Most people wish that they could sing well. There are very few people who wouldn’t like to improve the quality of their singing voice. Even professional singers are interested in further improving their voices.

So many times I have heard people say “I would love to be able to sing, if only I had a good voice”. To these people I say, the singing voice is just another musical instrument. Anybody can learn to play this instrument. Well, almost anybody. There are a very few people who have damaged vocal chords who are unable to sing. Fortunately this is a rare condition.

There are others who believe that they are tone deaf. A surprisingly common belief. True tone deafness is a very rare neurological condition. A person who is clinically tone deaf is unable to appreciate music at all because they cannot distinguish variations in pitch. For these people it is a waste of time going to a concert, because the music is just heard as noise. Most people who believe they are tone deaf, just haven’t yet learned how to play their voice instrument.

One might ask the question, if it’s just a matter of learning how to play the voice instrument, why aren’t there more good singers? Is the voice instrument so hard to learn? The answer is, no it isn’t. The voice instrument is easier to learn to play than many other instruments. The reason that people shy away from learning the voice instrument is partly cultural and partly individual.

The cultural part has a lot to do with being Australian. Singing is not accepted as a normal thing that everyone should do. The attitude is very different in the cultures of say Wales or Papua New Guinea or the Pacific islands to our north east. Australians have a cultural cringe about singing.

In my book titled “Holistic Singing and Toning – Developing voice power for healing and enjoyment”, I describe how many children lose confidence in their voice before the time they have finished school. I liken the journey of learning how to sing as being similar to a boxing match with many rounds and judges for every round. The various rounds are the stages of growth from the womb to maturity. At each stage, if the voice is not properly nurtured, the child will tend to lose interest in learning how to sing.

There are a few among us who have gifted voices who can come through these various rounds relatively unscathed. But people with an average or not so good voice will usually be given plenty of negative feedback. This will help them develop a negative attitude towards their voice. The part on charge of maintaining this negative attitude is called the “Inner Critic”. The “Inner Critic” is the part that tries to protect us from making a fool of ourselves. It will say things like, “You have a horrible voice” or “You will be humiliated if you sing in front of others”. The motivation of the inner critic is usually to protect us from the shame and humiliation resulting from the adverse criticisms of others.

The “inner critic” is a concept developed by Hal and Sidra Stone (Stone 1993) as part of their “Voice Dialogue” theoretical framework. With voice dialogue, Hal and Sidra have presented the idea that we are made up of many parts called selves. These selves are subconscious psychological subsystems that play a role in how we think and behave. The inner critic is one such self.

Quite often, the inner critic does it’s job too well. An overly developed inner critic can be out of touch with the real world. It can produce a strong fear, or even a terror of singing where no such fear is justified.

When I work with people to improve their voice quality and confidence, I usually find that they underestimate the quality of their voice. It is not unusual for people to say that they are tone deaf or have a horrible voice. More often than not I find that the quality of their voice is much better than they think it is. Sometimes I find that people who say they have a horrible voice really have a quite pleasant voice.

The inner critic has gone overboard. Sometimes it can take quite a lot of therapy to help a person develop a realistic view of the quality of their voice. Therapy is only effective if it reaches the inner critic in such a way that this part is able to change the way it sees things.

Once a person learns to really hear their voice free of extreme negative judgements, they can learn to fine tune the voice instrument. Then there is no stopping them. They can really learn to sing.

In my book I give advice and guidance on how to deal with an overactive inner critic and how to develop the confidence to enjoy singing. The journey is to discover your natural voice. You can only do this when the out of date inhibitions and negative judgements are removed.

People who make this journey of growth and discovery learn the joys of singing. They change from having butterflies in the tummy to flying with the butterflies.

reference: Stone Hal and Sidra (1993) “Embracing Your Inner Critic”. Harper San Francisco