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Not everyone will like your singing voice – but that’s OK

  • [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]

     

    Your friend plays you one of their favourite singers and you just don’t get it. To your ears it sounds pretty awful.



    Liking a singing voice is very subjective. We all know that. However, it can get us down when it’s our voice that’s being considered.

    not liking the sound of your own voice

    There are many people who think they can’t ‘sing’. One of the most common reasons is to think you don’t have a ‘nice’ voice.

    It’s a shame if that means you stop singing entirely, especially when ‘nice’ is so subjective.

    I’ve written plenty of times before about why you might not like the sound of your own voice.

    You might have been told as a youngster to “stand at the back and mime” or to “stop that awful racket!”.

    You might compare your voice to your favourite singer and find it lacking.

    You might have a fixed idea of what a ‘proper’ singing voice should sound like.

    And so on.

    It’s important to realise that there are no absolutes when it comes to liking someone’s singing voice.

    There is no app that can grade a voice on its ‘niceness’. It’s possible to check to see if someone is perfectly in tune, but that’s about it. And being in tune is not enough to make a voice likeable.

    why voices might not be likeable

    Here are six factors that come into play when you decide whether you like a singing voice or not:

     

    1. cultural difference – imagine if you’ve never heard Bulgarian women singing, or Sardinian tenores, or the clash of Georgian harmonies. You might think the voices sound harsh or out of tune. It takes many years to become an accomplished singer in these traditions. If you’ve not grown up in that culture you’ll find the sounds unfamiliar and not very ‘nice’ at first.
       
    2. current fashion – if you listen to old recordings of British singers from, say, the 1930s, you’ll notice how ‘posh’ and southern they sound. Moving on to the early days of rock and roll in the 1950s, most British singers put on American accents. Then the Beatles came along and slight northern English vowels crept in.

      When punk was in full flight in the 1970s there was a strong emphasis on singing in your natural accent. Many bands had strong London accents. When the battle between Blur and Oasis was on, there were efforts to separate Manchester bands from ‘mockney’ bands.

      In more recent years, the influence of American R&B and singers like Amy Winehouse has crept in and the charts are full of many sound-alikes.

      The fashion in singing voices never stays fixed for long. What sounds modern and up to date today, will sound old-fashioned in a few years.
       
    3. personal taste – for many reasons (upbringing, personality, musical exposure, what ‘tribe’ we belong to, etc.) we all have a personal taste in music. It may overlap with many of our friends, but it will be unique. Some people are drawn to operatic arias or Schubert lieders. Others to musical theatre or comic songs. Others to grime or nu metal.

      For an outsider, all music in an unfamiliar genre will sound the same. But when you listen to lots of it you will learn to appreciate the subtleties. It is possible to make the effort to embrace a wide range of singing styles, but there will always be a set of singing voices that really do it for you.
       
    4. gender bias – some people love the sound of women’s voices, others the sound of male voices together. But is it even possible to say what a woman’s voice and a man’s voice is any more?

      Many women pop singers have cultivated very low voices. Many male pop singers tend towards the high tenor range. Over time the range of men’s and women’s voices (at least in pop music) has overlapped more and more. With the electronic manipulations made to voices in many modern recordings, it’s sometimes difficult to tell women’s and men’s voices apart.

      Often though there is a distinct difference in timbre, which is why many traditionalists don’t like boys’ choirs being open to girls or tenor parts being sung by women.
       
    5. musical exposure – if you’ve grown up listening to only one kind of singing voice, it’s quite likely that your ear has become an expert in that style. If you are then exposed to a different singing style, you might find it strange and not ‘nice’ because it doesn’t fit into what you’re familiar with.

      Of course, over time, it’s possible to become exposed to a wider range of singing styles and to enjoy them all. But many of us stay with the familiar and don’t stray very far.
       
    6. emotional content – some singers are brilliant technicians. They hit every note exactly and the dynamics are all there. They sing without effort and they have performing presence. And yet something is missing. They leave us cold. Somehow they are not expressing or communicating with us adequately. They are not engaging with the emotion of the song.

      One of the most moving renditions I have heard of a Georgian song is from a bunch of old men singing on the village green. They are not all in tune and they are not in time with each other.Yet the feeling oozes out of them and leaves me in tears every time.

     

    what does it mean for someone to like your singing voice

    There’s a lot to take into account when we decide whether we like a voice or not. It’s easy to understand what I’ve written so far on an intellectual level. Sally might love operatic arias, but they leave you cold. You might love grunge, but Dave thinks it sounds awful. You can put that down to taste. You don’t have to like each other’s music and that’s fine.

    But what about when it comes to your own singing voice? What happens when Sally says she doesn’t like it. Or when Dave says it’s not his thing? When Sally and Dave don’t come to your concerts or buy your CDs? What then?

    I know it’s hard, but don’t take it personally.

    Remember all the factors that come into play when we decide if we ‘like’ someone’s singing or not.

    Remember that it’s not a comment on you as a person, but only your singing voice.

    Don’t let it get you down. Worst of all, don’t try to change it. Your voice is unique, so celebrate that.

    Not everyone is going to like your voice, but plenty of people will. Keep singing!

    other posts that you might like

    Here are some older posts that may be of interest.

    Why can’t I sing?

    Learning to love the sound of your own voice

    Does your singing voice reveal the real you?

    What to do if you don’t have a ‘nice’ voice

    Making the most of your singing voice – it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it

    Your singing voice: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    Why our singing voices have different accents

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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