Listening to one’s own singing

earphones-152416_150Some teachers and singers have said “You should not listen to yourself when you sing. You need to learn to sing by feel.” This has some merit. If one develops high skills as a singer, one knows that when they are at their best they will hear very different things while they are singing compared to the audience. Also, there are times when the acoustics of the situation prevent listening to oneself with total clarity.

There is a perplexing problem with listening to oneself beyond this, however. It seems that some singers have turned off the “self-listening” to such a degree that they do not hear significant problems in recordings of themselves. I have noticed in my own practice that I don’t listen to recordings of myself in the same way that I listen to recordings of my students. I want to, but it seems almost impossible. I filter some things out, I cringe at things that aren’t really that bad, I don’t hear both bad and good things in my singing until a trusted coach or teacher points them out, then suddenly there they are, plain as day!

I spend a lot of time listening to singers on Youtube. It is amazing to me that a working singer will post a recording of himself with a distinct wobble in his voice that indicates something is going wrong in his technique. Now one could say “Well, he’s working!” but it seems likely that his wobbly clips have cost him a job or two. I can think of three active singers who also teach who have labored, wobbly performances on Youtube as part of their portfolios. These three singers should be in their prime vocal years.

What would they think of another person’s singing which exhibited the same wobble and consequent pitch problems? How can they teach and not hear it? I’m guessing that they can hear it in others but they have not been able to develop the ability to listen to their own recordings with objectivity. It’s devilishly hard to do so. I know that I can’t do it 100%.

It is essential for most mere mortals to get regular feedback from someone who knows singing rather than thinking we’re finished with working on ourselves. We need to be made to hear ourselves anew, both as we sing and in our recordings. Then comes the trick of figuring out what you need to feel and hear on the inside while you sing, in order to turn improvements into habits.

How would others describe my voice? What do they hear technically? What does a trusted coach or teacher say about how I’m singing in general? Can I hear what they hear in the recordings of my sessions with them? Is there a trend in feedback from different sources?

Listening to recordings of coachings and lessons provides a rich opportunity to triangulate: input from coach + input from what you were doing in the moment + your later listening. These all need to be reconciled. You will get farther faster if you can go back and forth between what you’re doing in the moment and what you and others hear from the outside.

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

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