Fear and Singing: Yes, you look silly.


November 19, 2013

If your reading habits are like mine and tend toward skimming, let me give you the goods to this post right off the top so that I’m certain you’ll walk away with some useful info: In singing, the shape of your mouth influences the quality of your sound.

Basic, right? Look, I never said my teaching was earth shattering, but I might be so bold as to say that if you really take this idea to heart, it can be transformative in your singing, no matter where you are in the game.

Let’s explore it right now. I’d like for you to sing on any pitch a very simple “ee” vowel. Go ahead and give it a try.

Oh, what, you don’t want to because you feel silly? Take inventory of that feeling because we’re going to talk about it more in a minute.

C’mon! “eeeeeeee”

Now, while you’re sustaining this sound slowly change the shape of your lips to an “oo” vowel as though you are sucking on a straw, still keeping your teeth and tongue in the shape they were when you began singing “ee.”

What do you notice? Did you hear a shift from a brighter sound to a darker sound? Was nasality introduced? There is no right or wrong answer to this, I just want you to think through what you heard.

I’m not with you right now, but I’m going to assume that you heard some change in the sound you were making. I might also suggest that if you spent some time doing this exercise, examining the quality of the “ee,” you might arrive at a sound that you liked the best. You can file this under things only singers think about. “What is my best “ee”?”

Quick side note: Vowels are the meat to our sandwich – or tofu if you’re a vegetarian. Good singing is often associated with extended vowel sounds as we navigate our way from word to word. Vowels are where we truly #SING where consonants are where we shift and transition. Does that make sense?

With that in mind, what implication might this little experiment have for your singing as a whole? I’m being serious. If you dig in, could there be a best mouth shape for “ah?” “oh?” etc.? Umm, yea. In fact, I would bet many of the singers you like the best know their best “ah,” “oh,” and “oo” and you know what else? They ain’t afraid to put their mouth in the shape required to make it… but many of us are.

Remember earlier when I called you out on feeling silly? Can we dig into that for just a second? If you’re like many of the singers I’ve worked with, you’re probably most concerned in that moment about how you look. I can’t tell you the number of times in voice lessons, I suggest a singer consider a mouth shape that may improve their sound only to have them move in that direction minimally, at best - followed shortly thereafter by a self-conscious giggle. I then demonstrate and encourage. Sometimes I implore! Often uncovering similar results.

Smells like fear, right? And you know what, I get it. None of us want to look foolish, but I have some news that is going to be both disappointing and freeing.

You do, in fact look silly. Yes, you look silly.

Gah! I knoowwwww. Time to quit voice lessons. *drops microphone*

Not so fast. You’re not the only one! If opening your mouth and going for it looks silly, we all look silly. In fact, it’s not just you and me, but our favorite singers (the ones who know their best “oo” and “ah”) look silly, too.

I put a call out on Facebook for people to share their favorite vocalists. Below are some of the singers they named and some visual examples I grabbed from YouTube. I’d like for you to take a look at the image and imagine what the sound is like. Then, if you’ve got the time, click the image to go to the video and watch. See what you hear.

Tim said: Jeff Buckley

Katie B. said: Erykah Badu

Mario said: Carlos Gardel

Katie W. said: Mika

Carol said: Linda Rondstadt

Lisa said: Emma Kirkby

Do you need more? Here’s yours truly at his wonkiest.

Extreme, right? Big mouth shapes. Some silly, silly expressions. But what do you think of the sound? I mean overall, these people are your favorites (Ok, ok, me excluded.) and they sound pretty good!

So, the question remains: In those moments, where those singers were going for it the most, do you think they were afraid of looking silly? Let, me answer that for you. NO! 

Dude. It’s risky. Singing is risky. But, with great risk comes… you know the rest. In this case, the specific risk might be opening your mouth without the fear of how it looks and noticing the results. Having trouble doing so? Channel your inner Jeff Buckley. Channel Ms. Badu! Close your eyes, and imagine yourself as Mika! What do you hear?

The reward? Maybe, just maybe, and only after a few tries, you’ll find a better sound than the one you started with. That’s what we all want, right?

comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe via RSS

Resources and Friends

Technique & Pedagogy
Somatic Voicework
Richard Miller 
William Vennard
Cornelius Reid

Chicago Laryngologists
Dr. H. Steve Simms
Dr. Aaron Friedman

Speech Pathologists
Kate Devore
Jan Potter Reed

Alexander Technique
John Henes

Four Hands Massage

Ann Latinovich

Chicago Auditions
League of Chicago Theatres
Theatre in Chicago
Chicago Artists Resource

Chicago Acting and Improv Classes
Act One
Acting Studio Chicago
Actor's Talent Group
The Artistic Home
Black Box
Green Shirt Studio
The Green Room
Improv Olympics
Second City

Chicago Choral Groups
CSO Chorus
Grant Park Chorus
Music of the Baroque
William Ferris Chorale
Bella Voce
Apollo Chorus
Lakeside Singers
Schola Antiqua
Chicago Choral Artists

Sheet Music
Sheet Music Plus
Music Notes
Hal Lenoard
Music Minus One
Download Music Minus One

Rehearsal  and Karaoke Tracks
Practice Tracks 
Pianos Tracks for Musicals
Audition Trax
MP3 Accompanist
Your Accompanist
Opera Karaoke
Sunfly Karaoke


Recent Entries

Announcement: VOXUS, A Team Building Experience
Listen: Davin sings Make You Feel My Love
Listen: Missy Wise sings Moments in the Woods
Announcement: Chicago Circle Singing at Davin Youngs Voice
Announcement: Meet our new studio assistant, Taylor Snooks
Practicing Singing: Trusting the process and the art of sticking to it
Announcement: Intro to singing through improvisation with Alison Wedding
Announcement: Musical Theatre Audition Workshop with Missy Wise
Announcement: Meet our new voice associate, Alison Wedding
Announcement: Open MIC | House - June 22, 5:30 - 8:30pm
Announcement: Open Mind / Open Body: connecting the voice community through Science + Sound
NEWS: one-year DYV-iversary! - Missy Wise
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 22
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 21
NEWS: 2014 A Year in Review
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 20
How to successfully give and get online voice lessons
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 19
Acting & Performance: The gift of curiosity - Kathryn Bartholomew
Singing & Performance: Growth & Authenticity - Missy Wise
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 18
Announcement: December Sessions Posted
Journal: Leave your baggage at the door. - Jeanne Nemcek
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 17
Singing & Performance: “I used to sing, but…”
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 16
Announcement: Creating a Character an Acting Workshop with Kathryn Batholomew
Singing & Performance: We’re all in this together! - Missy Wise
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 15
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 14
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 13
Announcement: “So, you like to #SING?” Voice Technique Workshop
Practicing Singing: Three things we need to do more of
Practicing Singing: Am I getting any better?
Announcement: Singer / Songwriter Workshop
News: Back to WGN with Patti Vasquez
News: Davin Youngs Voice on WGN Radio with Pete McMurray
Performance: Davin sings It’s Hard To Speak My Heart from Parade
Announcement: “I can #SING that! (Where song and technique meet.) Workshop
Journal: Somatic Voicework™, The LoVetri Method & My Voice Story
Singing & Performance: The Power of Stillness - Missy Wise
Journal: Davin + Missy @ NATS 2014 National Conference in Boston
Announcement: And the WINNER is…
Announcement: Kathryn Bartholomew, Acting Associate at Davin Youngs Voice
News: Davin Youngs Voice on Monocle Radio’s “The Entrepreneurs”
Announcement: Singing Technique Workshop, July 20, 3-5pm
Announcement: Win a 3-day pass to the Pitchfork Music Festival
Announcement: Meet our SINGtern - Linling Navarro
Technique & Singing: What You Should Expect of your Voice Teacher
News: Davin Youngs Voice on WCIU You & Me This Morning
Announcement: Meet our SINGtern - Jeanne Nemcek
Singing & Performance: What if singing were easy? - Missy Wise
DYV on the Town: A safe space to share your voice
Announcement: Monologue Workshop, May 31st, 11am -1pm
Announcement: We’re heading back to Davenport’s!
Fear & Singing: Why it can be so right to be wrong
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 12
Announcement: We’re Hiring (again!)
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 11
Announcement: Davin Youngs Voice Intern
Performance: Missy Wise sing Maybe This Time from Cabaret
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 10
APRIL FOOLS: Student Spotlight Interview No. 10
DYV On the town: Davin Youngs Voice invades Davenport’s Piano Bar
Announcement: #SING it’s #SPRING
News: Davin Youngs Voice - Hidden Yelp! Reviews
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 9
Performance: Missy sings Brave by Sara Bareilles
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 8
Journal: Confessions of a Voice Teacher and/or Finding our Authentic Voice
Performance: Davin & Missy sing Say Something
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 7
Practing Singing: Stuck inside? Why not #SING?
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 6
Announcement: Someone to introduce you to!
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 5
New Years Resolutions: #SING
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 4
Announcement: Fine Arts Building, Open Studios - December 13
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 3
Fear and Singing: Yes, you look silly.
Announcement: We’re Hiring!
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 2
Fear and Singing: What are we all afraid of?
DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 1
Singing & Performance: You were born to sing.