If you want to bump up against someone’s fear and anxiety within a couple seconds, tell them they are going to sing…in front of other people. You can see it in their widening eyes, hear that sharp inhale, and see their body stiffen. Then, they utter one of the most notorious four letter words in a typical phrase I hear as people cautiously enter the room at one of my “Songwriting for Mental Health” workshops: “I can’t sing.” The words sound almost apologetic, like a foreshadowing of expected failure, perhaps a reminder of memories and criticisms past.
It amazes me how much people associate singing and songwriting with fear (myself included sometimes). And how often I hear the phrase “I can’t” in my work. In many cultures around the world, singing is a communal activity. It’s about expression, relationships, and traditions. But in our culture, singing seems to be more about talent (whatever THAT is) and performance. And anytime you talk about things like talent and performance, terms like competition, better than, and “I can’t” tend to surface.
So one of the very first discussions I have with people in my workshops is about defining our terms. When you put a name to something, the hope is it becomes a little less scary. What I find is that many people in today’s American Idol culture think of singing in terms of entertainment. A front person for a band, on a stage, in front of lots of judging eyes. Those people are professionals or at least on their way. What I offer in my work is the opportunity to use singing as a form of expression and healing. I talk about how we use our voices all the time to express how we feel – both verbally and nonverbally.
There’s a sound healing practice called toning, which is the use of the voice (both consciously and unconsciously) for release of pain and stress and alignment of imbalanced portions of the body. Unconscious toning can include sounds such as humming, sighing, groaning, etc. Conscious toning can include holding an intention and specific sounds. Here are a couple toning exercises I use in my groups to introduce people to the idea of toning and also break through some of the “performance anxiety” they have about singing:
•Exercise 1: Breathing and Toning
oStart by taking three, slow, deep breaths.
oThen, next time you breathe out, open your mouth and let out a sigh.
oNext time you breathe out, make the sigh a little louder and a little longer. Continue a few times.
oInstruct the group to be silent so everyone can feel the energy shift in the room.
•Exercise 2: Introductions
oFor large groups:
Introduce yourself to the person on the right side of you by toning your name using one to three notes.
Tone your partner’s name back to them the same way you heard it.
Now turn to the person on your left side and repeat.
oFor small groups:
Go around the circle and allow each person to introduce themselves by toning their name to the group using one to three notes.
After each person tones their name, the group tones that person’s name back to them the same way they heard it.
And once everyone completes these exercises, I gently remind them that they CAN sing, because they just did.
Krylyn Peters is a counselor and singer/songwriter who uses the power of music and sound for healing. www.krylyn.com