Strong emotions can emerge in voice lessons. Deal with them so you can move ahead with your life… and your singing –says Hannah Northedge.
Have you ever felt really embarrassed in a singing lesson for bursting into tears mid song and not being able to rationalize why?
Have you ever felt like offering to pay your vocal coach more money to act as your counselor too?!
Our voice is a pathway to the essence of who we are, it’s no surprise when we feel vulnerable in singing lessons.
The most common factors behind an emotional response are lyrics, vocal quality, event-association, and the workings of our nervous system. Find out more about these here.
What to Do when It Happens
A few singers have confided in me that they find the lessons better than counseling.
This is flattering but although I consider myself highly empathetic, I have to maintain a professional boundary because I am not a qualified therapist.
When a student is overcome with emotion, I sit them down with a cup of tea and we have a chat so they can try to process what invoked such an strong emotional response.
Some of them tell me the reasons in intimate detail; some just look mortified.
I then try to get them singing again.
I want them to work through this through their singing, encouraging the endorphins to kick so that their mood improves.
So, if you feel overwhelmed in every singing lesson, here are my suggestions for how to deal with strong emotions so you can enjoy singing without them taking over:
- Accept the emotion
Understand that this is a very common reaction and you’re not the first nor the last person this will happen to as connecting emotionally with a song is the ultimate objective as a singer to communicate with an audience. Appreciate the fact that you can “connect” so well. You can’t afford to “switch off” your emotions so they may overwhelm you at first. Allow yourself to feel that emotion and keep performing the songs that make you well up and try to sing through them until you feel that you have a better control of the performance.
- Get some support beyond your vocal coach
Respect that as comfortable as you feel with your singing teacher, they are not always going to be qualified psychotherapists or counsellors. The act of singing may make you feel like revealing personal problems because you feel safe and that is fine, but don’t be offended when your teacher doesn’t go into this in detail and may try to continue with the lesson. It would be overstepping a professional boundary for them and in essence they are paid to coach your voice. You might ask your coach for a suggestion for additional support.
- Choose songs by artists you don’t like
(“What?” I hear you cry!) If you intend to focus solely on technical workouts. One student told me who his favourite artists were and I chose songs for him to work on based on that information, but he couldn’t sing them due to the emotional attachment being so overwhelming! When I needed him to focus on specific vocal techniques I chose songs for him by artists that he wasn’t that interested in to stop the emotion getting in the way! This worked very well as he was then able to think analytically about what he was doing without getting swept up by the mood. Who knows, you might even start to like the song!
It’s not about keeping your emotions out of your singing, but about channeling them into the song without letting them cripple you.
After all, I would much rather hear a raw emotional singer over a technical singer lacking emotional connection any day. Balance of connection and control is the key.
Hannah Northedge is a pop and jazz singer, vocal coach and director of VoiceCity. One of her clients is currently supporting the band JLS and performing at the 02 Arena. Hannah has sung at Ronnie Scott’s, Wireless Festival and Abbey Road Studios. She has just conducted a choir in a film called “POSH”, has coached X Factor finalists and judged Live and Unsigned.