There’s so much content out there with tips and tools for how to improve singing performance.
Over the years there’s one key thing I’ve learned. It’s the first step a singer needs to take in order to unlock the potential of their voice. I was reminded of it the other day when I heard this quote by poet Nayyirah Waheed:
“Listening is one of the only spaces where you can be still and moved at the same time.”
I love this quote because it reminds me that when we allow the mind to be still and just listen, we create space for transformation.
Most singers think of listening as it relates to sound – listening to the sounds of the instruments accompanying us, the sounds we make when we sing and the sounds we want others to hear us making. This kind of listening is outwardly focused on external sound and our external experience with it. When we are listening this way, we tend to force, manipulate and push our voice as a means of controlling an outcome.
But there is another kind of listening. Listening to your body.
Listening in this way means quieting the mind so you can be present to the sensations in your body – in your instrument – in any given moment.
There’s a really important distinction here that I want you to key into:
Your job as a singer is to pay attention to the sensation of good singing, not to the sound of good singing.
When you are present to the sensation of the good sound (in your support, in your resonance) you will know each time you feel it that the sound is good merely by the way it feels. You won’t have to hear it.
In this way, your awareness shifts from being an outwardly focused experience overwhelmed by your attachment to expectations and outcomes, to a more internal experience rooted in the present moment of the body and the truth of who you are.
In my opinion, when you shift your mindset from listening to the sounds you’re making, to “listening” to the physical sensations in your body when you sing, it is the first step towards reaching the potential of your singing.
Only then will you begin to move away from all the pushing, forcing and manipulating of your voice and instead move towards the kind of trust in your instrument and technique that allows your unique, healthy, free, powerful sound to shine through.
So the next time you are frustrated with how to improve singing, remind yourself not to go on autopilot. Get present to the sensations in your body. Witness what you feel in the lower muscles of support, in the ribs, in your neck, jaw, tongue and soft palate. Start “listening” to your body in this way. Observe what it is doing (or not doing) without judgment. Just learn to be a witness to what it present.
In that way you will become acutely aware of what your habits/tensions are when you sing and can more readily seek out the appropriate remedies.