Why Nixing Perfectionism Will Make You a Better Singer
You're shaking, palms becoming warm and damp. You're desperately trying to convince yourself you're not nervous, that you'll ace it. But that voice listing off all the mistakes you made in the practice room is deafening.
You have one goal - to perform perfectly. And that's where it all falls apart.
It never ceases to amaze me how many singers I meet are perfectionists. It usually doesn't take me long to figure it out. They'll cringe at the slightest quiver on a note. They'll sigh heavily when a breathy tone escapes. And their whole world implodes if they're flat.
I get it. I'm in recovery myself. I was that little girl who would rip the front page of her new school book out 5 - 10 times because the handwriting wasn't neat enough and it was "ruining the whole book". Yup.
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I wrote a little about this topic in my book The Moderately Tortured Artist:
"Perfectionism is something that paralyses a lot of us. We're not willing to give something a go, take a risk, or throw our hat into the ring if there's the slightest possibility we might do it badly.
We think we're pretty clever developing such a foolproof strategy. We never have to fall flat on our face because we never try our best if it's too daunting. We're all in if we know for a fact we can do it and do it well, but otherwise... nope.
Unfortunately this mean we stay so far inside our comfort zone that we can't possibly develop and grow. We play it safe and strangle our creativity and curiousity in the process."
A few ways perfectionism can rear its head when we sing are:
- Boatloads of tension because we're trying desperately to control the sound (in all the wrong ways)
- Pushing and straining to get the sound we imagine in our heads out of our mouths
- Holding back our energy because we're afraid that if we project, our possible failure will be louder and more noticeable.
You will drive yourself crazy trying to make perfect music. There is no such thing. The beauty is in the imperfection, the emotion, the human-ness.
So you probably know your perfectionism is holding you (and your voice) back, but what can you do to start shaking it loose?
FIGURE OUT YOUR STORY
We all have a back story that led us to believe that it was the perfect way or the highway.
It can be born out of praise (only complimented when something was spot on) or criticism (believing that you're "not really a singer" or not talented enough because someone told you so).
We use perfectionism as a shield. Trying to protect ourselves from the monster under our bed - Failure. Figuring out exactly what you're running from is important.
Give this a go. Finish the following sentences:
When it comes to my voice, I don't want to be seen as .....
When it comes to my performance, I don't want people to think .....
When I sing, I don't want to feel .....
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FAIL
You might be about to close this window, throw your phone across the room or start shaking in your boots after reading that heading, but please stay with me.
I'm not asking you to deliberately tank on stage in front of hundreds of people. I'm not asking for public humiliation. But I'm asking for compassion and a little wiggle room.
Use the practice room as a space to experiment. To start removing that perfectionist armour (because let's be honest, it's heavy and you're sweating as though you're in a Bikram yoga class).
The difference in my students' voices when I ask them to "sing badly" is astounding. When they're not trying to deliberately sing off key to prove me wrong, they have a much fuller, freer sound. They let go. They feel into the music. They have more fun.
Give it a go. Turn down the volume on that incessant analysis for a moment and give yourself permission to be awful. See what happens.
PUT FEELING ABOVE LISTENING
Another crazy idea huh? As singers we are always judged on the sound of our voices and this can become problematic especially for perfectionists.
If the sound of our voice is the only thing we're measuring we tend to add a lot of tension in the body in an attempt to create the "perfect sound" we imagine in our heads. This can lead to voice fatigue, vocal health issues and a more inconsistent voice.
When you put feeling above sound in the ranks, things change. You can pinpoint tense muscles with more ease and let them go. You feel more relaxed and are more able to trust your own voice. You know your voice isn't going to tire after a few songs.
Sure, you'll want to work on creating the sound you desire, but always go from feeling first.