singers on stage using this singing tip

Counterintuitive singing tip: Stop listening (and start feeling)

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Focusing on how your singing feels rather than how it sounds can help you create a more nuanced and personal vocal performance.

“How’s my pitch?”
“Is my tone too gritty?”
“Do I need to sound breathier?”

When you’re working on vocals for your recordings or live shows, it’s easy to ask yourself a million self-critiquing questions and end up feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even paralyzed. That’s why it’s sometimes best to ignore how your singing sounds and focus only on how it feels.

I originally heard this singing tip from my father, a long-time vocalist who has sung with large and small choruses across a variety of genres. At first, the approach felt counterintuitive, but after spending time singing and paying attention only to how I felt, not how I sounded, I found the experience to be transformative.

Here are a few reasons why not listening to yourself can actually elevate your singing — and some advice on how to put the strategy into action.

Learn to trust yourself

In general, the more singing you do, the more you’ll be able to rely on muscle memory to guide you through your performance rather than having to consciously think about the process every time you open your mouth. As you put in hours singing with the singular goal of feeling relaxed, fluid, and comfortable — and not worrying about actively managing or judging any aspect of your sound — you may find yourself thinking less about the mechanics each time, which is a very good thing. The more you can make healthy singing technique a default reflex, the freer you’ll feel as a performer and artist.

Your audience hears you differently than you hear yourself

The way your ears interpret your singing in real time can be quite different from how others experience it. Even if you perform with high-quality in-ear monitors, you’re still only getting an approximation of what your audience takes in, since your monitor mix inevitably blends in with the sound carried straight to your ears from within your body.

Some may see this dynamic as a curse, but it can be freeing as well. Unless you record yourself and listen on playback, you can’t know exactly what your audience hears when you sing — so what happens if you just stop worrying about your audience’s perception entirely? Less energy spent trying to twist your vocal performance into how you think you should sound means greater energy to pour into the emotion of the song itself.

Reduce vocal tension

When I actively worry about intonation or vocal tone, I find myself trying to micro-manage my delivery and technique, which can easily lead to physical tension. If I’m hyper tuned-in to my own vocal sound and perceive myself falling slightly flat on a high note, for example, an unhealthy level of throat tightness can be the next breath away.

Disc Makers guide to Making A Great MasterIgnoring how you sound and focusing only on how you feel can change the equation. If you’re not actively worrying about hitting a note spot on, there’s nothing to correct, and no muscles to squeeze to get there. And the more you’re able to relax and enjoy the experience of singing itself, the better your pitch will naturally become.

Similarly, the more you can focus on singing in a way that just feels good, the better you’ll sound overall. I recently recorded myself singing without listening to myself and was pleasantly surprised by the result; on playback, my voice had layers of resonance and richness that I hadn’t heard before.

Less sound, more emotion

As mentioned above, if you spend your energy trying to tweak your tone or pitch as you sing, you’re ignoring the most important part of your performance — delivering a powerful vocal that means and communicates something. See what happens when you forget about everything other than melting into the song you’re singing and communicating something true and meaningful through your vocals.

Own your sound

It’s entirely normal to want to emulate your singing idols. The problem is, you live in your own body, not theirs. While some singers can develop the skills to become true vocal chameleons, most are best served developing their own unique voices — not trying to mimic others.

As you practice, perform, and record, see what happens when you ignore how you sound in the moment and focus purely on a relaxed and healthy vocal technique. Feel the message and emotion of the song, and pour 100 percent of yourself into your performance. You may be surprised at how uniquely your voice develops as a result.

In my own experience, when I started singing without caring about how I sounded, singing became easier. But more than that, when I’d hear myself on playback, I noticed subtle shifts in my pronunciation and phrasing that made my vocals sound more vivid, more like me.

Keep context in mind

Singing without listening to yourself is not an excuse to deliver a bad, ear-rending performance. It’s also not a license to throw good technique, pitch, and taste to the wind and wail like a dying cat (unless it serves your song!). Rather, it’s an intriguing strategy to experiment with — and if you like the results (as I did), keep going.

I hope that experimenting with this singing tip brings inspiring results for you. Have you tried this — or other counterintuitive experiments — that have helped you develop as a vocalist? Tell us in the comments below.


rock rewindMichael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.


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8 thoughts on “Counterintuitive singing tip: Stop listening (and start feeling)

  1. Great advice, sometimes even older musicians need to remember what they know, and hear it explained in a new way. Music is all about the feeling. Thanks

  2. Reading this singing tip is like finally getting to an “unscratched itch”. Makes so much sense. Thanks.

  3. Thank you for the heads up on this. I sometimes hold back on my singing as I feel my voice gets sharp. Have you any tips on this???

  4. This article is spot on. I am of the belief that if I cannot feel a song, there is no point in me performing it, as my heart will not be in the performance of the song. If you are feeling the song, then the audience will feel it also.

  5. No one teaches any discipline with primarily psychology. There are specific techniques for every instrument out there and vocals are no different.

    I had beginner’s luck as a singer, then I went into a long abyss because I really had no idea what I was doing technically, and the more I explored, the farther away from a natural approach I got.

    THen I took lessons five years ago, discovered some complicated techniques to work on, as well as some insanely stupidly simple ones that, regardless, I never found on my own because not all knowledge can be just found and you might as well what other people already learned. Now I know where I’m singing and it’s working far better than I ever could have expected.

    INVEST IN LESSONS, but research the teacher very well. There are many hacks out there. DOn’t hire a vocal teacher whose singing you don’t respect.

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