Stop listening to yourself singing & start ‘feeling’ what it’s like to sing
Is this you? Standing in the kitchen, radio blaring, singing joyfully and unabashedly along with Aretha, Jessie or Frank. Singing so brilliantly. So effortlessly. Then, you switch the radio off and carry on singing. Those high notes that you hit with such ease now possess an uncannily feline quality and there’s a definite hint of braying on the lower ones. What was left of the melody of I Say A Little Prayer has morphed, rather poetically, into the tune of Old MacDonald Had A Farm. You could be starring in a one-man/woman production of Shrek.
I am obviously exaggerating (any similarities with my family members, is entirely coincidental), but the fact of the matter is that singing is a physical act and exactly like riding a bike, swimming or playing football, requires learning. Singing along to the radio, relies almost completely on auditory feedback, in other words, you are using your ears exclusively to match the pitch and rhythm of the song being played. If there is no learned technique or physical ability to sustain the sound and you attempt to sing without the radio singer, your voice is likely to become untethered and set uncontrollably adrift. To sing confidently, tunefully and independently, you have to engage a host of muscles, which is what gives you the ‘feeling’ of singing.
This isn’t to say that using your ears isn’t vitally important in singing, it is, but much less so than you might think. Controlling the pressure and flow of air (using your ‘breathing muscles’) as it passes through your vocal folds (aka cords), is important for tuning and for producing good tone. Muscle tension in your jaw, tongue and neck can adversely affect the quality of the sound and put a strain on your throat and did you know that if you don’t lift your soft palate while singing, the sound will travel out through your nose rather than your mouth (4 muscles are involved with lifting the soft palate). I am simplifying, but you get the picture. For the geeks among you, there is a lot of easily-accessible, on-line research exploring the bio-mechanics of the vocal process,
All singers need to find these muscles, work out what they do and learn to isolate them and that way you will have complete control over the quality and type of sound produced. Like any new discipline, it takes a lot of practice to coordinate all these muscles, but be assured that what feels unnatural to begin with, will soon become habitual. You’ll know that you’re on the right track when your singing has started to feel effortless and enjoyable.
I want to encourage all you singalong-a-radio singers; there is hope, a lot of it, so don’t be so harsh on yourselves, just acquire a bit of knowledge, practice a lot and you’ll be well on your way to feeling yourself sing.