When you are learning how to sing, sometimes it is better to stop singing altogether. I mean this in both the literal and figurative sense.
Stop Singing: Literally
Many mistakes related to vocal technique and musicianship come from jumping in to performing a new song right off the bat. I can’t blame you. It’s a lot more fun to sing a song you just heard or wrote. There is something deeply satisfying about being able to create music instantly. But do you ever wonder why pesky technique problems don’t go away, or seem to creep up in every song? Or do you ever wonder why some songs are so much easier to sing?
I bet it has to do with how well you know them, and the amount of time you spent not singing the songs. See, the mind works in mysterious ways. It can affect the body just by its thoughts. So, when you practice music without singing, it can have significant impact in how your mind-body connection integrates the song! This is amazing stuff, and I wish I was a neuroscientist sometimes.
How to Harness Your Non-Singing Abilities
My students are probably sick of my insisting that they learn their music a certain way, what I call the “Bottom-Up” approach. This means they must learn the song without singing it first. They need to know, perfectly, each rhythm, word, and pitch, without ever singing them! Then, and only then, do I instruct them to sing the song. While, I’m sure they are doing all sorts of singing behind my back, I notice for myself and for my students, when following the “Bottom-Up” Rule, the ease of singing the song greatly increases once vocals are added.
Why would this be? As I mentioned, the mind-body connection is powerful, but it also works best on one thing at a time. Singing is a fairly complicated activity, even if it comes naturally to you. So, the more you can break it down into little pieces, the easier it is for the brain, and body, to “digest.”
Stop Singing: Figuratively
A very different form of non-singing is what I call “Noise-Making.” Some students have trouble just making noise. They want every sound that comes out of their mouth to be perfect. This may be because they feel self-conscious about singing, or they think that if they make a less-than-perfect sound, they will be stuck with it.
I recommend getting over the idea of singing perfectly. There is no such thing! Seeing any live performance should rid your head of this notion anyway. All singers make mistakes, all singers let out a flat note here or there or run out of breath doing their dance moves. It is bound to happen, even to the most perfect singer out there. Try to simply make noise. This is why warming up on nonsense sounds can be so good for singing – it tricks the brain into thinking you really aren’t singing at all! There’s that mind-body connection thing again.
If you say to yourself, “I’m going to make some noises. They might sound pretty weird. Some even might sound terrible.” You are giving yourself permission to experiment – and you will likely surprise yourself with how un-terrible you sound. You will also experience some freedom in your performances, since you will be used to different things coming out of your mouth! You will be less likely to flinch and freeze up in a live performance and instead say, “Oh well, I sort of squeaked that note out. No big deal.”
Does this make sense to you? I hope so. It is really important for singers to understand. Any questions? Email me directly or leave a comment here! (By the way, I know most of you like to email me directly, and I am thrilled to get your emails, but I hope some of you can be brave and ask your questions here, they are useful for the whole singing community!)