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


Fear Of Sounding Bad

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.

This blog post was originally posted on my blog/website katjamariamusic in February 2012 


©2012 Katja Maria Slotte