You’ve no doubt heard the admonitions to work harder, practice more often, and get your technique dialed to be able to sing better, and of course these things are important. However, engaging with a preference instead is an oft-neglected superskill that solves a multitude of problems. Let’s try an experiment together around concentration.
Hold up one finger and concentrate on the tip of it, blocking out everything else. Stay with this for about 15 seconds.
What happened to your breathing? What happened to your awareness of sensation in your body (aside from the fingertip)? What happened to your awareness of the room you’re in?
Now let’s try something else. Let your eyes go where they want to go, landing on something that feels comfortable or pleasurable to you, perhaps a colour or shape, or greenery outside a window, or an item you can see that has memories attached to it. Stay with that for a few moments and observe your body. (This is called ‘orientation’ in Somatic Experiencing, and it helps us recognize cues of safety.)
What happened to your breathing this time? How about your body sensation and your awareness of your environment?
I’m willing to bet that you experienced a spontaneous exhalation and felt some softening or expansion in your body along with an ability to ‘take in’ the characteristics of your environment, all without too much trouble. I’m also willing to bet that when you concentrated hard on your fingertip, your breathing all but stopped and you likely lost connection to your body and surroundings. Now imagine how those two experiences might affect your ability to sing! Easier breathing, softer muscles, and a sense of grounding in the environment all help us to access vocal freedom. Paradoxically, concentrating hard on a task can rob us of the exact things we need to sing well and might even trigger a fight-or-flight response.
The next time you find yourself frustrated about your voice not working the way you’d like, give your eyes a moment to exercise their preference about where they’d like to rest, and notice how your body might become softer and more available, and your breathing easier. Let me know how it goes!