Embrace Your Voice, Embrace Yourself

Lessons from the singing world on self-expression, confidence and peace.

Posted Jun 03, 2019

Unlike other musicians, we singers carry our instruments inside of our bodies. We can’t put them down when we go out for a glass of wine or have an argument at work or home. They come along on every ride… physical, emotional, and spiritual. We don’t just ‘have a voice’. We are our instruments.

In many ways, this is a beautiful thing. We come to know and respond to our voices with an intimacy that is beyond compare. We know every nuance, every whim… every trick and tendency of our instruments, bodies, and breath. We sleep together. We eat together. We laugh and cry together.

Yet such an intertwining also presents challenges. We can’t shrug off allergies or perform with a cold the way a violinist or pianist (or an architect) might. Dehydration and fatigue aren’t tangential issues for us.

At the beginning of our development and careers, we often underestimate the power of this mind-body-voice connection. Persistence, pride, and intense schedules often allow us to barrel through emotional (and vocal) challenges with us none the wiser.

Yet, in time, the cracks begin to show.

Here are some of the issues singers often bring into my practice:  

Source: JH

Insecurity and Discomfort 

To make matters more complicated, many of us assume that being insecure and uncomfortable in our skin is ‘normal’, particularly as singers embarking on performance careers.

I don’t believe this to be the case. In fact, while we all have our moments of uncertainty and self-doubt, I think that self-knowing, confidence and comfort are the cornerstones of professional and personal success, in any field.

There are many reasons why we human beings aren’t at peace with ourselves. Our pasts, our current circumstances, and our relationships–and the stories that we tell ourselves and others about all three–play a huge role.

Cultural Notions of Talent and Success

Yet there is an added cultural component that begins in childhood and comes into play for singers, and indeed, for all of us: the intertwining of our personal value and sense of worth with notions of talent and success. This focus on (and obsession with) how “good” and “talented” we and others are breeds competition and insecurity, preventing the healthy emergence of confidence, curiosity and self-discovery.

In the West, this is further compounded by our individualistic and independent tendencies. Our placing of personal striving and success over and above familial and communal participation and enrichment leaves many of us feeling isolated and unsettled.

These challenges combine to preclude many of us from recognizing that we already are and have always been enough. Even the suggestion of inherent worth and success—without having to do or prove anything?!—makes many people balk.

When in fact, we are all worthy just as we are, however we are.

Know Your Worth 

If you want to create and sustain a successful and enjoyable career in any field, believing in your worth is critical. Rather than the stress, fear and insecurity that come from being attached—from needing to be a great singer, lawyer or writer—self-assuredness grants us the healthy space and perspective necessary for true commitment and passion to blossom.

It brings us to a place where we can truly enjoy using and sharing our voices. Where we can stop riding the emotional roller coaster of being defined by our performance and how we may or may not do or be perceived on a given day.

How do we move from attachment to commitment, from desperation to curiosity, from proving ourselves to sharing ourselves?

By first accepting and embracing ourselves—and our voices—exactly as we are in this moment.

Try this Exercise

I often ask singers to stand in front of a mirror and take a good, long look at themselves (a challenge for many of them). And I'll ask you now to do the same: Take a few minutes and stand in front of a mirror. Gaze into your own eyes. Consider all that you are and all that you believe you are not.

Like most people, you'll likely feel some discomfort and a desire perhaps to get away... from the mirror and possibly from yourself. Accompanied by a soundtrack of messages of unworthiness. 

If this is true for you, feel your feelings and let the messages of unworthiness have their say… then let them pass.  Like clouds over a mountain, notice their passing, including how they leave as quickly as they came. They are not true. You are alive. You are here. You have things to do and pursue and contribute to this world. That is enough. You are enough.

When we finally accept ourselves as we are, we find peace with ourselves, comfort in our own skin, and contentment in our communities. And we can embrace our voices–and selves–with the perspective and humility required to truly develop and dance with them.

Vocal Benefits of Self-Acceptance

Because that’s what a relationship with your voice and self is: a beautiful dance of two entities intertwining and delighting in one another. Putting our fears into perspective helps us immerse ourselves in this joy and freedom, leading to:

– Improved Technique: No longer needing to prove ourselves, we can release the fearful vice grip many of us have on our voices and finally let them speak and sing. Rather than controlling and manhandling them, their music and magic can finally emerge.

– Improved Breathing: Our bodies know how to breathe without our active involvement. Still, many of us over-try to ‘help’ a system that operates perfectly on its own. With confidence, trust rushes in, allowing for the healthy distance required to first observe, then assist our breathing, resulting in greater comfort and ease. 

– Improved Pitch: Pitch is an issue that most singers–confident or not–try ineffectively to control. Even though our vocal cords vibrate hundreds of times a second, it’s hard to resist the temptation to try to create or confirm pitches with our throats. With patience, our understanding of pitch shifts, and the playfulness required to recognize–and be in awe of–how powerful the ear is in leading the way emerges.

– Improved Stage Presence: Self-confidence and comfort naturally extend to how we feel and perform onstage and in the studio. When we are not distracted and self-focused, our best voices and selves emerge and shine. We are able to be with, rather than 'in front of', our audiences and others.

– Increased Comfort, Pleasure and Joy: Lastly, we can finally come full circle to why we started singing in the first place: Joy. Fun. Feeling alive. A career in music–like any career–has its challenges and frustrations. But the ability to return, moment to moment, to the glorious sense of our voices and self-expression moving through us and into the world makes it all worth the ride.

Add Self-Care and Kindness to your Skill Set

I tell my singers, continue to do the work of vocal development. Practice like crazy, write songs, take care of your health and cultivate your business sense. And... take care of yourselves as well.  Get to know and nurture the wonderful human being that you already are and always have been. Your voice—and you—will be forever grateful.

If you'd like to learn more, my latest book- The Art of Singing Onstage and in the Studio- goes into these topics in more detail.