice this skill in all areas of your life […] so that you become accustomed to what it feels like.

Always acknowledge any compliments that are paid to you, no matter how small or who has said them. Get used to saying, “Thank you,” without feeling embarrassed. […] Do not fall into the trap of saying, “Thank you, but my —- wasn’t very good today.” Take the positive compliment for what it is worth and feel good.


©2012 Katja Maria Slotte


Burn For It, But Don’t Burn Out While Doing It!

Many of the singers and singing teachers that I coach want me to design practice programs for them. Mostly the focus is on aspects like singing technique, sound, healthy habits for the voice, musicianship, learning new tools and skills for teaching. Those are all important things for a singer or singing teacher. But today, I’d like you to consider the following:

How are you taking care of the singer / singing teacher you in terms of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? What can you do to practice new habits in this area? All actions count, even the small ones – like reminding yourself to drink enough water!

Let me illustrate what I mean by sharing a repost of a blog I originally wrote for katjamariamusic in August 2012:

Back from a short but nice summer break in Bourgogne (Burgundy), France. In between enjoying the beautiful Burgundian countryside, strolling through lovely villages and towns, and indulging in delicious French food, I could not help but to think about how to maintain that feeling of being relaxed and calm even in the middle of ‘daily life’ which can get very busy and seem chaotic at times.

In a career in music, singing or teaching it is important to keep working on your craft, tend to networking, business or marketing skills, but if we only focus on these things we easily get off balance. Self-care and spiritual balance are equally important things for our career. Singing requires not only technique and musicianship skills, but also physical and mental fitness, well-being and inspiration. And so does teaching and coaching. It is our own responsibility to take care of ourselves. Nobody else will do it for us.



I have a lot of nice things coming up on the work front this fall, and I know things will get busy. So what I’ve done is, I have created a little self-care program for myself. Like one of my singer/singing teacher colleagues once told me: “I burn for this, but I don’t wanna burn out while doing it!”

This is what my self-care program looks like:

Health / physical

Go back to weekly yoga classes. I miss the yoga mat and I notice how difficult it seems to create a discipline of home practice. As an additional booster I signed up for Yoga Journal’s 21 day fitness challenge, starting September 9. If you’re curious about the challenge, check it out here.

Keep a jug of water on my desk to remind me of drinking enough water (yes, even vocal coaches who tell other singers about the importance of hydration can sometimes need a reminder!).

Inspiration and filling the well

Once each week, do one thing on my “inspiration list”. This list includes things like going to see a live concert, theater performance or movie, visit an art exhibition or museum, take a walk on the beach, buy a bunch of beautiful flowers for the house, cooking, eat in a restaurant that serves food made with passion and love…and many more things that make me feel inspired and happy.

Music time

This might sound redundant, because as a singer/pianist/vocal coach/singing teacher my weeks are already filled with a lot of music. But, here’s the thing: I have discovered that rehearsals and performances are not enough. I need time to “explore” music as well. Out of that time ideas for compositions, songs, arrangements and interpretations are born. Music-time might be anything from a 15 minute piano/vocals improvisation moment, to playing around with one of my iPad music gadgets including the EveryDay Looper and the Yamaha Tenori-On for iPad.

Growth and self-development

Keep up with my self-development and growth focus that I set for myself this spring. This summer I attended a couple of webinars with Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher from Vocal Process, and I have been reading a lot of interesting books on vocal pedagogy and creativity. At the end of September, I am going to the Authorised CVT Teacher update seminar at Complete Vocal Institute in Copenhagen, for the latest updates on research and pedagogy (and to catch up with lovely colleagues!). In October I am attending the symposium of NVZ, the Nationale Vereniging voor Zangpedagogen (Dutch National Association for Singing Teachers), with lots of interesting topics on the psychology of singing. And in November, the Dutch CVT Teacher’s Association is having a study-day with a guest lecturer as well. The self-development focus is there also for myself as an artist. I’m now halfway through the Artists in Action program by Betsy Capes from Capes Coaching, an investment I did in my artistic career earlier this spring.


This is the part that seems to be very easy to forget. For me, gratitude includes moments of stillness, writing in my journal, lighting a candle, being thankful for the people and job opportunities that cross my path, calling a friend or a family member, smiling at someone or giving someone a hug. Remembering to say ‘Thank You’ to the people in our life and to life itself. Gratitude puts things into perspective and reminds us that no matter how important or ambitious our project or career might be (or seem), there are always more important things in life.

Hmm…sounds like a lot of good plans…but what about the time-management part?

I created a new calendar on my iCal in which I schedule all the things I am doing to take care of ME, MYSELF and I each week. Those things include music time, yoga classes, growth, moments for inspiration and gratitude. The calendar has a different color (magenta) than my work calendar (which is green). If I’m seeing too much green during my week I know I have to watch out, and take better care of myself!

…and now back to you!

How are you taking care of the singer / singing teacher you in terms of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? What can you do to practice new habits in this area?

I think it would be great if we would inspire each other and share our ideas here, so feel free to leave a comment here!

Being A Diva In Your Own Garden

Last week I received a message from a singer I have been coaching:

Hi Katja, I just wanted to let you know that my last rehearsal went much better. Being in ‘my own garden’ helped me a lot.

In our session, we had been working on how to deal with nerves and staying centered. This singer is soon going to perform as a solist with a big choir and band, and one of her problems was that she did not get along with the conductor very well. She felt he was rushing her, and the negative, impatient vibes made her feel it was difficult to stay centered while singing. Her solo included some technically challenging passages, that we had been working on in the sessions. After two sessions focusing completely on technique things were going smoother, but in her rehearsal the situation with the conductor made her became nervous again and she couldn’t perform optimally.


We talked about how to feel grounded, and put some extra attention to balance.

Imagine there are magnets under your feet pulling you towards the ground, keeping you attached to the ground no matter how you change your balance, sway from side to side, and so on. Another image that works for some singers is imagining having roots under your feet. Mind you, however, that ‘having magnets or roots under your feet’ does not mean you have to stand in a rigid position while singing. We tried out the effect our knees have on our balance, and experimented with the difference between the knees being locked and unlocked. Locked knees will also lock your energy and will get you off balance faster.

It is also not important what picture or mental image you use, what is important is that it helps you achieve the desired thing: being balanced and centered. Other balancing exercises I like to do with singers are the yoga mountain pose (tadasana) and tree pose (vrksasana).


Photo credit: Gulfu via Photopin

Not letting yourself be influenced by external factors

For singers, in order to be able to deliver a performance, it is important to learn how to create your ‘own space’ that allows you to block out external factors, such as negative vibes and stressful energy from other band members, conductors you work with, and so on. There are many techniques you can apply, I will share one exercise we did with this singer in question.

Imagine yourself being surrounded by a protective shield / wrapped up in a protective bubble, from your head to toes. This shield bounces off any negative or stressful energy that you might feel coming from people around you. I asked the singer if this image made any sense to her. If she would have answered no, we would have set out looking for another way. The shield did make sense to her, however, and she remembered having done a similar exercise before. In the lesson, she literally drew this shield around herself.

After this, we tried out another variation of the ‘protective shield’ exercise.

In order to be able to communicate with band members and conductors, we cannot block out all energy but do have to stay partly open. Also, I believe all people working together in a music performance share the same positive wish of making the performance as good as possible. Most of the time people transmit negative energy and stress not because they intentionally want to sabotage your performance, but because they are nervous or insecure themselves. If we can connect to the positive wish and focus on the positive energy, instead of the negative, we are far better off.If the shield exercise feels like you are blocking out all energy, you might want to try out the following:

Imagine yourself standing in a little garden. Into this garden, you want to invite good friends (the good / positive energy coming from people you work with). You want to keep out all that is not good for your garden (the negative and stressful energy). When you feel bad energy around yourself, instead of blocking all incoming ‘energy streams’ completely, imagine yourself surrounded by a big bunch of flowers. In this way, you don’t allow the negative energy to come to you, but you do send positive energy to the outside. That positive energy will invite the positive energy in others to enter ‘your garden’.

The singer I worked with liked this idea a lot. She said it felt good to think “You can look at these flowers, but as long as you behave like an ***hole you’re not allowed inside my garden.”

If imagining flowers and gardens don’t make any sense to you, you’re welcome to invent a variation that suits you better. Please do share your suggestions and experiences by commenting on this blog, I’d love to hear from you!


Photo credit: Alex Gooi via Photopin

Connect to your inner Diva / Divo

It might help to imagine protective shields and bunches of flowers, but let’s face it – we are human and if we feel frustrated about something that frustration can sabotage all our attempts in being all ‘zen’ about the situation. The last thing we talked about with the singer was how to turn the frustration she felt into power she could use in her interpretation, and even physically for singing the technically demanding phrases. This requires something I like to refer to as ‘diva behavior’.

Sometimes I hear singers say “I want people to feel comfortable when they work together with me. I definitely don’t want them to think of me as some kind of a diva.” Actually, I have thought like that myself. At some point I started thinking about how all things come with a positive and a negative meaning. I realized that I had been focusing on the negative meaning of the word ‘diva’. I associated this word with behavior such as taking up all the space, being ‘sharp-elbowed’, making a big scene about minor issues, ‘being difficult’, and so on.

But when I looked at the positive characters of the word ‘diva’, I found out that it included aspects like:

  • knowing what you want
  • self-confident
  • being clear about your boundaries and what you don’t want
  • taking the space or time you need in order to feel comfortable

By the way, did you know that the basic sense of the term ‘diva’ is goddess? There’s nothing negative about that, I’d say.

The ‘diva behavior’ also means you look for solutions instead of surrendering to things that don’t feel good to you. Does ‘making people feel comfortable around you’ mean you allow them to treat you without respect or push your boundaries?  Sometimes a good ‘I’ll show you what I’ve got’ attitude can help us a long way. Don’t be afraid to show some ‘diva behavior’, take your space, and speak out if you have to. Think about the origin of the term ‘diva’ and become a god(dess) who knows what s/he wants, is clear about his/her boundaries, and spreads only positive energy around yourself. Then, go out there and shine!

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

Originally published in my blog katjamariamusic in March 2012