Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fear, Anxiety, Self-Confidence & Singing

Have you ever noticed that people who sing are often happier, less anxious, and have a greater sense of who they are? It turns out that singing is one of the most effective ways of transforming even the most timid person into an autonomous, self-assured, and confident person.

The Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler proposed that we have two selves; our real self and our ideal self. Many of us dream about achieving the ideal self (our goals, aspirations, and desires -the person whom we dream of becoming). We fail to achieve these goals due to fear and anxiety.

Adler claimed that we could actually feel inferior to ourselves if we do not confront, work towards, and achieve our ideal self. When one gives up on their dreams, Adler felt, they give up on themselves, and sometimes sink into a depressed inferiority complex. Those who work towards their ideal self gain a sense of confidence, while those who fearfully turn away from their goals suffer from a sense of depression and feelings of inferiority.

Professional music teachers know this well: playing an instrument can transform a timid student into a  self-assured individual. No other musical instrument does this as naturally as the voice!

Alfred Adler
College students are required to take a course in public speaking. Like singing, a speech is a performance that requires training, practice, and mastery of the voice. In my  public speaking courses I encourage students to speak with confidence, presence, articulation, and accuracy. It will come as no surprise when I tell you that my best public speaking students have a background in music.

I believe that one of the most successful cures for issues of self-esteem, lack of confidence, and inferiority is singing. The person's body is their instrument. It requires an intimate understanding, acceptance, and utilization of every breath and sound. Singing is an act of the entire body, a pure act of the self.
Here are a few exercises that you can do to experience the transformative power of singing*

1. Find a secluded, safe, and resonant (alive) place to sing. Go there daily and allow your voice to glide: Soft whispers with increasing crescendos into powerful thunderstorms! Find the perfect place to sing. Your place to sing. Arthur Garfunkel once described a certain brick archway (in Central Park) that he would visit daily to sing under.
2. Sing with a piano, carefully resonating with the tones that you play. This will improve your intonation, your listening skills, and your sensitivity to others. 
3. Sing in your own voice, not someone else's. If you try to sound like Nina Simone, you will sound like a cheap imitation of Nina Simone. Only you can authentically do you
4. Watch your body in a mirror while singing. Do you have a visual presence that conveys calm, self-assuredness? 
5. Sing for others and become excellent at hearing their critiques for improvement. Norman Vincent Peale once said, "Most of us would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism." Don't make this mistake!

*Adapted from "You, The Singer," by Barbara Harlow (1985).