What’s Holding Me Back from Singing

Singing is such a vulnerable thing.  Born-good singers may not appreciate this but there are people out there who’d rather dance naked publicly than sing.  Even when they are great, singers seem most sensitive and very particular about their voice.

I love to sing but it’s been a struggle for me all my life.  What I love is vocal harmonies — from Bon Jovi to Midnight Oil to Queen to now SHEL, many of my favorite bands have a few singers, their voices blending together to create a particular sound.  But when I sing, I always felt that by default it’s not good.  What others make it seem so effortless hasn’t been that in my case.  When it’s your own voice, you can tell every mangled word, flat notes, and distracting lip noises.

When I sing to myself I like to try and sing high.  That’s like a dream of every male singer — to be able to hit soaring high notes.  I now accept the fact that I’m a baritone at heart and my better vocal sounds are low in my range, but that still doesn’t prevent me from the intensity of hitting high notes — there’s just something about it that feels very engaging, precisely because it’s hard.

But there’s always something forced about it.  I have had experiences where I’m recording my own singing and I’m trying hard to emote, to put my feeling in my singing, only to play back what I just sang and realize it’s not coming through.  It’s like there’s a blockage, a wall between my heart and what comes out of my mouth.

Anyway, yesterday I was trying to hit high notes and failing miserably, and that brought up a strong feeling of shame and embarrassment.  I wasn’t singing to anyone so there’s nobody there to judge me.  I was the one listening and feeling ashamed all by myself.  It was so strong that I felt an urge to cry.

This morning I was reflecting on that, and a different experience flashed in my head.  I was around 13 and in school, I was standing in front of my class and something happened where I cried in front of the whole class.  A strong sense of embarrassment and shame came over me.

I don’t know if that experience is the root of it, but apparently I have an emotional backlog of public humiliation.  It got imprinted in me so that baring my feeling is unacceptable.  I can’t even do it when I’m by myself.

A mental blockage like that is a critical failure for a musician — when we perform, what we need to do above all else is to bare our soul and express our feelings.  Perhaps the reason I’m drawn to music is precisely because I am blocked there — we tend to gravitate toward activities that trigger our emotional backlog, so that we have opportunities to work through them.

As uncomfortable as it feels, I now know that this is a positive step, to experience strong feelings come up.  If I embrace these feelings and feel them fully, then eventually I’ll be over it.  I am not saying that I’ll be able to hit high notes when the mental blockage is removed, at least not right away — because that is a skill one needs to develop.  But with the blockage gone, the road is now clear for that learning.

If you ever feel stuck in whatever you’re pursuing, the chances are there is an emotional backlog built up there.  What may be a minor setback, it may not even be a setback at all, can seem like a major rejection and discouragement.  I’ve wanted to sing high and play the guitar fast, two things I’ve been wanting to do for many years and still can’t do consistently if at all.  My guess is that many of us have pursuits like that, where you want something but you somehow can’t get it.

The key to break through is to feel the feelings that come up when they do without judgment.  Throw a private tantrum, give yourself permission to wallow.  Do keep in mind that that’s just a feeling, it isn’t and doesn’t have to be a reflection of reality.  Then after the feeling subsides, you pick it back up and keep going.  If more feelings come up, stop and feel them again.

Repeat that process, and sooner or later we’ll remove those roadblocks.  We’ll reclaim our innate power to be and learn anything.  A sense of freedom, free from the baggages, is on the other side.  That’s available to us all, if we stop avoiding these uncomfortable feelings.