World Choir Games Flanders 2021

12 false beliefs about singing that can prevent you from even trying – don’t let them stop you!

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

    Many people had bad singing experiences at school. You might have been kicked out of the choir or told to stand at the back and mime.



    Experiences like that can put you off singing for years, and even if you really want to give it a go in later life there are many ridiculous myths which may prevent you from even trying. Time to explode them!

    myth #1: I’m the only person who doesn’t like the sound of their own voice

    I really hate the sound of my own voice. I spend a lot of time recording parts for my own choir so have had to listen to my singing a lot over the years. I still don’t like how it sounds. Even though people come up to me and say I have a lovely singing voice. It doesn’t stop me singing though and you’d be surprised at how many others don’t like the sound of their own singing. See Learning to love the sound of your own voice

    myth #2: Everybody in the singing group will already know each other

    It might be true that singers in a long-established group will have known each other for some time, but they won’t necessarily be friends and you don’t need to be mates to be able to sing together with others. If that bothers you, you can always go to a one-off singing workshop which is likely to be full of people who have never met before. See The singers shall remain nameless

    myth #3: My voice is ugly and I’ll put people off

    This is related to myth #1, but can also be the result of a bad experience like being told to quit the school choir, or to stand at the back and mime, or your Mum shouting “Will you stop that awful racket!” But you’re in no position to judge your own voice and there are very few truly ‘ugly’ voices (whatever that means) in the world. Yes, your voice might not be the most ‘beautiful’ in the room when you start, but it will get better as you learn to use it properly and blend with others.

    myth #4: I’ll need singing lessons before I can even think about joining a choir

    The best way to start singing is just that: start singing. If you go to singing lessons when you’re just starting out, it can be a bit overwhelming since you’ve not even begun to discover your voice yet. Better to join your local community choir or go to a one-off singing workshop and simply play. Once you’ve found out what your voice is capable of and what obstacles you might come across, then you might consider taking lessons. But you don’t need lessons in order to start singing: just open your mouth and let the sound come out. See Do you need singing lessons in order to sing?

    myth #5: I can’t sing

    Whatever that means! It usually means you can’t sing like some particular professional singer you admire. But when you start to learn a new skill or sport, do you initially compare yourself to the best in the world? No. Likewise don’t compare yourself, but celebrate your own unique voice. Maybe you believe you can’t ‘sing’ because you’ve not tried it. Give it a go and you will be able to sing because EVERYONE CAN SING! See Why can’t I sing and “Everyone can sing” – what the hell does that mean??!!

    myth #6: Singers are born not made – I’m just not a singer

    Singing is not an innate skill (well, actually it is: babies can sing and scream and shout perfectly as soon as they pop out). What I mean is people don’t come into this world with the ability to sing melodically and in tune and with ease. Like any other skill it takes a bit of practice. Since nobody comes into this world as a ‘singer’, you just need to start singing and then you’re a singer. Simple! See Putting the hours in – are singers born or made?

    myth #7: I can’t remember tunes or song lyrics

    Neither can I if I’m honest. I can after I’ve repeated a song many, many, many times though. I struggle in the early stages and make plenty of mistakes as I’m learning. But slowly over time it gets better and I can remember more and more until it becomes second nature. That’s true of everybody. It’s rare that someone can pick something up quickly and remember it. But most of us don’t like that eggy time when we’re not sure of something and, as adults, we get impatient. If we can’t learn and remember something fast then we assume we can’t do it. You can, but it takes time. See How long does it take to learn a song?

    myth #8: Everybody else can sing better than I can

    In pretty much every choir and singing workshop I’ve ever run, the singers say the same thing. Yet as a group the sound is amazing. As individuals most of us lack confidence in our singing voices. We all think others are better than us, but usually the ‘others’ are thinking the same thing. Singing together is a team activity though and it’s the overall sound that counts, not the self-belief of each individual singer. See You are not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well

    myth #9: I’ll get laughed at and be embarrassed when I try to sing

    When I first learn a song as part of a group and get it right, I giggle. It doesn’t help me make a beautiful sound though. What it does show is that at some deep level I am nervous and vulnerable and hesitant. Getting it right and hearing the harmonies work together releases those tensions and I giggle. We’re all very vulnerable when we share our voices and fear that we’ll be judged. But in group singing we’re all working together. With everyone focused on the song and the overall sound there is no space for judgment. It might feel embarrassing at first, but you’ll soon realise that nobody is really listening to you as an individual: the other singers have their own fears to contend with and are also focused on getting it right. And if the person leading the group ever laughs at you or singles you out for criticism or puts you on the spot to make you embarrassed then LEAVE and find a different group. See Want to sing but are scared of being judged? Here’s what to do

    myth #10: It’s too late – I’m much to old to start singing now

    There was a series of 15 minute programmes on the radio a while back which looked at older people learning new skills. There was a woman in her 80s who started to learn piano and in a few years she was up to concert pianist standard. Our brains remain plastic and adaptable throughout our lives. It’s never too late to learn a new skill and you can never be too old to start singing. See If not now, when? – start singing NOW!

    myth #11: I need to be able to read music in order to sing

    It used to be that to join your local choral society you needed to be able to read music and understand lots of musical terminology. But now there are plenty of other kinds of choir about which don’t require any musical knowledge whatsoever. Lyric sheets may be given out, and even some sheet music, but the songs will be taught by ear (a short section is sung to you and you sing it back until you’ve got it). One organisation which has done a lot to show that singing should be accessible to everybody is the Natural Voice Network. You can find loads of choirs and singing workshops on their website, none of which require any previous musical or singing experience. See Learning songs by ear and The Natural Voice approach to singing

    myth #12: I need to know what voice part I am before I can join a choir

    I blame the Italians. It wasn’t until singing became formalised and the concepts of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass were created that we were forced to decide which box we fit into. Unfortunately, many of us don’t fit neatly into any of those boxes, or even understand what those terms mean. They’re not really important when you first start singing. Just gravitate to where you think you’ll feel most comfortable. If you like singing high, then head for the high part. Similarly if you like singing low, head for the low part. And if you’re not sure, maybe try the middle bit and see how it goes. Whatever you choose, you can always move later. Never feel that you need to get stuck in one place in the choir. As your voice grows and develops you might find that you have more options. Just see what feels comfortable and isn’t a strain on your voice. See Neither fish nor fowl – why most singers don’t fit neatly into SATB boxes

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

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