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Dublin: 12°C Friday 23 April 2021

'Singing can be therapy during the Covid-19 shutdown'. One singing teacher says it's worth a try

Eimear Crehan says singing can help your mood in these testing times.

Eimear Crehan

AS A NATION in ‘lockdown’ there is one really great activity that we could be doing to help improve our happiness, manage our stress, learn new skills and pass the time. That activity is singing. It might feel like the last thing you’d rather do right now, but take it from me, it’s a form of healing. How many of us are singing these days, or even believe that it can help? What is it that stops people from singing? 

I am a creativity and vocal coach and I specialise in working with non-singers. My mission on this earth is to encourage everyone to give themselves the permission to sing if they want to, to change people’s belief system about their voice and help them to look at what is possible.

I was delighted to be chosen to participate in this year’s special series Operation Transformation – Keeping Well Apart to chat about how my life as a musician has changed with Covid-19 and to work with the families on their first week’s challenge – to learn how to sing a song and perform it after five lessons. 

Confidence is key

This was an ambitious task and I was really excited about it. In my life, I meet so many people who say that they can’t sing so I wasn’t surprised when out of all the people in the families on this year’s show, only a couple were happy to say that they felt they could hold a note.

This was so interesting given that the four households are from all around the country and are all representing different experiences of Covid-19, yet they mostly had a similar reaction to what the task was and how they felt about their voice. When the families found out that their challenge for the week was to learn to sing “All I Want” by Kodaline it was met with varying reactions – Dave insisted that if it was a competition to get the nation to mute their TVs then he would win. Lucy thought ‘oh my god this is my worst nightmare’, the Gavins felt it was a challenge some of them could manage but not all while Ann thought “I love music but I can’t sing”. Why is this our reaction to something that is so beneficial to us? Why are we disconnected from our voices? 

We think that we either can sing or we can’t – but this is not true. It is clear from a physiological point of view that if you can talk you have all the right equipment to sing and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to. If the man or woman of your dreams was to walk through the door and you were to let out a high pitch scream you would probably cover at least an octave of notes – we use our vocal cords in this way every day! However, when it comes to singing, some people just have such a complex relationship to the idea of exploring their voices. 

shutterstock_525421165 Source: Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke

Our childhood pastimes

The fact is that at some point singing was the most natural thing in the world to you, most children sing before they can talk. First words like ‘mama‘ and ‘dada’ are often in a singsong voice, and music is so stimulating for babies and small children. Singing is a part of your language when you are learning to communicate – who hasn’t seen a baby’s face light up at the sound of their favourite rhyme, and what parent hasn’t used music as a way of soothing a tired child?

Music and singing are as natural to us as laughing and talking. Singing brings us so much joy.  Endless studies show the many benefits of singing and music on mental health and personal development, yet I hear again and again from people that they don’t sing because they believe they can’t sing (with most reporting in the same breath that they would love to).

What happens along the way to stop this very natural thing from being part of our lives? I think we are given conflicting information about singing that confuses us and changes our relationship with our voice.

From a young age, we are taught about our voices. We are told to be quiet, to use our big voices, to stop speaking in sing-song, to be quiet, not to sing in public.

We go to school and we are put into boxes, told what our voices are or are not, and this can damage our confidence. I will hear your story over and over – being told you were a crow, being handed the tambourine, being told to mime, being asked to leave the choir, having people tell you that you can’t sing, hearing people laugh when you get something wrong, being labelled by others as ‘tone-deaf’. I also see the other side of that – people who showed great promise as a singer and then the pressure became too much. Or someone who’s sibling was ‘the singer’ and that left no space for them to develop their skill. 

At one point in your life, singing was natural, a way to pass the time, a habit to cheer you up, a sign of your chirpiness, a pastime, something lovely and a way for you to express yourself. Something changed along the way and made singing something that is difficult and embarrassing, something that exposes you in a way that’s uncomfortable.

ot run 728_90592490 Crehan participated in RTÉ's new Operation Transformation - Keeping Well Apart which hopes to keep everyone motivated through the tough times. Source: Sam Boal

All of this meant my task of teaching four families to sing in five days over Zoom was all the more challenging. I found the experience so interesting. I was so impressed with these families and their willingness to try to show up and give it everything. I picked some good warm-ups that were challenging, functional, progressive but nothing that would tire out the voice too much or leave people hoarse as lots of people were going from not singing to singing every day. This is what they found:

Singing is easier than they thought

Everyone found it easier than they expected. They were surprised by how the simple tips and tricks that vocal coaches give you can improve your voice immediately. With the right instructor, it is quite easy to sing and to improve. As the Ryan Mongeys say, “you just have to commit to the high notes”. Ann found the exercises not only helped her voice, but they also helped her asthma. The Gavins found they could sing together and explore harmony in a new way and they could learn challenging exercises and Sarah and Dave reported that it was much easier than they thought.

Singing is a lot of fun and it reduces stress!

Everyone found this task fun. Even if someone was stressed before the lesson or tired from the long days in these unusual times, within minutes there was laughter. Laughter is so important! Singing and laughing and learning – what a beautiful combination of feel-good factors, no wonder everyone felt so good. Everyone reported better mood, singing being the highlight of the day, singing being something that elevates mood and makes you feel better. Sarah and Dave found themselves giggling so often, and I see that across the board with singing, giggling and singing – how perfect. As Ann so beautifully put it: “Anything that can make you forget everything for that half-hour that you’re doing a lesson, is good for you”. For the Ryans, they found it alleviated stress in the evenings and help the family come together and the Gavins reported the lessons to be the highlight of their day.

shutterstock_1338680129 Confidence is key, says Crehan, but practice will get you there. Source: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

You can get better

With the right teacher, anyone can improve their voice. You don’t need to be amazing straight away – you can be how you are and welcome that voice and love it and nurture it and it will only get stronger and better. There are vocal exercises for every single voice issue, you just have to find out what it is and work on that area of your voice and you’ll see progress. These people had a session every day and reports included “each time that we did it I could hear a change in my voice, and I could hear that the voice was getting a bit stronger… I could hold a note a little bit more”. This was after a few days of gentle lessons – how much could someone improve over a few months?

Singing improves connection

Some found that they had a deep connection to the feeling of singing, the feeling of interpreting lyrics and the emotion of the song – a part of singing and music that is really important and a vital source of support to people in this pandemic. People felt more connected to themselves and also to each other. For Ann, she felt she could hear herself and while she felt it wasn’t perfect she still loved it –  “I still loved it. I really loved performing it, I loved doing it, I gave it, my heart and soul I put into it”.  For the families singing together as a group felt more connected to each other like they had this memory to look back on, this great bonding experience with each other, something that symbolised possibility for the future. 

Singing improves overall confidence 

Everyone reported back two things. One was about the actual voice – they felt their singing voice had improved and their relationship to their thoughts around singing has improved. This was fantastic to hear within just five days of lessons. But the part that I was delighted to hear back about from the participants is that they feel more confident overall. Lucy said she would be more willing to try something new now, even if it is scary.

People talked about changing their automatic reactions – why do we automatically say ‘no, I can’t do that?’

Sarah said in future she is going to change that reaction to something new ‘I have never tried that before but I’ll give it a go’. The Gavins felt that they were more comfortable with each other and had more confidence changing roles within the family, different people getting to do solos and be heard. Ann has signed up to keep on with her singing lessons and some people are thinking about joining choirs or learning another song with their family. And that makes me very happy. 

What’s stopping you?

Why are you denying yourself all these positive things? How can you bring yourself some of these gifts like these fabulous families who just went for it? Whatever you get up to over the next while, I hope you sing. If you do want to get started here are my top 5 tips!

  1. Find the right teacher for you – someone you connect with, someone who is present, patient, honest and compassionate as well as trained. I recommend Modern Vocal Training teachers – check them out at www.modernvocaltraining.com 

  2. Find the right songs for you – sing the music you love, the music you relate to, music you connect to – enjoy singing your kind of music.

  3. Remember that your voice is unique – it is what helps a lost child find a parent, what gives someone who inner hug when they pick up the phone and hear your voice – it is yours and you should love it.

  4. It’s ok to sing for fun without wanting to be a soloist or on a stage – singing is for everyone, no matter what you want from it. All levels, all ages, all stages and all ambitions.

  5. Join a choir, sing along to karaoke tracks, build a playlist, write a song, sing with children, find ways of exploring this and welcome the new experiences that come.

Eimear Crehan is a creativity coach and a vocal coach from SpeakUp SingOut in Kilcock, Co. Kildare. She is also a well-established performer and has extensive experience touring around Ireland. She is on a mission to help people find their voice and make singing normal for everyone. Check out her website at www.eimearcrehan.com.  

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Eimear Crehan

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