Am I good enough?
That’s a question I am often asked as I look into the eyes of new students who are standing there, exposing a deep part of their soul to me, trusting me as I lead them though a series of strange and unusual exercises to help them experience what it feels like to sing…really sing!
They go through their mental gymnastics “Can I really do this?” “Will these exercises really make me better?” “What if I fail?” “Will I make a fool of myself?” “Can anyone else hear what I am doing right now”? Many of these questions are flooding their minds as they sing. They may be following my
directions and doing what I ask them to do, but inside they fight to overcome their insecurities, and they struggle to release the fear of judgment, failure, or the reality that they may never be good enough.
While they imagine that nothing could be worse than failure, or the that someone could hear them and laugh at them, I am there to reassure them that if they stick with this long enough, they will have nothing to fear. What makes singers release their fears, trust the process, and eventually learn to love the sound of their own voice? When do they finally realize they are good enough?
Meet Deborah, a beautiful middle-aged grandmother, whose only reason for coming to see me was so she could develop enough confidence to sing to her young grandson. Though her first lesson was quite a new experience and a bit scary for her, I was proud of her for facing a fear that had crippled her since childhood. You see, at the age of ten, Deborah was asked to sing “Silent Night” for a church Christmas musical. After she sang her song, someone walked up to her and told her something that any young singer would dread to hear… “You can’t sing.”
Those few little words that sucked the life out of her over forty years before, left enough of a scar to keep her from ever singing again. Not in the car or in the shower, especially not at church or in front of another human…not ever! So, in her first lesson, this very timid, almost inaudible breathy voice that couldn’t match pitch outside of a C4-G4, began to transform, slowly but surely.
Deborah began to practice the tools I would give her, and she eventually mustered up enough confidence to sing on her first recital. She was very nervous and booked many extra lessons in the weeks leading up to the big day. She would record her practices at home and send me clips asking if she was doing things correctly. Together, we faced this journey of hers. We pounded out notes over and over again, we drilled technique, we worked steadily until it was time to come face to face with something she really feared. An audience. We met early on that December day to rehearse her song several times so she could get a feel for the stage. I let her go first so she wouldn’t get more nervous by having to wait her turn. During her performance, I accompanied her on the piano, and I managed to keep as much eye contact with her as possible. I didn’t want to leave her side, not for a moment. As she finished her song, she looked at me and smiled as I jumped right off the piano bench and headed over to give her the world’s biggest hug. Not only was she able to face her worst fear, but also she did it very respectfully and with a confidence I hadn’t quite seen in her before. I introduced her and told the audience about her story and they gave her a huge applause. The most amazing thing was that she felt victorious! She had learned to sing well enough to perform for a live audience, and she did it while singing the song that instilled the greatest fear in her to begin with…”Silent Night.”
A few years have passed since then, and Deborah has been a regular student and a featured singer on many our recitals. She has quite a fan club now because her heart and passion for singing has become extremely contagious. She shares her story freely and she inspires others to step out and face their fears.
In the past year or two, she has confided in me that she not only sings to her grandson, but also she will go on weekend retreats with her girlfriends, and she’ll actually join in when everyone sings their favorite songs on the radio! She’s joined her church choir and is now being asked to be a soloist or to share a duet with other choir members.
Has Deborah become a world class, champion singer yet? Well, no, but that has never been her desire. Has she made peace with her past? Yes, she has, and she is inspiring others to do so as well. Deborah still asks me if she is good enough or if she is doing things correctly, and she is happy when I give her a “thumbs up.” She still has things to work out with her singing (like the rest of us) but she is determined, committed and has developed a way of practicing that has proven very successful for her. Her success comes from a strong practice habit. Her confidence has come from having a solid technique, someone to guide her along, to give her constant feedback and to teach her the discipline to practice like a genius!
In the next few blog posts, I will share some practice tools that have worked well for her and for others, and when applied correctly, have had incredible results. In the meantime, if you are one of those people who has always wanted to sing, but never thought you could (or would), I beg you to think differently. You owe it to yourself. I want you to know that failure is nothing to be afraid of and it’s actually necessary in order to become successful at anything you would like to achieve. Think more like Deborah. Take risks, trust the process, practice with great intent, and you won’t be just good enough, you’ll be great!
Laurie Winckel is an Advanced Vocal Trainer with the Institute For Vocal Advancement. She has been teaching for almost 30 years. She owns the Vocal Edge Voice Studio in Round Rock, Texas. She is currently teaching lessons full time, while writing a Leadership Development Program for IVA and she serves as the IVA Area Rep for the State of Texas. Her website is www.vocaledgestudio.com.