We all have beloved singers that we idolize. Students come into voice lessons all the time saying things like, “I wish I could sing as low as Adele,” or “I want my falsetto to sound like Justin Timberlake’s.” I’m not immune to this either. Between you and me, if I could make myself sound like Anne Sofie von Otter, I could die happy. But I want to take a moment to identify how damaging this line of thinking can be as we seek to develop our voices.
Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. The sound of your voice is determined not just by the size and shape of your vocal folds, but also the size and shape of your entire body.
These are essentially determined at birth. Think of your voice as a lump of clay – we can mold that clay into a beautiful pot, but we can’t change the innate qualities of that clay. From a purely physiological perspective, trying to alter the way your body is put together (and how you sound) is not only futile, but it can also lead to discomfort, pain, or even injury.
We also have to consider the emotional and psychological impact of this line of thinking. If you love to sing, chances are your sound is a major part of how you self-identify. Our voices are intimate pieces of ourselves: have you ever noticed how a friend can hear when you’re upset, even if you’re trying to hide it? That’s not just because they’re a good friend. It’s because your voice is a roadmap to your heart and your mind. We transmit our deepest thoughts and feelings through our voices, even when we’re not conscious of it. Hating the sound of our own voice puts us at odds with ourselves and can lead to self-hatred, resentment, and the feeling that we are unworthy because we’re “not as good” as someone else. This is tremendously damaging to the psyche, and can often rob a singer of their passion and enthusiasm for music.
There’s a common phrase used in fitness training, “it’s you against you.” I think this is an incredibly healthy way to think about our voices (and our lives, really). Optimizing what we have, striving to be curious about it, learning to refine it, to love it, to embrace it as something unique and wonderful, – these are worthy goals. Apart from the psychological and physical issues, focusing all your attention on imitating someone else’s sound keeps you from discovering everything you are actually capable of.
You self-limit your potential by actively avoiding your own, authentic sound!
This is where voice teachers can really come to the rescue. We often need an outside perspective to help us cultivate an attitude of curiosity and joy in ourselves. Just like a personal trainer (to continue my fitness analogy), an experienced, empathetic voice teacher can show you how to maximize what you have, and help you navigate the process of finding the unique qualities of your voice that make you authentically you! Our society tells us to favor product over process, but developing your own instrument requires exactly the opposite. Great teachers provide a safe space that makes this shift possible.
Bottom line: if I wanted to hear [insert artist’s name here], I would buy their album. I want to hear YOU. And so should you! Studying voice is tough enough – let’s not sabotage ourselves by investing in the belief that we must replicate someone else to be worthy of love, praise or success. In other words, YOU DO YOU!