Did all amazing singers just pop out of their mother’s wombs blessed with a set of amazing vocal cords? Is born talent the sole determent factor that decides whether you can sing?
If you ask google ‘can anyone learn to sing?’, it will say that anyone can learn this skill. Of course, there are exceptions. If you suffer from a condition called ‘congenital amusia‘ it might be difficult for you to recognize and hold a pitch. But if you’re not part of the 1.8% of the population who are affected by this, then you can sing.
‘But have you heard me sing? My cat would rather jump out the window and get hit by a bus than be in the same room as me!’
Maybe you tried, but your family members made fun about it. Maybe you tried, but you realized you sounded nothing like these professional singers on these perfectly produced records. Maybe you tried, but you thought you simply didn’t have the talent.
How to overcome personal doubts
I have to admit, it was only recently that I discovered this general belief as a misconception. When I was 9 years old my brother caught me singing ‘Pack Up’ by Eliza Doolittle and told me he was actually pleasantly surprised. My older brother who I so looked up to. He who was the lead singer and guitarist of a band and had seemingly inherited all the artistic talent in the family. He must have misheard, he must have lied in order not hurt my feelings.
As a result of a self-induced belief, I never continued this interest of mine. I didn’t belief I had the talent and instead, I had convinced myself of a different truth. A truth where I couldn’t ever become a singer, better settle for a more convincing belief, a more suitable one. The possibility of disapproval was worth the pangs of disappointment I felt in return. It was worth the reassuring promise of certainty.
Fast-forward 14 years and I have finally resigned from the self-entitled position as ‘president of the deaf cat association’. I have even negotiated myself into believing that I am capable of producing somewhat amiable sounds. Even to the extent that I have started posting song covers on YouTube, but don’t pop the champagne yet. The only person subscribed to my channel is myself and to be honest I still have a long way to go.
However, I found some helpful techniques along the way and would like to share them with you. Not only is this article a short guide, it is also the first part of a series about my personal singing journey. But more on that later.
Five tips to get started
I truly believe that – with the right motivation and practice – anyone can become a singer. Talent only plays a role in how good of a singer you can become and the amount of work there is required. When you first start out, it can be very confusing and daunting to teach yourself how to sing. To help ease the process, consider starting out with these following steps:
1. Define your motivation
First and foremost, know why you want to learn this skill. Define your motivation and let this be your guiding post for the many months to come. I have been practicing for over half a year now and I admit that I have days where I’m struggling to pick up my guitar. Your singing journey will more likely be a mountainous road than one of rainbows and sunshine. In my case, whenever I feel like throwing in the towel, I think of the reason why I started in the first place.
Two years ago, my brother passed away.
No words will ever be able to describe the void his absence has left behind and even till today, feelings of sadness still overwhelm me. Music is not only a way for me to unwind, to let go of the stresses of daily life, it has become a way of keeping a part of him alive.
Motivation can really be anything. Maybe you want to sing along to your favorite singer. Maybe you want to impress that one guy or girl. Or maybe you want to sing an exquisite version of ‘Happy Birthday‘ on your grandmother’s 100th birthday? It doesn’t matter, as long as it is something that is true to you.
2. Learn the mechanics
Now that you’ve found your source of fuel, you’re ready to embark on the journey. To get started it’s important to learn the mechanics behind singing. I can imagine not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on private singing lessons and to be frank, it’s not necessary. Nowadays you can find pretty much anything you need on the web, as long as you know where to start looking. To help you save some time, here are some of my favorite free resources:
Two of my favorite YouTube channels that explain the workings of our breath support, the mechanics of singing and our voice in a concise and comprehensible way:
Don’t forget to also warm up before you start singing! Just like every muscle, you don’t want to risk an injury by jumping right into the action. Here are two of my favorite vocal warm-ups:
3. Record yourself
Now that you’ve made yourself familiar with the fundaments of singing, it’s time to put them to practice!
My third tip has been a major game changer in my personal singing journey, namely: recording yourself. No need for a fancy microphone or recording software, your preinstalled webcam app is all you need! I use the Photo booth app on my MacBook and it’s plenty good. You might cringe at the sound of your own voice, but don’t let that stop you. It is not only a great way to keep track of your progress, it also allows you to review and correct yourself. In a way you become your own vocal coach! Listen carefully to your recording and try to analyze it the best you can. See where you nailed the pitch and where you went astray. Notice at what tone your voice shines and where you’re straining. Try to sing in different ways and at different times and see how it affects your singing. Believe me, it will feel so rewarding when you figure out a song for the first time. On top of that your growing collection of ‘successful’ recordings will only fuel your motivation in a way no vocal coach could ever do.
4. Find methods of accountability
There are times when you will feel like giving up. On days when your voice doesn’t seem to cooperate, days when you don’t see significant improvement or days when you just can’t be bothered. Nobody is perfect and that’s totally fine. Instead, acknowledge this and create methods that will support you during these times. I have two + a bonus method of how you could hold yourself accountability:
Join a community
Consider joining your local choir, a weekly music meetup group or any other local community. Maybe you have a friend who wants to learn how to sing as well? It is not only a great way to keep you accountable, it’s also a fun way to connect with others.
Set up your environment and create systems
Create small reminders in your physical environment. Place your guitar next to your desk or print out the song lyrics and stick them on your fridge. Make sure to prioritize and block out a dedicated time in your agenda where your sole focus is singing practice. Lastly, consider creating an online accountability system like a YouTube channel or blog. This is what I have done for example. Not that I believe the entire world deserves to listen to my awe-inspiring covers. It’s rather to announce that I’ve committed to something and that I’m obliged to keep showing up.
If you still feel lost and alone in your singing journey, I have one last method for you:
Let me become your accountability buddy
Write to me, tell me about your doubts, the struggles you’re going through or even send me a recording! I promise you that I will get back to you with a personal message.
Ginkoleaves is not about me yammering on in endless monologues. It is an online space where you’re free to come as you are and share whatever is on your mind. I’d love if we could create, explore and grow together.
5. Don’t let perfection hold you down
A final mindset I’d like to share with you is one of enjoyment. Music is a beautiful act of creative expression and as long if it feels good, you’re doing nothing wrong. Don’t worry about what others think of you, be 100% unapologetic about your ambition and sing till your heart is content.
Let’s embark on this journey together
To wrap up this article I have decided to create a new series. Every few weeks I will be posting a short update about my singing journey. By sharing these short videos, I hope to not only encourage you to pursue your creative dreams as well. But I hope to debunk the notion of ‘perfection’. It is true that there are hundreds of better singers out there, yet I still decide to press the ‘record’ button and hit ‘upload’.
Because I believe that it can be truly freeing if you learn how to openly accept not only your strengths but also your flaws. The fear of failure and the fixation on perfection can refrain us of doing the thing in the first place. It makes us doubt and ultimately give up.
By sharing ‘imperfect’ work and by accepting that we’re are not ‘the best’ at something, we let go of anything holding us back.
Here at Ginkoleaves we are all about exploring new ways of creative expression. Sometimes it can be a rocky road, but it is these unfamiliar paths that will lead us to the most wonderful destinations.
Be you, express and have fun.