Who are you and why are you here?

That’s the first question I ask a new student when they come in for singing lessons.  The answer I’m looking for is rarely the one they supply however.  I already know their name and they would have already told me that they want to “learn” how to sing.  So why do I ask them this?  The short answer is that I’m looking for an insight into whether they have belief in themselves.  Whether they think they are actually worthy of being the super star they are hoping to become.

Most of them are thinking small.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Most of them actually want so badly to become great singers but they don’t dare to say it, sometimes even to themselves.  We all seem so afraid of considering ourselves “worthy” of being something more than the next guy.  It’s why the people who are at the top of their game are at the top of their game.  They have no doubt in their ability or their worthiness.  It is just that simple.

I’ve found for the most part people come to me for singing tuition purely to get permission to sing.  It sounds odd but I think that’s why they come.  I’ve had some great singers walk through the door but they just didn’t know it.  They don’t believe in themselves and they need someone that they consider an expert to tell them it’s okay.  Not that permission is all they get out of doing a course of lessons with me of course.

It’s funny that so many of the bands we see come through the studio have singers who have never had a lesson before.  The guitarists would have, the drummers would have, the bass players would have but the singers often don’t.  They assume that they can just step up to a microphone and let it rip.  To a certain degree they are correct in that assumption.  Learning how to use a microphone properly and learning the tricks of the trade are really important as far as being a great performer is concerned, being a singer however requires very little outside of guts and tenacity in reality.

In my opinion every one can (and should) sing.

There are plenty of people who have had huge careers without having massive ability as singers.  You don’t need to have a large range.   It does help to have a sense of pitch and timing but even those aren’t absolute prerequisites for being a star.  (Bob Dylan springs to mind as an example.  Yes he is a songwriter first and foremost but he is also a performer and he sings his own material.  Some people love his voice.  To me it’s like listening to fingernails on a blackboard… but to each their own.)

You could list hundreds, if not thousands, of artists that are loved by many in spite of the fact that their singing ability doesn’t necessarily fall into the category of “technically precise” or even “talented”.  What they have is something else.  It’s not “star factor”, although that’s often what it is perceived as.  What they have is the ability to “own their own voice”.  They don’t doubt it.  They have total trust.  They believe that they can be loved and therefore they are.

People look up to people who have this belief in themselves.  The fact that they are often on a stage that is deliberately set a little higher than seated eye line only serves to increase this illusion that they are something greater than the audience below them.  The audience literally has to look up to them.  There’s no choice not to.  The singer of course should not look down upon the audience but they should feel comfortable in the position of authority they have been placed in by being elevated above the crowd.  If they don’t believe in themselves, there is no way the audience can be fooled into believing in them.  They will more likely feel embarrassed for them.  If the singer is shaking in their shoes from nervousness and doesn’t feel they deserve to be there they’re unlikely to make any real positive impact on an audience.

There is nothing to fear but fear itself. 

Truer words have never been spoken.  Fear is truly the enemy of the singer and it is not only a pointless state to allow yourself to fall into but it is also destructive to your ability to sing well.  The physical symptoms are usually the feeling of your muscles contracting.  You’ll curl in your shoulders, lower your head.  You’ll feel an overwhelming need to cross your arms.  This is the body trying to protect its most vital organ.  The heart.

The dog’s tail.

I stumbled across this concept while watching “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan”.  He’s a smart guy.  He has an insight with dogs and humans that transcends simple animal training techniques.  Anyway, in this particular episode he was talking with a dog owner about how a dog’s brain works and how it is completely connected to its body.  We’ve all seen a dog in a fear state.  The dog will stick its tail between its legs to protect its genitals.  When the dog is happy it will wag its tail.  It makes no conscious decision to do this.  It is automatic.  The brain is feeling a particular way and the body instantly responds to this by exhibiting particular symptoms synonymous with the currently experienced emotion.  This is very similar to the need we have to fold our arms to protect our heart when we are in a fear state.

He stated that the dog’s tail is connected directly to the dog’s brain and that that connection is a two way street.  That is that the state of the tail can affect the brain in the same way that the state of the brain will affect its tail.  According to his theory, if you were to grab its tail whilst it was in this fear state and lifted it up, giving it a wag, the dog would immediately snap out of its fear state and its brain would believe that it was happy.  It would then carry on in the new emotional state as if the fear state were never present.  Dogs, apparently, live entirely in the moment.  They have little concept of the idea of past or future.  Certainly not in the same way we do as humans.  They don’t stop and think about how they were feeling a minute or so earlier.  Instead they just move on with whatever is happening in the moment.

We are not really that different to dogs.  Our emotional states play out in our bodies in virtually the same way.  The more esoteric, religious or spiritual of you might argue that “you are not your body”.  I personally think that that can be easily dismissed by sighting examples of how you are grumpy when your body is tired or hungry and how alcohol and drugs can have an effect on your inhibitions.  These alone tend to prove the fact that our minds and emotions are very much ruled by our bodies whether we like it or not.

So how does the dog’s tail phenomenon get applied to us and our fear?  As I said previously, your body will exhibit the physical symptoms of fear in its own way.  This shows the connection your brain is having with the body.  What if we were to reverse those physical symptoms?  Instead of lowering our heads, we consciously make the effort to lift them.  Instead of curling in our shoulders and trying to cross our arms, we pushed our shoulders back and held our arms outward as if we were inviting a hug.

Coincidentally, this is actually the perfect pose for effective singing.  It opens up the chest to allow greater lung capacity and creates a clear path from the diaphragm to the mouth.  It also has the added advantage of being “welcoming body language”.  Your audience will feel that you are opening yourself up to them, inviting them to love you.  In return you will feel that energy of love from the audience and it will further help to diminish your fear.  It is quite difficult to fear that which offers you love.

Own your voice.

Most people who hear their own voice recorded for the first time get a bit of a shock at how they sound.  They begin to feel a bit self-conscious and sometimes they don’t even believe it’s them.  Learning to recognise that the tone of your voice is just as valid as the tone of everyone else’s voice is often a difficult mental leap for a would-be singer to make.  They make a conscious effort to sound like someone else that they admire when they sing.  Often to the point where they are becoming more of an impersonator than an artist in their own right.  (umm, I teach this but I am in fact guilty of it myself in the jazz band I play in.  My argument for that though is that if you’re going to sing covers of the American song book, you can’t really do it effectively with an Australian accent.  So I do “put on” a voice for that or at least an accent.)  If you’re trying to imitate someone else you aren’t giving a genuine performance and you are assuming that you are unlovable as yourself.  You need to realise that your voice is as worthy of love as anyone else’s.

The thing about all the great singers you aspire to be like is that they are not trying to sound like anyone else.  They are singing in their own voice and are owning its tone and imperfections.  Your voice is unique.  It is as unique as a fingerprint.  You should embrace this fact and allow others the right to decide whether it’s something they want to listen to or not.

Conquering fear and owning your voice are two of the biggest issues standing in the way of people becoming great and much loved singers in my opinion.  There are obviously more things involved that you need to know before you audition for The Voice but by conquering these two very simple things you could be well on your way.

If you’d like to learn more, you’re going to have to take some lessons with me!  What?  Did you think I’d give away all my trade secrets??  😉

Nikk teaches one on one lessons for beginners and advanced.  If you’d like a lesson with him, please call the studio on (02) 9905 0010 or email

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