I am not a good singer. I love singing, but I’m not good. In a way I’m worse than a bad singer, because bad singers you can just smile and think “oh, poor them” and know that they know it too. I’m in that dangerous band of ability that is not-quite-very-good. It’s awkward for people because if my breathing messes up or I waver on a note, they don’t know if I know. People who think they can when they can’t – delusion is cringeworthy. But the voice is an instrument and you have to practise.
If I played the guitar, and someone overheard me playing “Leaving On A Jet Plane” three times in a row with slight hesitation on the chord changes, they would think “That is someone practising the guitar. A bit annoying. But they are clearly practising.”
If I played the piano, and someone overheard me playing “Moonlight Sonata” three times and occasionally forgetting the accidentals, they would think “This is someone practising the piano. A bit annoying. But they are clearly practising.”
But people don’t – by and large – realise that singing requires practice too.
If I sing “The Voice Within” three times in a row, and I am really going for it, and then fall off it, people assume I’m a deluded wannabe with a Christina Aguilera fixation. The idea that I’m trying to do something I won’t ever be able to do unless I keep trying simply doesn’t occur to them. To them, singing is something you Can Just Do.
Here’s the thing. I am aware of this. I KNOW you can hear me. So I never practise properly. I want to go for the big note, but one can’t do that without fully committing and not being scared of it going wrong. Do the note! Oops, bit squawky! Too bad! Do it again! But for me, I’m aware that people can hear, and they judge, and find it ultimately more annoying than instrument practice because they can’t qualify it in their minds as practice. It’s self-indulgent karaoke caterwauling, so it’s instantly more annoying than something rooted in self-improvement.
People who think they can when they can’t. I am not that person. I do not think I can. I think I might be able to, one day. I know that right now I can’t – but how am I supposed to get there, when every time I try, people not only agree that I can’t, but won’t tolerate it as kindly because they don’t realise I don’t know that myself?
I think this is born of the fact that it seems anyone who can hold a tune and has a decent tone instantly gets the praise of being a “good singer” – which is odd. It seems like you have to play it safe to be a “good singer”. If you take risks and they go wrong, you are no longer a “good singer”, even if what you’re trying is technically more difficult.
I was writing little girly ditties at university (you know the kind – one girl and her guitar: I love you, you don’t love me, let’s sit on the grass and be poetical about rain), and I’d sit and breathe them out melodically, and it was nice enough, and people said “That’s nice. You’re a good singer.” But I wasn’t; it was nice, but basically humming with words.
So I’m working on my breathing, my posture, my range, how and where I switch registers. I pick songs I aspire to and imitate singers I admire. I do things I KNOW I CANNOT DO. But I’m not a “good singer” any more, because people are hearing the practice. They hear the breaks, the cracks, the shakes, the strained messes I shouldn’t have attempted yet but couldn’t have known until I did. I’m actually a much, much better singer than I was, but people don’t think so, because it isn’t “nice” any more.
It should be made clear – if you want your kid to play guitar: get them lessons; make them practise. If you want your kid to play piano: get them lessons; make them practise. If you want your kid to sing, don’t just sit them in front of Sing-a-long-Songs and tell them they can hold a tune. Get them lessons; make them practise. Singers need a world that understands that singing – proper, challenging, versatile singing – is not easy. We need a world that is a little less ready to tell you you’re a good singer, and has just a little more tolerance for those that could be.