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I hate the sound of my voice!

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

When one of my guitar students didn't want to sing in front of me, I knew it wasn't because she was shy. There was something else holding her back.

One of my guitar students had been studying with me for a while, but I could never get her to sing along when she was showing me what she’d learned. One day, I decided to dig a little deeper and find out why. “I don’t like my voice,” she said. “I don’t sing nicely.” When I asked her why she thinks she doesn’t sing well, she said, “Because my brothers told me I suck.”

“According to whose criteria?” I asked. I showed her some videos of two leading local artists, both very talented songwriters and performers. Neither would probably pass the blind test in The Voice. The one has a very nasal voice, first made famous by one of the world’s most prolific and profound songwriters, Bob Dylan. The other, thanks to years of heavy smoking, has lost the vocal sweetness of her early youth – and her voice sometimes wavers on the border of being out of tune. None of it matters. Their work touches people’s hearts. Their music is part of the Israeli soundtrack, sung by millions. Their words defined a generation.

I pointed out to her that the many of songs she's chosen to learn aren't in her vocal range, while others are vocally challenging, the kind that requires serious vocal chops. While it’s possible that she may reach that level if she goes to lessons with a serious vocal coach, is that her goal? When she sees herself singing, where is she and what is she doing? Not on The Voice as it turns out. She just wanted to be able to jam with friends. And maybe even play some songs for her family, without worrying about being shamed into silence.

It was time to take a different approach. Putting aside the guitar, I chose a beat on a drum phone app and started singing “doo wah,” inviting her to join in. We sang it just about every way we could. Fast. Slow. Like an opera song. Like a rap. At first, she was a little resistant. But after a while, she got it, moving to the beat, and allowing herself to let go and be silly.

And then we moved onto more nonsense words. Just letting loose and warbling away. It cracked us up. Best of all, she was laughing and enjoying herself. That’s what I wanted her to experience. That making music can be fun!

In future lessons, we put time aside to riff on various musical ideas. It wasn’t about being singing “correctly” or being tuneful. It was about taking the voice high or low, rough or sweet. Making a whole lot of noise and not judging any of it. There’s something very powerful in taking the pressure off and having fun with the idea that you can take your voice anywhere you want. Be a bullfrog. A foghorn. A nightingale.

Over the next few weeks, she slowly opened up. Until one day, she sat down and said, “I’ve been practicing singing.” And she sang a few verses of a song. It was a special moment, because I could see that she was relaxed, felt good, and was enjoying herself.

Learning to accept your own voice and be comfortable with its own unique sound doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s an important part of your journey to self-acceptance. No one has a voice exactly like yours. We each have our own vocal signature that’s uniquely ours.

Embarking on a journey to own it, enjoy it, and use it freely and authentically is a valuable gift you can give to yourself. It ripples out from what you sing, to what you say and how you say it. It’s your voice. Use it!

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