It can be challenging as a singer not to listen to the sound of your own voice. After all, that is seemingly all you have to use as a guide and reassurance that all is well with your technique. It is extremely tempting to believe that what you hear inside your head is similar to what is heard by others. Alas… that is not the case.
Singers hear their voices through the mass of the head itself, including the skull. Others hear a singer’s voice through only the air. Thus, the internal sound the singer hears is radically different from what everyone else hears. Unless a singer understands this, accepts it on an emotional level and is given a valid, substitute guide to listening, it is easy to become attached and make decisions based on this false internal sound alone. Therefore, the sound inside a singer’s head is actually a siren singing on the rocks like to sailors of old that can lure the singer off onto the wrong path.
There are two reasons that listening can be dangerous to singers. First, you can become so self-identified with the sound that it makes it very difficult that make any positive technical changes that alter the sound. I had this happen to a baritone in my vocal studio recently. He is a young man with a lovely, lyric instrument who just started studying. In his third lesson, I worked with him on creating more vowel space in his oro-pharynx, which he was able to do very well, opening and freeing his sound a great deal. But the experience shook him to the core, because his voice sounded so different inside his head and it was no longer the voice he recognized as his own and with which he identified. For the rest of the lesson, he seemed unsure about the change and off-kilter, despite my reassurances that the sound was much better, the fact that his voice felt better and that his voice still sounded like him on a recording of his voice he made on his phone, just a stronger version. This student felt so thrown-off by the difference in his internal sound that he stopped taking lessons after that experience. So, a beautiful voice will not be developed, because his strong emotional attachment to the internal sound of his own voice was threatened.
The second way that listening can be dangerous to singers is that it can be thought it is safe to use it as a guide for working on vocal technique. If you use your own sound to determine what technical changes need to take place and listen to the change versus feeling if it is easier to sing or not, then you are likely to make changes that are actually wrong and sound worse to the outside world. The great and tragic irony of singing is that when your voice sounds rich, warm and open to you the singer, you are actually holding the sound inside and not letting it out to the rest of us. Your voice to everyone else sounds thinner, less colorful and less warm than it should. When you let all of that rich, warm and open sound come out to the audience, it sounds thinner, less colorful and less warm to you. That is why singers can not teach themselves technique like guitar players and other instrumentalists can. They need excellent, outside, trained ears to listen and to guide them.
I mentioned in a previous blog the story of a lyric soprano who has been using listening as a guide for a number of years now. She started depressing and holding down her larynx, which resulted in a more warm, colorful sound inside of her head, but sounded held and forced to everyone else. With no teacher to guide her, she continued down this path, deciding on her own that her lyric voice had changed into that of a Wagnarian soprano, because of what she heard internally. Externally, people cringed when she sang, since her voice was artificially heavy and had lost all of its beauty. No one had the heart to tell her how terrible she sounded. It was a case of being deceived by listening to her voice. It is a very sad story.
Singers need to learn to be adaptable in a number of ways. One of those is not to get attached to the internal sound they hear. In order to improve, that sound will change time and time again while their voices and techniques are developing and changing. Instead, singers need to tune into what they feel. It is only by paying close attention to sensations, refining your control of various muscle sets and learning over time feelings associated with the coordination that a singer can truly understand his or her voice and how to work on it without the teacher’s ears as guidance.
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