Over the past few years, my struggles with anxiety have made it hard for me to sing freely and openly, and the root of a lot of my issues is the fact that I don’t breathe. I know, I know, “how do you NOT breathe?”, you may ask? I don’t know, I just don’t. I literally hold my breath sometimes when I’m stressed and don’t even realize I’m doing it! In one of my voice lessons recently, my coach stopped me in the middle of a song and said, “You don’t inhale, Hailey.” Ahh, yes. Inhaling. I’ll get right on that.
Shouldn’t breathing be easy? Isn’t that what we do all day long? Breathe in and breathe out? Welp, apparently I’ve forgotten how to do that basic human thing when I sing. And talk. And do anything else that stresses me out.
Being relaxed and singing at the same time is something other singers might take for granted, but for me, it’s something I’d forgotten how to do. The fact that I no longer knew how to breathe deeply was a real indication of how unbalanced my mental and emotional health was. Practicing yoga, meditation, and remembering to breathe deeply and often throughout my day has helped me maintain a more steady state of calm, and has actually impacted how consistently I’m able to sing.
My vocal coach recently referred me to an amazing resource for singers called Total Vocal Freedom by Peter Jacobson. As I was looking through his website, I came across one of his blog posts that really hit home for me called “6 Ways to Enjoy Your Singing More”.
Initially I thought to myself, “Enjoy singing? I’m just trying to make it through a whole song without passing out from lack of airflow, let alone enjoy myself while doing itt.”
But then I read the post. And he spoke such insightful truth. He says that if you’re not experiencing joy while you’re singing, you’ll never be able to experience true vocal freedom. I couldn’t even remember the last time I felt joy when I was singing. Or vocal freedom. And that’s something I really want to change.
I’d encourage you to to read Peter’s original post, but I also want to share his advice here and add my own two cents.
Six Ways to Enjoy Singing More
1. Acknowledge yourself (Practice Self-Gratitude)
Gratitude is the most powerful tool we can use to shift our paradigm around anything in life. Instead of focusing on what we lack, we can choose to focus on what we do have. Peter suggests asking ourselves these questions:
- What do I already know?
- What’s working well with my singing right now?
- What skills and abilities are right there under my nose ?
As we reflect on our strengths and the things that are working for us right now, we can find joy in the present moment instead of waiting until we can do everything “perfectly” to feel good about ourselves. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. I sometimes say unkind things to myself that I would never say to someone else. Be kind to yourself. Be sweet to yourself.
2. Go Joy-Hunting
Peter encourages us to spend energy focusing on the things we enjoy about singing, and actively looking for the things we like, rather than what we don’t like when we open our mouths and sing.
He says, “I think one of the best questions singers can ask themselves when practicing is:
What did I enjoy about that?”
I know a lot of musicians who do not like the sound of their own voice, myself included. I think other people must hear something different from what I hear when I sing because I’m often being self absorbed, listening with a critical ear, picking apart every little thing I do instead of just accepting where I am right now and enjoying it.
Looking for the good and feeling gratitude for the musical gifts that you have can help you have moments of pure joy when you sing.
3. Dig Into Your Past
We can think about singing opportunities we’ve had in the past that brought us great joy, and then pursue similar performances in the present! Peter suggests we think on these three questions:
- What kind of performances have you enjoyed in the past?
- What was it about those performance that you enjoyed?
- How can you actively seek out those qualities to enjoy your singing more?
For me, the performances that I’ve enjoyed the most have been very intimate and personal, singing alongside the people I love, usually just me and my acoustic guitar. Some of the most meaningful performances I’ve done have been for an audience of one, for a loved one, a friend or a family member that I care very deeply about. For larger scale performances, I loved being able to see the faces of the people in the crowd and have an ongoing dialogue with the people shouting things out to us onstage. I loved being able to meet those who attended afterwards and hear their stories and feel connected to them. Now that I know that I value those types of experiences, those will act as guidelines when I look for performance opportunities again.
4. Update your identity
I’ve been seeing a new phrase quite often recently, and Peter mentions it in his post as something called “imposter syndrome”.
If this is something you deal with, know that you’re not alone!
Isn’t it crazy to realize that even the artists or musicians with successful careers that we look up to struggle with feeling like a “fake” or a “fraud”?
Peter points out that it’s impossible to feel joy if we feel like we’re faking our way as a singer. This little mantra he included is something that I’ve read repeatedly and even said out loud to myself:
I am a real singer.
My desire to sing comes from a higher power.
My singing makes the world a better place.
The world needs to hear my voice.
I am a real singer.
The more you say it, the more you’ll believe it, and the more joy you’ll feel in your heart as you realize that it’s TRUE! The world needs your music, and the world needs your voice.
These next two tips are my own:
5. Discover and hold onto a deeper sense of purpose.
If you don’t have an over arching goal or vision for your career as a singer, it can be hard to feel like you’re on the right track. Think about why you enjoy singing. Is it the connection you feel to the people you sing with or for? Do you love telling stories through song and sharing your heart others? Is there something inside you that lights up when you sing that makes you feel alive, worthy, and valued?
Discover what your reason for performing is and consciously remember it when you sing.
6. Focus on feeling love and gratitude for yourself and others when you sing.
Focusing your energy on love and gratitude unlocks the power that music holds. Music is healing. Hearts are changed through music. I find that when I focus on people that I love when I’m singing, the words hold so much more meaning and I feel like I’m expressing my true thoughts and feelings to them. It becomes a unifying experience. Unless you’re singing a breakup song, it’s pretty easy to channel positive and loving feelings, which not only bring you joy, but spread through everyone else who is listening like wildfire. There’s a spiritual component to singing that has the power to lift and empower anyone who falls under the sound of your voice. You have the capacity to use your voice for good!
Breathe in deeply, and then breathe it all out. Allow yourself to feel joy, and then sing your heart out. I’ll be singing right along with you!