I want to sing!
March 31, 2014 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm desperately shy about my singing. I really want to be able to sing in front of other people. When I'm alone, I have a versatile, powerful, emotive voice. In front of humans, or even when I hit the record button, my voice breaks up, drops to a whisper and becomes atonal. I hate this. Even singing happy birthday with other people makes me crazy. I love to sing, and I'm envious of people who can do it so comfortable in front of others. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I want you to sing! I love to sing at the top of my voice and emote with all the power my soul can afford. However, I am cursed with a terrible voice and can't sing on key. If you gave me the choice of being able to fly under my own power, or to be able to sing with good tone and range, I would pick singing hands down. I want you to sing for those who cannot.

With that said, have you thought of approaching a choir to allow you to join their rehearsals? Not a big professional choir, but a small church or community choir with someone who could coach you? Or, perhaps just outright hiring a vocal coach. Not to train you to sing, but to get you comfortable enough singing in front of someone else in a nonjudgemental environment?
posted by studentbaker at 1:51 PM on March 31, 2014

Join a choir, or be drunk. One or the other will help you get past the counter-productive self-consciousness that's keeping you from singing in front of people, and I don't know of a way to break that without singing in front of people.
posted by rtha at 1:54 PM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am in pretty much exactly the same boat; I know I can do an OK job of carrying a tune when nobody's listening, and I'm even pretty comfortable playing musical instruments in front of other people, but singing in front of people or even a microphone is this big scary I-don't-even-know-where-to-start thing. With one exception, which I think is going to be the way I get myself over it:

When I was playing in a local old-time session pretty regularly I did actually get to a point where I was pretty comfortable singing on choruses, because: there would be enough other people singing that I didn't have to feel self-conscious, and most of the other musicians were regulars (and friendly) so it was a totally stress-free, non-judgmental environment.

So, I've been thinking about trying to take some group voice lessons or finding a sacred harp sing... a friendly setting where I can disappear behind a lot of other voices if I need to, and hopefully sing louder as I get comfortable.

The other thing I'm thinking about doing is checking out the local open mic scene, just as an observer to start with; partly to see what the level of talent is ("Hey, I could sing as well as that guy!") but also to maybe establish some of that sense of community; if I find out there's a pretty regular crowd (both audience and performers) I think it will eventually be a lot less intimidating to contemplate getting up on stage and trying it myself, at least if the event has a healthy supportive vibe.
posted by usonian at 1:58 PM on March 31, 2014

I've always been really, really super-shy about singing in front of other people as well. I could sing in choirs just fine (and did so all through high school), but a solo? Forget it.

Voice lessons as part of my acting studio training helped with that a lot; it was group lessons in a non-judgemental environment, with each one of us having a turn each week but all of us there in class every week, so I was with a bunch of people who were all in the same boat so I didn't feel quite so alone. I also got to hear the people who weren't quite as full-voiced as I was, and got to see that sometimes, even if their voice wasn't so hot, if they jumped in with all their heart it was really awesome anyway. (One of the most atonal guys in our class once floored us all when he did "Mr. Cellophane" one day, and spontaneously broke out into full-on Bob Fosse choreography as he was doing it, and it was awesome.)

Karaoke also does the same thing - usually everyone there is a little drunk, and it's just for a goof so no one's taking it too seriously, and people are inclined to love you if you really try to sell it, even if you're awful. And it's such a rush if people look at you and you can tell they're thinking, "wow, they're actually good."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

My answer is booze + karaoke, it's what worked for me (as a not-great but not totally singer who used to be fatally shy about singing in front of people but really likes to sing a whole lot). You kind of just have to...decide you're going to do it?
posted by SoftRain at 2:00 PM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take a class. Look for a folk school or community college class.
posted by amandabee at 2:18 PM on March 31, 2014

1) Voice lessons - you have to sing in front of another human, and s/he will explain to you the mechanics of what makes your voice work well. Knowing the techniques can help you push through a lot of anxiety. I know of voice teachers in NYC who are specifically focused on people who have exactly your issue - perhaps there are options for your area as well.

2) But if you want to try something less expensive first, just breathe. Take in a nice big breath and sing out on that breath. A big breath does not have to mean a big sound.

3) Look for singing or harmony classes in your area. My local class is super friendly and welcoming, and I think that helps a lot of shy singers.

4) Or look for any group singing situation - church (pews or choirs), singalongs, etc. where you can sit and listen, and then quietly sing and hear how you fit in with the other singers and ease into singing more loudly.

Music belongs to everyone and you have just as much of a right to make it as anyone else. Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 2:18 PM on March 31, 2014

This is totally normal, and a very common thing. Singing is a very physical act. Learning to sing is about learning how to manipulate your body to produce sound. Stress can also be very physical. So when you're stressed (via anxiety) your body changes, and with a different body, everything you've learned about singing goes out the window. I work with many singers, and I don't know of a single one who didn't deal with this exact issue at some point.

The solution is pretty straight forward. Work with a vocal coach. Explain that you sing well along but not in front of a group. They'll know what to do. In short, it's a combination of reducing stress, mitigating some of the physical changes that happen under stress, and learning to sing given the physical changes.
posted by ericc at 2:25 PM on March 31, 2014

I sang well until I was about fifteen. Then I had a simply awful experience in high school with a music teacher who had no vocal training, and pressured me to sing material that was totally inappropriate for my vocal range. I am talking beyond "tessitura," I mean, I would be expected to belt notes that were in my whistle register! I lost my voice from the abuse, and developed horrible stage fright after having my voice give out.

Similarly, I think a lot of people think they can't sing, because their idea of what a singer is has been polluted by the crap that passes for entertainment (e.g. "The Voice" and "American Idol"). Adam Lambert is a hell of a singer, and so is Kelly Clarkson, but if you can't belt like him or have her range, that doesn't mean you can't absolutely entertain or enchant an audience. Look at Jim Croce or Johnny Cash. Fantastic singers who can wring all kinds of emotions out of their listeners, but they do not have Freddie Mercury's pipes. That's OK!

You might have a very solid voice but be disappointed because you can't sing some other song that's in a key *not* suited for your voice. I think most people would agree that Enya has a lovely voice, but she has a relatively small range for a singer - less than 2 octaves. Or maybe you have a voice that is suited for long phrasing - long notes - but have trouble singing a song that is more of a "colortura" style - with fluttery notes. Or vice versa. So look into that with a vocal coach or teacher.

What got me back was going on stage and doing karaoke. And practicing public speaking - doing Toastmasters and taking every opportunity to stand up in front of other people. Go join a barbershop group like the Sweet Adelines or a choir. Find a local club if you can, that hosts "sessions" and singalongs. Go to an open mike with some friends and try a song or two.

Understand that before her diagnosis of Parkinsons (she can't sing at all now), Linda Ronstadt - one of the best voices of her generation - admitted worry about whether she could make her performances sound good. The key is to sing, enjoy singing, and get more experience under your belt.
posted by mitschlag at 3:15 PM on March 31, 2014

I want to desperately hang with you again.

Shall we plan a karaoke evening where we do a duet? Surely you would not make me look bad!

But in reality, safety in numbers. And sing like you dance -- who cares whose listening?
posted by zizzle at 3:20 PM on March 31, 2014

Read Anansi Boys, there is a character just like you in it that gets over his fear. Also it's hilarious.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:23 PM on March 31, 2014

Does it help to embrace your clear awareness that this is an anxiety thing rather than a talent thing? If so, set up a sock puppet to post songs here, even if they suck. Especially if they suck. Get used to the idea of just doing it and moving I to the next one. It's a start anyway.
posted by davejay at 4:28 PM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a similar issue. It's plagued me for...I'm not sure how many years now, I can't quite remember when my ability to sing in front of people totally dribbled away into a physical impossibility. I handwave it away in front of old friends (who knew me to be less shy about singing) by explaining that sure, I can sing, but I'm just not much of a performer. In fact, though, my voice goes all thin and stiff and I start choking on it.

I'm finally, finally starting to get over it. Slowly.

First, it was realizing that physiologically, this is a straightforward anxiety reaction: I'm cutting off my air with poor breath support and tightened neck muscles. Now, knowing that doesn't mean that it's as easy as saying to myself "oh, just relax and breathe" to have my voice come swelling out again, but it does help me break things down better intellectually. Personally, I had kind of a meh experience with an Alexander Technique person, but if you've got a good practitioner in your area, this might be something to look into.

Second, it was acknowledging exactly how the lack of being able to sing is affecting my quality of life. For me, the big lightbulb was that singing is viscerally, physically pleasurable for me.

Thirdly, practicing fluttering those rusty wings in really safe, low-pressure, no-expectation situations. First was motley group-singing situations like pub-sings, shanty sing-a-longs, etc. I moved on to being able to sing in front of my partner to favorite music sometimes, but really only in the car, especially if we've got windows down.

(Honestly, no offense to those suggesting karaoke and getting drunk and such, but to me, that's as voice-chokingly-terrifying as being thrown into a dark lake to cure a fear of drowning.)
posted by desuetude at 7:38 PM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to have your problem.
While I could second all the "karaoke plus booze" suggestions, I'm gonna tell you the way that I overcame it.
Sing in a car with a trusted friend. Sing along with the stereo, at first, if it helps. It's even easier if the both of you sing along with something that neither of you take too seriously, but that's still fun to sing.
But just singing in front of one person is a great way to start opening it up, because there's only that one person, and they're not going to judge you too harshly.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:41 PM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Must we acknowledge emails?   |   I want the mayor to send my group a letter... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.