Sometimes an adult who takes singing lessons with me in Marin says she hasn’t been practicing because she hasn’t felt like it. I must admit that there are many times when I have felt the same way. And, I believe this is normal. But I also believe that delving into why this inertia occurs, especially if it happens a lot, can teach us about our relationship to our singing art and, especially, about ourselves.
There are probably multiple personal reasons why people don’t feel like singing, but I’ll mention a few that are more specific to singing – our health, our technique, our repertoire and singing in our community. Other reasons, which I won’t go into, might be the intensity of one’s job, financial or family/social problems, lack of a practice space or practice tools (recordings of warmups if you’re not a pianist) and fear of bothering the neighbors.
Let’s face it. When we don’t feel well, we probably don’t feel like singing. Singing takes energy and if you are super-tired or achy, it’s likely you won’t want to make the effort. Chronic issues, such as back or leg pain, allergies or general malaise especially can pose challenges to a practice session. That’s why taking care of oneself is so important because if we don’t, poor health can interfere with our wanting to do something that will make us feel better! Got that? Have you ever gone to a yoga class feeling like you can’t even lift a leg? Or chosen to take a walk even though you’re pooped. Do it and little by little, the energy comes. Singing is like that. I find that I may be tired and don’t want to practice but then, after a few warmups, as the breath energy starts to flow, my inertia disappears. I support anything that helps us to do the practice session. If your lower back hurts, sit on a tall stool and get the weight off the legs or warm up lying on the floor. We learn a lot about vocal support that way. Or, if your allergies kick in, acknowledge you won’t have the best sound but sing anyway (unless you’re hoarse, then don’t.) Moving energy using the breath lifts spirits.
A few years ago, I didn’t feel like singing at all and much of it had to do with my voice not working so well. I wasn’t sure if the changes were hormonal because of menopause or technical. Then I found a great teacher and, guess what? They were technical. Admittedly, I love vocal technique, learning about how the voice works best and what’s happening when it doesn’t. So, my inquiring mind got me to the piano to sing and explore what I was learning. But, when you haven’t quite mastered your technique, practicing can be like beating one’s head against the wall. However, it is through the practice that we have break-throughs. If this is your case, take one aspect of the voice that interests you – perhaps it’s the placement of the tongue or the energy of the body – and create a practice session just on that. Even though it might not feel like a successful session because you’re only working on part of the vocal instrument, not the whole, in the long run it will benefit the whole voice. Every little bit counts toward vocal improvement.
Next, I can’t say enough about singing what you love to sing. In the past, voice teachers would have students sing only classical art songs because that is a way to learn nice, open vowels and flowing vocal lines. However, times have changed, and I believe one can find a way to teach those technical skills using all kinds of vocal styles. I sang a lot of opera arias and art songs, which were lovely and challenging, but my heart lies in singing more contemporary spiritual songs or specific musical theater. I say chose what you love to sing and put aside the rest. If you don’t know what you want to sing, which I know some people don’t, go with what makes you “feel” an emotion. Or, your voice teacher may have suggestions that fit your abilities. Singing can be cathartic. If you’re feeling inertia, you may just need to pull out a goofy or emotional song to inspire you. It might not fit your voice style but, hey, no one’s going to report you to the voice police!
And, lastly, there are definitely folks who only sing when they have a project. There’s nothing like getting cast in a show or having an upcoming concert to get you inspired and to the practice studio. That’s OK too. (Nothing like a little fear of embarrassing oneself to get us going!) I see this trait mostly with non-professional singers or folks that have lots of different interests and talents. Professional singers or amateur singers who are very disciplined or active on-stage tend to never forgo their practice session. If you fall in the former category, it behooves us (now, THERE’S a word) to acknowledge and accept this about ourselves.
The last thing we want as singers, especially when we are spending money on voice lessons, is to create negative energy and guilt around practicing our art. Trying to answer the question “Why am I not singing?” can be invaluable. It can lead us to answers like: “I don’t like singing classical music.” Or “My body is aging, and I don’t like it.” Or even “I just want to sing and not necessarily work on technique.” All these answers are valid. The big question is “What are you going to do about it?” It’s the answer to that that takes courage and can lead us deeper into our true selves.