To Listen, Or Not To Listen?
Have you ever listened to yourself speaking or singing in a recording? Did you like what you heard? The majority of people do not like what they hear back. I remember when I first spoke in a microphone, I was elementary school-aged, and it was at a mother-daughter banquet at my church where I was reading a poem with my mom. There was a speaker facing me on the little platform stage, and when I heard my voice, I freaked out. My voice was so high pitched! I could not believe it! I quit talking, turned around to hug my mom and refused to continue. Most of the time, we have an idea of what we sound like inside our heads, which is completely different to what comes out and what people around us hear. It’s called acoustical deception and it’s something that needs to be addressed when studying voice.
We tell our students all the time during the early stages of vocal training and development that if you like what you hear coming out of you in real time, chances are no one else in the room listening to you does. One of the biggest pitfalls for a singer at the beginning of their vocal journey is to try to develop their voice by adjusting what it sounds like to them. This kind of self-education can be very detrimental and unfortunately with all of the instant access to recordings and video on social media, this is now at a staggering epidemic to which we have personally witnessed many voices on the road to ruin. Although part of vocal training, especially in lessons with a knowledgable teacher, is at times about one’s ability to mimic the exercises their instructor is guiding them through, it is very dangerous for a singer to blindly reproduce the sounds one hears on a recording of someone else singing, especially if they do not have the technical knowledge yet of how to reproduce those sounds in their body correctly using their unique instrument. Impressionists work for years perfecting their rudimentary technical skill sets that allow them to mimic someone else. So for a beginning singer on their vocal path to understand how their voice works based on listening to their sound and trying to mimic someone else’s unique vocal print (just like a thumb print; everyone has their own unique print), is setting themselves up for failure right away before they even get started.
You cannot go by what you hear, especially when you are first starting out on your vocal journey. You must go by sensation and remember what that feels like, not what it sounds like. You can hinder your progress by listening to yourself during the act of singing. You may say to your teacher while you’re in the midst your lessons, “I don’t like what I sound like”. How would you know? You can’t really hear yourself in the moment. A better gauge is to record every lesson and play it back and listen to the improvement, and what you are doing to create that improvement. Sometimes when I listen to my lessons, I can remember what the sensation of the exercise was so that it’s easier to create it when I’m at home practicing.
So eventually, you may not be able to hear yourself once you start improving because you feel like there’s a veil in front of your sound. Why is that? Because your sound is out, not stuck inside of you, and that’s a good thing! So don’t listen! Feel instead!
This is why we tell our students that the answer lies in training yourself to understand what the sensation of the correct sounds we approve in their lessons feel like to them when they accomplish them and to memorize that with internal exploration and self discovery. Having an outside pair of ears that you trust telling you when you are doing things right is very crucial throughout the entirety of your vocal journey….no matter how advanced you are. Don’t worry, you usually get the idea and can find confidence in yourself as you advance along your vocal journey, but those trusted external ears can still help with fine tuning even when you obtain expert level vocalism.
Tell us your experiences when you first heard yourself, and how your perception changed after time. We’d love to hear from you!