Clearing The Cobwebs

This post is a preview from my upcoming book:S.I.N.G. A 4-Step Process For Finding Your Voice


This is your wake-up call.

You need to make a decision right now. You’ve come this far. You’ve committed to getting this deep into the program. You’ve done more than most people ever will. You’d be amazed how many millions of books are bought each year as trophies to sit on a shelf, never to be opened.

You stand at a crossroads. When you start the next chapter, you’ll be singing every day. It won’t be a lot at the start, just a few minutes here and there, but you may feel very uncomfortable for a while. You are starting the journey to literally rewiring your brain in a number of ways.

First there is a part of your self-image that references your ability to sing. We’ve already talked about how you probably consider yourself a “non-singer” or just someone who “can’t sing very well” or “doesn’t sing”.

Exercise: Take out a piece of paper - a journal, a napkin, something! - and answer the following questions: “Am I a singer? Can I sing? Do I sing?”

Be completely honest, it’s okay to write “I’m not a singer, I can’t sing, I don’t sing.” You may feel some or all of those things right now. The following chapters will allow you the chance to retrain the part of your brain that says those things and open up some new options.

Now look at your answers and reflect: “Says who?”

Who is that voice that tells you singing just isn’t for you? Is it you? Is it a parent? A sibling? An old teacher? A childhood friend? Who told you you can never sing, you should never sing?

Once you’ve decided who says you can’t sing (even if it’s you!) there’s another question to ask: “What qualifications do they have?”

I’ve worked with thousands of singers for over a decade, including dozens who were what many would call “tone deaf”. I myself was a terrible singer all the way through high school, and if you heard me in those days you’d ask why someone would record a bunch of puppies being stepped on. I’ve worked with many vocal coaches and read countless books, studies, articles, and dissertations on the voice and singing. I’ve studied the CD and DVD singing programs and taken all I can from them. I have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in my musical education. I’ve led singing with four year olds and ninety four year olds. I’ve stood in front of crowds of over a thousand people folding their arms and looking at me with that “I can’t sing” face, and I’ve won them over and had them singing together in glorious harmony.

I don’t say this to brag, (okay, maybe a little) but to ask you if I’m more or less qualified to judge your singing potential than the person who decided you can’t sing.

Ask yourself what (if anything) they knew about the human voice. Are they really qualified as an expert to judge whether or not you can gain this skill with years of study and practice? Are they psychic?

Without even hearing you once, I can tell you without doubt that you can learn to sing. You are the result of millions of years of human evolution, and your brain, body, ear, and voice are absolutely incredible devices capable of more than you ever imagined. There’s a 90% chance you are a better singer now than I was in middle school, and in a few short years I learned to sing quite well. If you’re in the 10%, I guarantee I’ve had a private student worse off than you are. I’ve had students take years to learn to match pitch. But they learned.

More importantly, I learned from them. After working with each “non-singer” who came to me, the next one learned a little quicker. You, my friend, are benefitting from the struggles of these “tone deaf” strugglers who took a leap of faith and asked for help. What took them years and months will take you weeks and days because you will have a clearer path.

Thank the voice in your head for its honest opinion, and let it know that you asked someone a little more qualified, and he said it’s worth a shot.

Can you sing, do you sing, are you a singer? The answers may take a long time to change, but there is another question you can control the answer to.

This is the last question to answer before you turn the page and commit to S.I.N.G.

Exercise: Write your answer, make sure to date and sign it: “Will I sing?”

When you find the strength to write “I will sing”, you are ready to read on.

I am proud of you, let’s learn.

What does S.I.N.G. stand for?

This post is a preview of content from my upcoming book:S.I.N.G. A 4-Step Process For Finding Your Voice


What is S.I.N.G.?

S.I.N.G. is the acronym we’ll be using to give structure to the process and help you find your singing voice. I’ll give you a bird’s eye view (macro) then dive into the details (micro) and finally come back up and summarize all we’ve learned (macro again).

First you will Sing daily, so you can see where you are and gauge progress as you develop. Second, you’ll Invest, Integrate, and Iterate, devoting time, effort, and money in coaching, classes, audio or video programs, and other resources that will not only accelerate progress, but hold you accountable while making singing a part of your life and improving over time. Third you will develop Natural technique, taking the best strategies from many sources and finding what works well for your individual voice and body. Finally, you will Grow steadily, maintaining the progress you’ve made so far and expanding on it in new ways. By focusing on small wins and getting just a little better each session, you will be amazed by how quickly you can see results.

First, you must Sing daily.

Now, it may seem a bit presumptuous for step one of a singing program to be “sing daily”, but take a moment to consider it. As much as we want to convince ourselves that singing is a magical gift from above, it is an action performed by our bodies. It is impossible to develop physical actions without performing the physical action and adjusting over time. Once you have begun the effort it’s easy to adjust and make improvements over time, refining your actions and getting better day by day. Without daily action, you have no chance at true improvement. The greatest danger in this program is not hurting yourself, embarrassing yourself in front of others, sounding bad, messing up, or being ridiculed. The greatest danger is that you will read and read and read and after having read, feel so much better with your nice pile of knowledge that you won’t feel the need to ACT. You will sit and recite vocabulary, spout off tips, and share insights with friends, but you will never open your mouth and actually sing. My biggest fear is that you will get halfway or even all the way through the process before starting to sing. This is in complete opposition to the philosophy and approach I promote, and if you are looking for all the answers before you have to do anything, you are looking in the wrong place. There is a big difference between knowing what to do and doing what you know, you may not know much right now, but you do know that you won’t get any better at singing by not singing.

Once you’ve established the daily singing habit and become mildly self-aware, it’s time to Invest, Integrate, and Iterate. By reading this post you’ve decided that singing is something worth investing your time in. When you invest your time, you are literally giving away a piece of your life. If this endeavor is worth giving away some of your life, let’s get the most out of it. Investing means giving time, energy, focus, and money to the goal of learning to sing. You’ve started this already by beginning to sing every day, and you may be spending a substantial amount of time, energy, and focus on it already. If not, you’ll learn later to take your singing time to a different level by investing full attention each time you sing and seeking out resources to help guide you to proper singing. There are many sources of knowledge and skill, from coaches and teachers to choirs and classes, to books and audio programs and video programs and more. The act of investing in this process, and any other resources you choose to pursue, will help motivate you to develop your skill. Humans love to gain things but we fear loss far more than we seek reward. When you’ve made a considerable investment of time, energy, focus, and cash in learning to sing well, you will have the added motivation of knowing that NOT learning to sing would mean LOSING that huge investment. At this stage it’s also worth making your commitment public. The reason that is terrifying is not because it’s embarrassing to admit you want to be able to sing and can’t do it yet (although that is part of it). No, the true terror comes from remembering how many New Year’s resolutions, new diets, job opportunities, new relationships, and other life changes we’ve tried to make happen, told our friends and family we were going to make happen, and then didn’t make happen. We remember the burning pain of that loss like it was yesterday, even if it was years ago, and it keeps us from wanting to commit fully to new ventures in the present. You are not the same person who failed before. You now have that experience to lean back on and learn from. Use your past to fuel your future and decide that in this relatively small thing, learning to sing, you’re willing to change the pattern and finish what you start. Invest yourself, invest a small piece of your life, and see how far you can go. In this section you’ll also learn how to integrate singing more into your normal life, and integrate the habits and practices of healthy singing into your non-singing time. Even professional singers spend very little time each day actually singing, compared with the time they spend not singing. However, you are using your voice almost all day, and the processes for speech are very similar for singing. If you can integrate your singing technique with your speaking voice, you’ll find yourself gaining hours of practice time each day, and your progress will explode. You;ll also learn to integrate all you’ve learned from the many singing sources you’ve invested in. You must take the best tips and strategies from each book, CD, video, class, lesson, coach you work with and put them together into a method that works for you. The final stage of integration is taking your newfound “singer” identity and integrating it with the rest of you. You’ll adopt singing as a part of your whole self and begin to welcome a new way of interacting with others and the world when it comes to singing. You’ll listen to music differently, attend concerts differently, and bring new insight into conversations about popular singers. Finally, Iteration will give you a way to get from where you are to where you want to be. Iteration is the process of refining repeated actions over time to improve results. You’ll take the daily singing habit you built in section one to the next level by introducing small changes and experiments in your singing, keeping what works while ditching what doesn’t. Iteration holds the key to combining all steps in this process and setting your voice free. You sing daily, integrating natural technique learned from your investment of time, energy, and money, and by iterating over and over, you grow steadily until you reach and surpass your goals.

At this point in our overview we’re about halfway through the system and still haven’t really talked about how to sing. An odd choice? Maybe, but let me explain. Singing, like any other complex skill, is made up of countless smaller skills which must be mastered together to make a fluid whole. Think of learning to ride a bike or drive a car. Where do your feet go, what does each foot do, what do your hands do, where do they go when you want to turn, where should you be looking, what do you need to check and do before you even start moving? If you try to think of all of these at once, you’ll go mad. Working on skills slowly and individually lets you stay relaxed and improve steadily. On the flipside, singing is an art as well. Like any art, there are an infinite number of correct ways to do it. At the end of the day, if you are expressing what you intended to express it is good (if not healthy) singing. In private teaching I shy away from too much technique at the outset. Most students find it impossible to remember everything, but will try anyway and end up stressing themselves out. For too many, comprehensive technique too soon leads to less enjoyment when singing, and singing should be something you enjoy every step of the way. I offer my suggestions on technique knowing that there are many other ways of doing things correctly. I hope you’ll try out my suggestions and keep the ones that work for you, letting go of the others in favor of better strategies you may learn from other teachers or from experimenting on your own. At its core this process is not “how to sing well”, but “how to see yourself as the type of person who sings”. I’d rather have you skim through the posts and start to feel more comfortable singing badly with the radio in your car than have you finish the process and know everything there is to know about singing technique (you’d have to learn it elsewhere, since I certainly don’t know everything) but never open your mouth for fear of doing something wrong. Let go of the idea of right and wrong and give yourself permission to experiment, fail, and have fun as you learn.

In the third phase we move to Natural technique. This is a name I’ve given to some core concepts in singing that I’ve found to be mostly universal. You’ll learn a bit about how your body works. You’ll begin to see how your brain, ears, lungs, and vocal folds (we’ll talk about why ‘vocal cords’ is a misnomer) work together to produce healthy singing. I won’t propose to teach a particular style or type of singing, instead focusing on what works for opera, rock, country, musical theatre, punk, and pop singers alike. Whatever style of music you enjoy singing, the basic natural techniques in this section will serve you well. The primary concern here is health. I want to make sure you can sing comfortably until the day you die. I’d rather have you become the kind of grandparents who sing lullabies when you babysit than become a pop star. By the time you reach this part of the process you’ll have invested time and resources into your singing and you’ll have integrated singing into your daily life. At this point you’re ready to tackle the elements of natural singing technique one at a time, carefully paying attention to the results you get and adjusting along the way. I teach a continuum of technique moving from body to breath to ear to voice. With simple strategies for approaching progress in each of these four areas, you’ll be able to take your singing to a new level while staying healthy.

The final phase of the S.I.N.G. process is Growing steadily. You’ll take the habits, skills, and knowledge you’ve gained along the way and develop a plan for consistent improvement until you surpass your goals. We live in a culture that reveres rapid changes and overnight success, but the true champions in all fields know that lasting success is never achieved overnight. You will feel much better about yourself and see far greater progress if you commit to getting 1% better every day, instead of waiting to get 500% better ‘someday’. Author and behavioral psychology expert Ramit Sethi tells a story about a woman who emailed him saying she’d like to run three times a week. He asked why she didn’t run once a week. She said she didn’t see the point in running only once a week. Sethi says it’s ridiculous that she’d rather dream about running three times a week than actually run once a week and see some results! This is the way our brains function as human beings. We are entranced by dreams and lofty goals: losing a hundred pounds; running a marathon; writing a novel; starring in a movie; finding our one true love; becoming a singing superstar. These dreams make us feel better than the small actions that will truly help us accomplish them. What if we were to try: eating a little better today; running a mile today; writing 1,000 words today; doing one audition today; going on a date today; singing at the karaoke party today. Commit to small improvements every day. If you were to grow by 1% every day, you might think at the end of a year you’d have gotten three times as good (365%), but as Einstein said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world”. When you improve 1% on the second day, you are also getting 1% of that 1% you gained on the first day. This seemingly insignificant increase compounds over time and by the end of a year you end up with an increase of over 3700%, that’s 37 times where you started! Do you believe you could get 1% better than you are right now? If that’s true now, what stops it being true tomorrow? There’s nothing stopping you from getting just a little bit better each day, and that progress compounds because you bring to each new day the cumulative growth of the days before. Invest a little every day and see your results skyrocket.

The process: Sing daily; Invest, Integrate, and Iterate; learn Natural technique; Grow steadily. You may feel a temptation to skip to the meat of the process now, or even just skip ahead to the technique section thinking that’s all you really need anyway. Resist this temptation. This is the voice of fear that has kept you from fulfilling your desire to sing all these years. It feels safer to get right to the “how to”, try it once, then throw up your hands saying it won’t work. Your fear loves an excuse and an easy scapegoat.

I don’t want to be your scapegoat, so we’re going to spend a little more time clearing out the cobwebs of your mind before diving into actual singing. Here we go!