World Choir Games Flanders 2021

A little self-doubt as a singer can help – especially if you’re a man!

  • [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]

     

    There was an article in The Guardian about how women tend to experience more self-doubt than men.

    I’ve noticed that the men who come to my singing weekends are often not as competent as the women. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because men over-estimate their singing abilities.

    I run a singing weekend called Better harmony singing: the small group challenge. It is for those singers who want to fine-tune their harmony singing skills in a small group.

    I ask singers to self-select rather than auditioning them. The rule is that they must be able to hold a harmony part on their own and have done so in the past.

    Pretty much all the women who come on these weekends can, indeed, hold a part on their own. They also tend to pitch accurately, pick up new songs quickly and have well-developed listening skills. They also have an awareness of when they’re going wrong.

    That’s often not the case with the men!

    Despite their belief that they can hold a part on their own, the men get put off easily by the other harmonies. It takes them a while to pick up their part and when they do it’s not always accurately remembered. They tend to not listen closely to the other parts and even when they try to, they find it harder to blend.

    In short, it’s often the case that the men who attend these weekends are not really up to the required standard.

    In contrast, I often get women who are nervous about attending. They think they might not be good enough and if they attend they’ll spoil it for the others. Yet when I can persuade them to come, they fit in perfectly and have their confidence boosted.

    As Hadley Freeman says in her article:

     

    “I don’t know if this is specifically a female quality, but I have yet to meet a man who has worried he’s not good enough for a job he’s been offered, whereas I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t.”

     

    She goes on to describe her time at Oxford University:

     

    “I watched a lot of men there being rewarded for their laziness and confidence, bullishly knocking out essays at the last minute and getting firsts. But the women I knew reacted differently. Instead of becoming more arrogant, they became more certain they didn’t deserve to be there; so they grew more diligent, more cautious and, as a result, less garlanded. While my male friends from university charged off to achieve their dreams, my female friends hung back in the shadows, taking a decade at least to get to the starting block.”

     

    When we first begin to learn something new, we can appear over-confident because we’ve only had a small glimpse of the field we’ve entered. We make quick progress and begin to feel confident.

    But as we learn more, we slowly realise how much more there is to learn and become aware of our ignorance. Then our confidence can wane.

    I think that’s what happened with the women described above.

    The more they learnt in their field, the more they realised how much more there was to learn. They became more diligent and more cautious. They didn’t want to go off half-cocked and unprepared. But that humbleness can result in being left behind and ‘ungarlanded’.

    Over-confidence is not just a male trait, although I see it most amongst the male singers at my workshops.

    I believe that to develop as a singer you must be humble in the face of what you still have to learn. If you think you know it all, you will stop growing.

    You also need to have enough self-awareness to recognise your strengths, weaknesses and abilities. You’ll then know what needs to be worked on.

    Next time you’re asked if you’re good enough to sing in a specific project, try to find the balance between feeling that you’re not good enough and being over-confident.

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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