Have you ever heard a recording of yourself singing played back to you and thought, “Do I actually sound like that?” It’s not uncommon for beginning, even professional singers, to have this experience. In fact, it’s normal for people to be conflicted about the way their voice sounds.
For just a moment, think back to when you were a kid. Could you recognize your parent’s voice from across the hall? Or a friend calling your name from the other side of the playground? We hear voices in our heads in a very unique and individual way, which allows us to pair a voice with a face. But what about hearing our own voices?
What’s special about hearing our voices is hearing the vibrations throughout our heads. The bones in our skull vibrate when we sing, causing a resonation in our bodies. Many instruments, including the body, have resonant spaces to create the timbre (or one-of-a-kind sound) that makes that instrument unique. But what’s interesting about our voice is that our timbre is created through our voice passing through the air and our voice passing through our skulls.
Inside the ear, the cochlear takes sound from the outside world and makes it into an electrical signal that transfers to the brain. Small hairs that line the cochlear react to different frequencies of sound. These hairs, over time, become tired of the same sounds. So naturally, these hairs become tired of hearing your voice.
Our ear is very good at disregarding the sounds that are made naturally by our bodies (i.e., the sound of our teeth hitting together when we chew, the rush of our blood coursing through our veins.) So while, on the one hand, we hear our voice all the time, we also tune ourselves out on the regular. It’s kinda funny to know that we even ignore ourselves sometimes.
So, yes, many singers hate their voice. But not because they sound bad; rather, they are not used to the sound. If you were expecting chocolate milk but actually took a sip of Coca-Cola, you might be surprised but not necessarily disappointed. It’s the same idea with your voice. Just because you’re expecting one sound and you don’t get it, it doesn’t mean that sound is automatically bad.
Vocal health is very important. Part of the reason you may dislike your voice might be simply because your voice is unhealthy. An unhealthy voice can lead to a lifetime of problems.
So, let’s start at the very beginning.
Before we even sing a note, what do we do? We breathe. And many times, the breath we take in is not sufficient enough to get us through any given musical phrase. We might breathe quickly and tense up our shoulders when in actuality, a good singing breath comes from our lower abdominal muscles.
Place your two thumbs on your belly button, and allow the rest of your hand to fall naturally on your stomach. Now, take a deep breath as if you were about to sing. Did your shoulders move? Or upper chest? None of that should happen. A good singing breath comes from your diaphragm, and you should be able to feel your abdomen expand against your hands when you breathe in if you did this exercise correctly.
After you breathe, then you sing! Hooray!
But many people that aren’t trained to sing properly will tilt their heads up too far, as if they are yelling, in order to sing. This causes straining on the vocal cords and, generally, lots of tongue tension.
Part of good vocal health is listening to your voice. If it’s hurting, maybe don’t shout at that baseball game later tonight. Try not to cough or clear your throat. Putting more strain on your vocal folds when trying to heal can be detrimental to one’s vocal health.
Posture is also very important when singing. If you are slouched over and trying to sing, you probably won't sound as good as if you are standing up tall, shoulders back and down, and singing straight ahead with a good breath. Think about how you’re carrying your instrument. For a singer, our body is our instrument. Therefore we must treat it with care.
Staying hydrated is vital to protecting your instrument. Drinking water is the best medicine for your voice. Avoid using things like a throat coat or numbing spray to distract yourself from the problem; rather, just drink as much water as you can to keep your voice from becoming unhealthy.
According to the Vocal Health Center at the University of Michigan, your diet, physical fitness, and getting a good night’s sleep can help you maintain vocal health.
Keeping your voice healthy will likely help you like the sound of your voice overall. If you realize that you only hate your voice because it’s unhealthy, then maybe try the above steps to help you find your voice.
Many people take years to find their voice to be bearable to listen to. Others will get used to their voice fairly quickly. I am a collegiate voice student at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Here are my tips on getting used to your voice.
Use your voice! If you truly love to sing, or even speak for that matter, do it. The more you use your voice, the more you will get used to how it sounds. You’re never gonna sound good to yourself if you never use your voice.
Everyone, and I mean everyone who sings should take voice lessons. Not only will voice lessons make you sound more mature and help your voice grow but you will be forced to practice listening to your own voice. If singing is paint, then let voice lessons be the paintbrush that guides you to create a masterpiece.
Your voice is a gift. And it belongs to only you. Like physical attractiveness, the way you hear your voice is subjective. You may not like your voice, but use these techniques to help yourself learn to love your voice. It’s almost a form of self-care. Wake up every day and say, out loud (so you can hear your voice,) “I love my voice.” Speak it into reality.
So don’t hate your voice. Learn to accept its individual sound, and always, always, keep practicing.