What’s the key to being the best vocalist you can be? Before you begin learning to sing, make sure you have the right attitude! Here, Tucson, AZ and online teacher Lourdes C. explains what that means…
I have been engaged in vocal training now for two decades now and, without fail, at a particular stage in their training all my students experience the same roadblock: like clockwork, they stall when they realize that learning to sing requires a thicker-than-thick skin.
It starts with dismay at being asked to begin with singing basics. Their initial impression is that the instructor doesn’t “get” them or appreciate their potential. But if they stick it out, working through breathing, projection, compression, and dynamics, then they discover that their pronunciation is not as clean as they thought it was. “Cover” (that overtone that carries the color of the notes produced) cannot be achieved without proper breath support and tongue, jaw, and throat position. At this point, they begin to doubt themselves and then as they continue learning to sing, they discover their breath support isn’t adequate, either. At that point, they meet the roadblock; their anxiety spikes, and their true capacity for criticism is exposed.
At this stage, anxiety-prone students can even experience panic attacks. Singers never see this coming, but an experienced instructor will know what to do. The relationship at this point must be strong, because it comes down to a trust issue – and even a minor trust issue creates the hardest of all hurdles to jump. I have not seen a single student in 20 years that did not experience this complex to some degree while learning to sing. I always wait to see whether they will bail or not right at the stage where the anxiety increases. 90% of my students have stuck it out and in six weeks have had brand new voices they didn’t believe they could ever produce. For them, it was like going through boot camp and graduating as “all that they can be”. My admiration for singers has grown tremendously over the years as I’ve watched students summon all their courage to face their own limitations and transcend them, just to be able to fall in love with music and do it justice with the instrument they were given.
If you’re serious about singing, then pricing, distance, and repertoire should be secondary considerations; the critical factor is the reality that a serious instructor is going to force you out of your comfort zone. A little-known empirically proven fact is that singers experience an anxiety response in the brain that’s measurably more intense and prolonged than in other musicians. Training exposes your actual tolerance for criticism, as well as all those minute flaws that add up to a less-than-stellar vocal performance. So, take these steps before you go into formal vocal training and you will feel pride and earn the unending admiration of your instructor, supporters, and audiences:
- Sing in public everywhere, every chance you get.
- Record your voice through any means and listen as impartially as possible to yourself.
- Have as many people as possible give you frank feedback, and just write it down without responding.
- Come to your sessions with these recordings and feedback so your new instructor can assess you in as broad a manner as possible and structure your lessons appropriately.
If you take the initiative to prepare yourself in this manner, you will see constant progress, your instructor will be able to be more thorough and creative for you, and you will soon grow immune to resentment from any form of criticism. So, in reality, the most vital aspect of vocal training is in learning to grow a thicker-than-thick skin. As always, remember humility. Even Pavarotti had to wait until he was 40 to be able to “cry to heaven” with confidence.
Lourdes C. teaches various music subjects and tutors in Tucson, AZ. Her doctorate is in Applied Linguistics and American Indian Studies. She has been an instructor and tutor for over 20 years for academics, research methods, languages and literature, and music as well. Book in-person or online lessons with Lourdes here!
Photo by Kevin N. Murphy