• North Coast Harmony

Why is singing so hard? Part 2

Following on from Part 1, there is another question; why is letting other people hear you sing so hard?

For almost everyone, any kind of public singing brings about a case of the jitters. And that can be as true for chorus rehearsals as it is for performances.

Setting aside those who’ve had a negative experience with an over critical music teacher or choir leader, there are plenty of people out there who are otherwise confident, but who experience varying levels of anxiety at the thought of someone else hearing them sing.


It all comes down to judgement, or more specifically, the fear of judgement. What if you sing a wrong note, or your voice breaks or you forget a word or you’re a bit flat? What if you sound out of tune? What if your tone isn’t pleasant? What if, what if, what if? And what if someone judges you for it. What if – gasp – someone thinks your voice isn’t good enough?

Why do you care so much?

All musicians experience anxiety to some extent; it takes nerve to do your thing in front of people, be that with your voice, your guitar, or your hornucopian dronepipe. But for singers, or potential singers, the fear seems to be heightened. Fear of judgement about your voice does not seem to be the same as fear of judgement about playing an instrument. And that’s probably because judging someone’s voice is on a whole different level to judging someone’s abilities with a particular skill.

Someone is crap at playing the guitar. This is judging a specific skill. You play guitar.

Someone is a crap singer. This is much closer to judging what, or who, someone is. You are a singer.

This kind of judgment is about your mastery of an instrument, but the guitar is not you; it’s an inanimate object you pick up and strum. When you sing, you are the instrument, so the criticism takes a step closer to being about who you are.

The Hornucopian Dronepipe, designed by MONAD Studio in collaboration with musician/luthier Scott F. Hall.

Your voice is yours, as much as your face is yours. It’s personal to you, and a unique part of who you are. It can even be thought of as part of your identity. Judgement of the voice is so often perceived as judgement of the person, because the voice is an integral part of the person. And that’s why it feels different. It feels less like you’re crap at doing something, and more like you are crap.

Like you’ve walked in to a room or on to a stage and everyone looked at your face, decided it wasn’t good enough and judged you for it? Who even does that?

Judgement is expected, in no small part because we've become accustomed to hearing judgement of singers, which just feeds in to our insecurities. There’s a whole industry built up around the TV talent show, and the judges the public all love to hate. Many a family sits around the TV on a Saturday evening, open mouthed or peering between their fingers at the latest ‘expert’ providing ‘feedback’ to the hopeful stood in front of them, baring what is essentially the very fabric of who they are. It’s car crash telly at its worst.

Probably the most well-known of all the talent show auditions is that of Susan Boyle, from Britain's Got Talent in 2009. Watch, and listen, to the reaction of the judges, the audience. Susan was judged on her abilities before she even opened her mouth.

What sets Susan apart is that she didn’t seem to care what people thought of her. It wasn’t a faultless audition, and I’m sure she knows that, just as much as I’m sure she knows she was going to be judged on more than her vocal abilities. But she got up there and did it anyway, with confidence, and she stunned everyone. All power to her.

We could all do with being a little bit more Susan Boyle.

The bottom line is this, singers at chorus rehearsal are not going to judge you, because they’re too busy worrying about who’s judging them. As for the critical general public, for the most part, your audience won’t care about, or even notice, your little errors. And if they do, and they want to judge for it, that says far more about them than it does about you. So to hell with what they might think. If you want to sing, sing. It’s as simple as that.

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