Be gentle with you

creative singing holiday workshops art summer schools classes accommodation vocal technique music france musical choir chorist singers amateur lot dordogne southwest aquitaineSo many songs bewailing the battle called love! Not surprisingly, of course. Misery is a great source of inspiration. To name but a few random examples: The river that drowns the tender reed, or the one less egg to fry. Brilliantly bitter! The Beatles were clearly at the other side of the medal: The end of the little girl if they catch her with another man. Chauvinists. (I admit, I’m a Stones fan). Anyway. And then there are those many, many songs with the protagonist begging the lover to ‘please be gentle with me’…

My rant of the day is about being gentle. Gentle with yourself, I mean. I realised I had to write this when the second person this week asked me about recording one’s singing voice. Her idea was that she would like to know what she sounded like to others, so she was going to record the song she was working on. I was glad she told me because now I could stop her in time.

Whatever you do, singer. When you feel vulnerable or self-critical, or if you know that you are a perfectionist, and you don’t have many years of solo singing experience: don’t record your voice. Not unless you feel you can handle it, or if you’re confident and you want to be heard by others or perhaps booked for a gig.
Most of us have heard ourselves speak in a recording of our voices, and at its best, we don’t like what we hear. We may even be shocked. Is that how I sound to others? Horrendous! Doctor! Take thy scissors and cut those wretched vocal chords so that I may sing no more!

Why does our own voice sound so alien to us when we hear its recorded version? It is because inside our heads, our voice resonates in a way that others don’t perceive. Our ears not only process sound waves that come to us from the outside, they also pick up vibrations that happen inside the body, like the moving of the vocal chords when we speak or sing, and the vibrations that the air sends through our bones. In the first case, the sound coming to us ‘by air’, will lack a certain depth and feeling of steady airflow that you do perceive when you hear your own voice from the inside, as the vibrations of the vocal chords are strengthened by our bone structure and cavities in the head and chest.

That is why, if you listen to your recorded voice in utter horror, you will characterize that alien voice like thin, weak, wobbly, unsteady etcetera. The bad thing is that those words are not just descriptive, you will use them as judgments and these judgments are negative by nature.
‘Thanks a lot,’ I can hear you say now, ‘that really cheers me up. So I hear a good version of my voice, while the outside world hears the bad one.’ Well, that is one way of looking at it. The other is that people are used to what you produce vocally. It’s normal to them. So basically: what you hear, they hear, only all of us are unaware of what we really hear. (That’s a prfound one, I know).

I even remember one of my singing teachers, the magnificent Mitchell Sandler, singing the ‘oo’ sound in five different ways to every one of his students and thus gathering information on how they perceived each sound, for his own research.

If you are taking singing classes, or have just joined a choir, please know that it is like studying to play an instrument, and it is the most vulnerable instrument there is. So you must be gentle with you. Focus on the things that you can influence, like learning about breath, posture, resonance, vowel formation. Your voice will do the rest of the work.