Turn down the volume on your Inner Critic by recognising that singing isn’t about you – it’s about sharing your gift. Vocal coach LISA PERKS explains how taking an altruistic approach will free you to sing with joy.
A musician once flippantly told me this joke just before a gig: “What is a singer’s favourite warm up? – Me me me me me me meeeee!!!”
Not particularly funny, but it shows how singers are often perceived as the narcissists of the music world. We are frequently passed off as precious or “diva-esque”. I find it insulting and a bit naïve that this is the case. At the end of the day we singers carry our instruments around in our body. Our instruments are at the mercy of our overall health, susceptible to injury and often not at full capacity. Therefore, by its very nature, we need to take extra care to look after it.
However, if I’m honest, I do see some truth in the joke. As a singer myself I will admit to frequent bouts of self-analysis, introspection and self-criticism to the point of paralysing perfectionism, which may have made me appear “precious”.
What is the Inner Critic?
I’m sure that most of us are familiar with the idea of the Inner Critic and how utterly paralysing this can be to you as an artist and singer. Aside from a permanent, sustained vocal injury, my Inner Critic was, throughout my career, the other (and perhaps harsher) thorn in my side.
So, what exactly is the Inner Critic? It’s the voice inside of us that judges and demeans us. It causes us to question our abilities and goals.
As a teacher and someone with permanent vocal injury I’ve come to appreciate something about the voice that I had overlooked for most of my performing life. Singing should’ve never been about “me me me”. If I had gained a more altruistic perspective of singing and my voice it would’ve mattered less to me about how I looked or sounded, or whether I’d nailed every note. Instead I would have focussed more on the utter privilege and joy it is to sing and share that with others. Some of you will be onto this already, but for others this may well be a starting point for you to find more freedom and joy with your singing – I sincerely hope so.
It’s not about you
What you will notice is that when we get caught up in singing for ourselves our Inner Critic takes over. It loves over analysing technique and what others think of us, reminding us of our flaws, dabbling in comparisons and questioning every note… I could go on. Keep things in check by remembering “it’s not about me”. You were given this gift to share with others. Song has the power to change the world (or even just a mood). Your voice is a powerful tool. When you share it with a spirit of generosity you have the power to shed some light.
How to take a more altruistic approach to singing
“Me me me me me me!!!” not a bad word for vocalising but a terrible word to live by – and in this instance sing by. Take a moment to consider why “me” cannot factor in your world as a singer.
Do you realise that your gifting is not about you? If it were it would be all in your brain. Singing, by definition, is meant to be heard; it’s an outpouring of sound vibration from your body to the world!
The next time you perform (to yourself, your audience, or teacher) imagine that someone listening has had the hardest day imaginable. Paint the picture in your mind and put yourself in the position to reach them. Make your entire performance for that person. I guarantee that it will totally change the way you perform. It will obliterate the ego, because it takes “me me me meeee” to “you you you yoooooooou”.
Lighten up! Humour is one of the best ways we can get over ourselves. Taking our singing too seriously quashes creativity and leaves us trudging around in the left side of our brain. We can seriously feed our ego here in the land of right and wrong. Lightening up will release endorphins (the happy chemical); it will settle our nervous system. Find ways to laugh either during or just before you sing. Make sure you include this as part of your vocal practice regime as well as before you perform. It’s particularly good if you’re going to do a high-energy performance. Jump around, do a silly movement, make silly noises when you vocalise. Have fun!
If you are spiritually inclined, then spend time in prayer or meditation. Practise an attitude of gratitude, of giving rather than receiving when you sing. Be generous with your voice – gifts are meant for giving away! Imagine your voice bringing joy to the world, God, the universe. Visualise light and love, abundance and joy. This is one of your most powerful weapons against ego and the Inner Critic.
And finally…share your heart
I hold strongly to the idea that all voices are important, and everyone has the right to sing. Singing for me has less to do with aesthetics and more to do with soul and expression. With this in mind everyone is a singer of some sort. But you as a professional or aspiring artist are at the forefront. Your gift to others is more than pleasant sounds, it’s freedom, it’s light and love, and enlightenment. Make sure when you perform there is a great big part of you that you are willing to share – your heart! Focus more on this and the voice of the Inner Critic will have to quieten down.