I’ve been taking vocal lessons (virtually for now) for the past few months in an attempt to become a more balanced artist. Right now I consider myself a strong dancer with tons of training for 20+ years, and then a meh singer who can get by in a group from playing the trumpet but doesn’t know real technique. Am I being hard on myself? Probably. But also training is valuable. I can’t compare participating in a few musicals to hundreds of hours of ballet class. So, that’s one reason why I want to work on it, because I love performing in community theater and I want to feel more confident with singing instead of terrified to be heard.
These past few weeks though, I have grown increasingly frustrated with my singing. The problem with having a trained ear from trumpet but not a trained throat for singing is that I can finely hear mistakes, and more often than not I know how to correct them. I quickly went from eager to learn to being hyper-critical of myself. In today’s voice lesson, I became especially frustrated with myself. Mix in the fear of my neighbors hearing me singing and the pure vulnerability that is sharing your voice, and I almost started crying. Because of all these emotions, I was holding back tremendously in my singing which is a self-fulfilling prophecy and makes me sound worse than if I just don’t care and sing out.
Facing my fears is something I do every day because of going through treatment for OCD and continuing to live in recovery. I am a seasoned pro at sitting with anxiety and doing the hard thing anyway. But that doesn’t stop the thoughts that I could or should be better.
This began to translate over though to another musical aspect of my life. Because of being mostly stuck inside due to the virus, I had been growing increasingly bored. So, to give me something fun to do, my mom offered to send me a ukulele. I spent hours picking out which size and brand, and it arrived three days ago. I quite literally sat and stared out the window on the day it was being delivered for the UPS truck to arrive. I was so excited, and I played for three consecutive hours that first night (again, sorry to my neighbors).
Today, after the voice lesson though, I found that initial musical excitement diminished. I was hesitant to then pick up the ukulele, and when I did, I once again was hyper-critiquing myself. I felt was frustrated that I couldn’t be better sooner. Then, I remembered holy crap Morgan, you’ve literally only been playing for three days. Can you stop being so mean to yourself? I have never played a string instrument before in my life; yet, here I am already working on five chords and two strumming patterns. Dial down the chastisement, mmkay.
It’s so easy to want to be the best. This was my mindset for years, in school, band, dance, everything. And sure, that led me to practice to become pretty darn good (I was Valedictorian of my class and first chair trumpet), but I was also miserable. All I did was study to study, not to learn, and I practiced trumpet, mostly so I wouldn’t lose my chair, not because I was enjoying making music.
I don’t want to ever live like that again. And that is a huge reason why I started taking voice lessons in the first place, and now started learning the ukulele. It’s good to be totally new at something. If we never begin something anew, we will never grow. I also have to remember that I played trumpet for eight years, I’ve been blogging for over six years, and I’ve been dancing for two decades. That amount of skill I built up will not happen overnight with my voice or the ukulele. Not to mention, I can still be pretty hard on myself with dancing and sometimes writing. (Gotta work on that too).
I want to make music because it is enjoyable and something I love. When I go back to school for a masters, I want it to study because I’m interested, not just for an A. I absolutely adore learning and the arts, and I don’t want self-criticism to sabotage that love. So, just now I recorded playing all the way through the first song I’ve been working on. At first, I kept starting over after the first few phrases. Then, I realized I would never get through the song, so I gave myself a strict two chances. Do I make mistakes in the video? Yes. Do I have trouble strumming and singing simultaneously? Yes. Do I pause for five million years every time I have to switch to a G7 chord? Yes. Oops. Was that self-critical language again? Yes.
But the point is, when I shifted my mindset from sounding perfect to having fun, it was so much more enjoyable to make music. Also, as a bonus, once I got out of my head, I did end up making less mistakes since I wasn’t hyper-focusing on avoiding them. Funny how that works.
It is literally impossible to create music 100% perfectly when performing live. And maybe that’s what makes it special because that’s when the emotions start to come into the performance. I love music not because of perfection, but because of the emotions it can convey. And music isn’t about sounding perfect; it’s about making someone feel.
Please enjoy my imperfect, but fun and emotional, rendition of “The Lava Song” from the Pixar animated short, Lava. Watch my facials; I mess up and then I go back to enjoying myself.