To Sing is to Learn Yourself
Singing is an act of getting to know yourself. To make a single sound, several sets of muscles work together with the diaphragm to coordinate air to your vocal folds which then vibrate at a certain length, then your tongue, jaw, soft-palette, among many other areas in your vocal tract (the space inside the throat and mouth) do a dance to create a vowel, with a certain volume, and certain color that suggests a genre, but also an emotional feeling, a message that may or may not be clear to the listener.
To develop as a singer, we build familiarity with all of these different parts working together as single, whole, sensations and sounds. We put these together with lyrics and the message of a song and the straight-forward or ambivalent emotions within the music. This makes singing an encompassing act, particularly if we use our face and body to visually express the message of the song.
You can’t see any of this process at work however. You just hear and feel it work. In an age where graphics, TV, YouTube, video games, and countless advertising immerse us visually past what we can remember and process, singing is an orchestra of physical and audio sensations in which YOU are the instrument, and everything you create inside is what makes up what you hear on the outside. We deeply learn these movements and sensations so that we know them very, very well by the time we perform. This really is a different world from the world we live in, where most everything is from the oustide-in.
To learn to sing, you begin a journey of learning yourself. What happens to your breathing when you’re excited? How about when your tired and bored? How does your vocal tract shape your sound when you sing a phrase filled with hope and volume and lightness? How about dark, whispered, despair? What do those sounds feel like and sound like?
When you’ve had a long, hard day of work, you’ll feel the heavy-ness you bring to your singing. When you’re elated, you’ll hear the brightness in your voice when you go to practice or try out a few new songs. Tuning your ear and mind to be aware of the sounds that you make and the way you make those sounds helps you know yourself better. They help you not lose self-awareness in a world that is primarily focused on data coming in from all directions.
Learning to sing, takes this a step further. What happens when you learn to make joyful sound on a totally crap day? You literally change your tune! You feel better. What happens when you sing your sorrows on a great day? You treasure what you have, you savor it with a depth of gratefulness made more vivid by the contrast of sorrow.