A student recently shared,
“I’ve been trying to do what you’ve asked. You know, listening to myself hum and noticing what it feels like. I’m listening to more songs on the radio and singing along to them, and I think my singing has actually gotten worse!”
Oy. This happens. And it may actually be true that the singing now is not so good.
Three things to consider:
1. When we’re listening closely to the sounds in our head and thinking about our singing, the singing might very well sound, and actually be worse, especially if we’re doing more than humming. This is because thinking and letting the breath sail through and out of us don’t go together. If you’re singing vowels or actual words, it really is better to let the opposite wall tell you what it sounds like. Notice what you feel, but listen to the wall. You need to let the breath go in order for the voice to find it’s “sweet spot."
When you’re listening to yourself, make sure you’re listening for the lightest possible hum (m, n, ng) you can make, and letting it float or spin freely in your head. If you do that, chances are it will sound pretty good.2. Another consequence of studying singing is that our ears get more critical. Ultimately, that’s what we want: critical ears and a bushel of technique so that our voices can be as free, open, beautifully powerful as they can be. And, at the beginning, when the ears are more critical than the bushel is full, we can get discouraged.
Return to a hum. Throw a ball and whoop. Sing the silliest song you know: Ay lay tay ate ate ate, aypples aynd baynaynays, ay lay tay ate ate ate apples aynd baynaynays... Retreat into play and trust everything will be all right. It will be. Keep studying and your bushel will fill before you know it.
3. “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.” – Cindy Crawford
The singers we hear on the radio have had their singing recorded, mixed, remixed, sometimes auto-tuned, compressed and who knows what else in order to turn it into a salable product. They would not sound that way in our living room, singing a cappella, without a microphone or sound engineer in tow. We cannot expect ourselves to sound like them. It’s not physically possible.
And... Breathy voices are sexy and seductive and sweet and often stunningly beautiful. If you have a microphone, that can be an effective way to sing a sexy, seductive, sweet, stunningly beautiful song. If you try to sing along to a recording of such a song don’t be surprised if you’re disappointed in yourself. Breathy voices are hard to tune to. You will have trouble blending your voice with the recorded one, because there’s not much “there” there in the recording.
Think of it this way: I’m encouraging you to find the smallest, most beautiful golden thread of a tone you can make. That’s what all this lip trilling and humming is about – to find that golden thread, to find your simplest, most fundamental beauty.
When you open that tone to a vowel, the thread becomes something more like worsted-weight wool, something you could knit a sweater with, not just a beautiful lace shawl. The breathy voice on the radio is the knitting equivalent of roving, at best, and dryer lint at worst. Plying worsted-weight and roving together will give you a pretty funky-looking yarn. You might knit with it, but it will be full of contrast.
Singing along to a breathy voice on the radio will always be full of contrast. Do not expect your voice to blend. It might be physically possible, but to accomplish it requires giving up so much of yourself, so much of what’s authentically you, that I would say it’s not worth it.
That’s not the you I want the world to hear. We need you to be you. And you do, too.
The good news is that when my student sang in her lesson, and I asked, "So, how does that sound to you?" She answered, "That sounds good!" I whole-heartedly agreed. More on why singing at your lesson can be so different than singing at home is coming soon, in another post.