Music therapists sing. We encourage everyone around us to sing, too. The thing is, though, a lot of people claim that they can’t sing. Maybe at some point in their life, someone told them they couldn’t carry a tune. Maybe they were told that they were being too loud or obnoxious. Maybe they started thinking that singing wasn’t cool, or that it was only acceptable in a karaoke bar under the influence of alcohol. At some point, they just decided to quit singing.
I say “quit,” because anyone who has been around young children knows that they are not nearly as shy about sharing their voices with the world. My four-month-old daughter has recently begun discovering the joy of experimenting with her voice – making gurgles, coos, loud sounds, soft sounds, really high-pitched sounds – and man, do we encourage her! We adults also tend to encourage little kids to sing their lullabies, their animal songs, their songs from “Sesame Street,” and why not? It’s adorable!
At some point, though, it seems that a lot of people in our culture quit singing. We start to think that singing is for professionals, and we giggle at the people who show up for the “American Idol” auditions who obviously have no chance of making it in the competition. We become so shy of our own voices that we don’t allow anyone else to hear us, and we make fun of ourselves when they do.
Even music therapists struggle with finding our voices. My good friend and colleague Kat Fulton wrote about her struggles with laryngitis until she worked through the anxieties and fear of disapproval that caused her to lose her voice. For my own part, I have a hard time accepting compliments from people about my singing voice, and even though I sing in front of people every day, I would never volunteer to sing a solo – in church or at a karaoke bar! You see, as a music major in college, I was an instrumentalist, not a vocalist, so I am positive that all those voice majors are much better singers than I am…except voice majors can be shy about their voices, too.
All this is to say, if you feel shy about singing, you are definitely not alone!
But still, it can be incredibly healing to sing. It can be so empowering for you to let your voice be heard, and you can feel so in tune with your community when singing with a group of people. So what are some ways to explore what your voice can do, and to start experiencing the joy of singing alone and with others? Whether you’ve kept silence since the third grade or you’re a musician trying to get more comfortable with your voice, here are seven ways to start singing:
1. Sing in the shower. Yes, it’s kind of cliche, but singing in the shower is a great place to start. Why? The acoustics are awesome, and the steam keeps your vocal cords moist!
2. Sing in the car with the radio. Again, kind of cliche, but if people see you singing in your car driving down the road, they’ll either start singing themselves, or they’ll wish they were brave enough to try.
3. Sing with your kids. The little ones definitely don’t care what you sound like, and the older ones will someday appreciate you opening yourself up this way.
4. Sing with your grandparents (or whoever the elders are in your family) and encourage them to sing with you. You can start with “Happy Birthday” and Christmas songs and go on from there. You might think this would never happen in your family, but I’ve been with clients’ family members who had no idea their loved one could sing until they started singing in music therapy sessions.
5. Make up lyrics. My dad is the king of this technique, and all of us kids have followed his example. You can make up songs about the chores you’re doing, the place you’re driving, or simply what you’re thinking at any given moment.
6. Scat. Of course, who needs words when you can just make up a melody? Add nonsense syllables (doobie doobie doo, la la de da) and you’ve got a jazzy song. Sing it call-and-response style with someone else, and it’s even better.
7. Join a choir. Church choirs and community choruses are great places to join others in singing, and many don’t require auditions or previous performance experience. It’s an especially wonderful experience to make music with others, and when your choir performs, you’re part of one unified sound, not the only person the audience hears.
8. Sing whenever and wherever you want, but don’t criticize your own voice. No one is perfect; in fact, many of the celebrities we hear singing on TV and the radio have to use pitch correction software to sound perfect. Still, the more you sing – in a joyful, freeing, unforced way – the better you’ll sound.
I can tell you that these are all things I’ve tried to get myself more comfortable with my singing voice. What have you done to get more comfortable singing, either by yourself or with others? Let me know more in the comments section!